UCLA's sweep at the hands of Arizona St. last weekend is nowhere near fatal, but it does make the final month of the regular season of extreme importance. At 31-10 overall, the Bruins are in fine shape to host a Regional and are still in national seed contention, but they need to bounce back strong from the ASU series and get back on track. With a very managable finishing schedule, they can do just that and it starts this weekend with arguably the Bruins' toughest remaining series when they head to Seattle for a three-game set with a hot Washington team.
Adding to the intrigue with how the Bruins' bounce back this weekend is UW head coach Linday Meggs taking on his alma mater for the first time. Meggs, hired by Washington prior to the season, spent four years at UCLA, playing third base for former UCLA head coach Gary Adams. Prior to being hired by the Huskies, Meggs had served as the head coach at Division II Chico St., where he went to seven College World Series' and won two national titles. After that, he took the job at Indiana St., where he turned a bottom of the conference team into an automatic bid to the postseason in just three years. Now, he is building the Washington program from the ground up and in just his first season, has the Huskies on a roll.
The Huskies have won five straight, including a series sweep of Stanford last weekend and at 25-19 overall and 8-7 in conference, are in good shape to earn a Regional berth with a solid finish. How the Huskies have managed such a thing is mindboggling. They rank ninth in the conference in hitting and last in pitching. At fourth in the Pac-10 in fielding percentage, Washington is merely adequate and they haven't been speed demons either, stealing just 36. The problem is that the Bruin batting average in conference games is a putrid .247, making the Huskies' .256 look much better than it is. The UCLA team ERA is 2.29 runs better than Washington's, though, so they have a definite edge on the mound. The question is whether the Bruins will be able to cash in the dozen runners thye've been leaving on base lately.
Since conference play started, the Bruins have won just twice on Friday night and because both of those were extra inning games, Friday night starter Gerrit Cole has yet to get a win in the Pac-10. He will look to change that when he opens the series for UCLA this Friday night (6 pm PDT). Cole is coming off of a great seven inning, two run, nine strikeouts outing against Arizona St. and has a 2.86 ERA on the year to go along with his 6-2 record. Opposite Cole will be Geoff Brown, who is 1-3 with a 4.96 ERA this year. Brown has made just five starts in conference and averages under five innings per start so it is unlikely that he goes deep into the game. Opponents are hitting .305 off of him and he has nearly as many walks (13) and strikeouts (15) since conference play started so the edge on Friday night is clearly UCLA's.
Saturday afternoon (2 pm PDT), the Bruins turn to Trevor Bauer, who will look to get off to a better start than he did a week ago. Versus Arizona St., Bauer struggled to find the strike zone and surrendered four first inning runs. A horrendous call by the umpire allowed another to score in the second, but Bauer allowed just one more the rest of the way, an unearned run at that. Bauer picked up the loss to fall to 6-3, but he still holds a 2.81 ERA and is second in the conference in strikeouts, behind only Gerrit Cole. Andrew Kittredge gets the nod for Washington on Saturday and he will look to mirror his start from a week ago when he allowed just one run in 7.1 innings. The outing was an outlier for Kittredge, who is 6-3, but with a 5.33 ERA on the campaign. Kittredge is fifth in the Pac-10 in strikeouts, but batters are hitting .299 against him.
Finishing things off on Sunday (1 pm PDT) will be UCLA's Rob Rasmussen. The junior got knocked around by Arizona St., giving up seven runs (six earned) in just four innings to pick up the loss and drop his ERA down to 3.59, Last week was the second consecutive sub-par start for Rasmussen so it will be interesting to see if he can find the form that netted him wins in his first six Pac-10 starts before the past two weeks bit him. The Huskies have yet to announce a starter and they've used a variety of guys in that role so there isn't an obvious guy to take the mound versus the Bruins. Forrest Snow, who is 4-1 with a 5.33 ERA, got the Sundat start last week so he is an option, as is Adam Cimber, who is 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA this year.
Going up against a tough Huskies team will be a good test for the Bruins in how they recover from a demoralizing series against the Sun Devils. If they can take the road series, they are set up well to finish the season with two home series against lower tier Pac-10 teams (USC and Washington St.) and one tough roadie against Cal. With four weekend series left to go, the Bruins can probably secure a national seed by taking all four, but three may get it done as well. That all starts with the toughest of the four, in Seattle against the Huskies this weekend.
For those of you looking to follow along this weekend, GameTracker will have it and you can get all the updates, along with links and other information on my UCLA baseball twitter. John Ramey and Co. will not be in Seattle to provide audio, but the Huskies do have streaming video for a subscription. If there is a stream floating around come first pitch, I will make sure it is linked in the game thread that we'll have up. That's what UCLA has this weekend, a weekend that will be very telling.