So yesterday we got the bad news. The post-game celebration by the Bruins on Sunday night after clinching their spot in the College World Series resulted in a broken wrist for Tyler Rahmatulla. That means UCLA will go to Omaha without the services of their starting second baseman and number three hitter.
"I just feel terrible for Tyler," Savage said of Rahmatulla, who was batting .328 with a team-leading 52 runs for the season. "I know the team feels really bad for him. We had yesterday off, we'll practice here in a bit and let everyone know it's another setback to deal with. We'll deal with it. We'll handle it."
The question now becomes how the Bruins replace him. Obviously, it won't be easy, but the Bruins will have to do it and they have three options.
- Put Adrian Williams at second base. Williams is talented, but doesn't bring the most consistent approach to the plate and while he can make the sensational defensive play, he can also boot the gimme. Williams got one start this year and played in 20 games, hitting .300 (6-20) with a .824 fielding percentage.
- Move Cody Regis from his spot at third to second and insert Dean Espy at third. When right, Espy is as good of a hitter as UCLA has, as evidenced by his leading the team in both batting average and home runs in the regular season. He was somewhat protected by playing more against lefties than righties, but .353, eight home runs, 48 RBI and a .979 fielding percentage speaks for itself.
- Find a spot for Trevor Brown, either by putting him at second or more likely, putting him at third with Regis at second. Primarily a catcher, Brown has gotten a bit of time at third and he hit .296 with a pair of extra-base hits in 28 games, 13 starts.
Most likely, we will see Espy get the start at third with Regis moving over to second. With Florida likely to start a left-hander in Saturday's opener, going with the guy who has hit lefties exceptionally well makes sense and he also has the most game time this year. What will be interesting to see if late in the game, what kind of pinch-hitting moves or defensive moves do the Bruins make with fewer options on the bench. Remember that in addition to Rahmatulla being out, UCLA will be without Cody Keefer, who had started nearly every game of his freshman season until being sidelined after the USC series.
Keep going after the jump for some of the national media's first previews of the CWS.
The thing that is apparent when checking out some of the initial thoughts on the College World Series on Sunday and Monday and now the first previews is that UCLA is considered one of the favorite to win the title.
If we take a look at Boyd's ISR-based probabilities for the CWS, we see the numbers showing the Bruins as the second most likely team to win the title. They have a 34.7% chance to come out of their bracket and play in the Championship Series and 13.2% chance to win the title. That means UCLA has the best chance to come out of their bracket and only Arizona St. has a better chance to be the last team standing.
Rival.com's Kendall Rogers initial breakdown of the CWS field has this to say about the Bruins' chances.
CWS forecast: The Bruins didn’t skip a beat when Cody Keefer went down with an injury a few weeks ago. Now the Bruins hope the same situation plays out without star second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla. UCLA won’t need to do too much offensively in Omaha with a fantastic weekend rotation and excellent bullpen. Still, the pitching staff must rise to the occasion more than previously expected to offset the loss of Rahmatulla. UCLA is one of the favorites to compete for the national title.
If you want his key players, a "how they got there" and the rest of the field, check out the whole thing.
As has been the case all season, the focus of the media will be on the UCLA pitching staff and for good reason. They're pretty damn good. I don't think anybody questions that the Bruins have the best arms of the eight remaining teams, but the CWS is a different animal because of the schedule.
The CWS is set up so there are two brackets of four teams each. Each bracket is double elimination, just like the Regionals, and then the two bracket winners play in a best two of three Championship Series. The difference is that instead of the double elimination tournament taking place over three or four days like in the Regionals, it takes seven or eight days (wooooo TV!).
The question becomes what does UCLA do with their pitching rotation. Do you hold Garett Claypool out of the bullpen for a potential start or are you okay starting any of your top three on four days rest or so and use Claypool in relief? Is UCLA's pitching depth less important because other teams won't have to go as deep with more days off? Do we see Savage go to a quicker hook with some of his starters because he can use his 'pen more with the days off? Do we see Dan Klein go in for four, five, six out saves? We're in unknown territory.
One thing that we know for certain is that the first two games of the CWS are the key. You win your first two and you get two games to win one for a spot in the Championship Series. You lose one of those first two and all of a sudden your backs are against the wall. If you can make it out of the loser's bracket, you then have to win two straight against the team coming out of the winner's bracket. By winning the first two, you also get a nice long rest and can set up your rotation again for the next game (or two), then if you make it, the Championship Series.
Here's UCLA's CWS schedule, all times pacific (check out the bracket here).
Saturday, 11 am- TCU vs. Florida St. (1)
Saturday, 4 pm- UCLA vs. Florida (2)
Monday, 1:30 pm- Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 (3)
Monday, 6 pm- Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 (4)
Wednesday, 4 pm- Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 (5)
Friday, 1: 30 pm- Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 3 (6)
Saturday, 11 am- Replay Game 6
The winner of that bracket will go to the Championship Series on Monday-Wednesday. With UCLA, Florida, TCU and Florida St., this bracket is clearly the tougher bracket on paper. Florida is the third national seed, UCLA is the sixth national seed and TCU was considered by many to be of national seed quality, but betrayed by the RPI. Meanwhile, in the other bracket, you have Arizona St., the top national seed and favorite, South Carolina, Clemson and Oklahoma.
It all starts on Saturday. The key to any success is winning the first two and you can't get that without beating Florida on Saturday. This year's team has the best record in school history (48-14), making it already arguably the greatest team in UCLA history, but they aim higher and one of those higher goals is being the first Bruin team to win a CWS game. Their first chance is Saturday.
Last thing is this bit from Blair Angulo about the team embracing Coach.
...decorating their caps and the back of their helmets with Wooden's initials. Following UCLA's Super Regional victory over Cal State Fullerton on Sunday night, head coach John Savage commented on the presence he believes Wooden has had on his team.
"No question about it," Savage said. "Our guys have talked about coach all season, really. He's certainly with us. We're just very honored to be at the school where he coached."
Hopefully the baseball team has the same angel in the outfield that the softball girls rode to a national title.