Scouting the Los Angeles Regional, UCLA, LSU, UC Irvine & Kent St.

For the first time since 1986, UCLA will host a NCAA Regional and they weren't cheated out of high quality competition with LSU, UC Irvine and Kent St. joining the Bruins in the Los Angeles Regional. The series, to be played at Jackie Robinson Stadium, has proven to be a hot ticket, especially for LSU fans who helped jam the phone lines to the UCLA Central Ticket Office when tickets went on sale Tuesday morning. By the end of the day, only a few single reserved seats were left for the entire weekend and the number of general admission tickets left had dipped into the double digits.

The Regional has been touted by many as the toughest in the nation for good reason. In UCLA, LSU and UC Irvine, the Regional has three top-25 teams, all of whom have ranked in the top-five at some point this season. Kent St. is considered one of the better four-seeds as well so whoever makes it out of the weekend will have certainly earned their way into next weekend's Super Regional.

So, how do the four teams look? Let's break them down:

#1 Seed- UCLA Bruins (43-13, 18-9 Pac-10, #6 National Seed)

After a spectacular regular season that broke all sorts of school records, the Bruins head into the postseason with plenty of momentum. After a 22-game win streak to start the season, some middling play and sweep at the hands of Arizona St., the Bruins won 13 of their final 16 games to secure not only a host in the Regionals, but the number six national seed. Led by its pitching, UCLA's success can be traced back to its offense exceeded expectations. Prior to the season, most predicted strong pitching from the Bruins and that's what they have gotten, but a .309 team batting average, .401 on-base percentage, nearly one home run per contest and 6.9 runs per game are all better than expected.

Why They Will Win the Regional

When you have the second-best pitching staff in the entire country, you're doing something right and that's what UCLA will lean upon this weekend. A 3.02 team ERA is second-best in the country and their 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings is nearly a run better than the next best team in the country. They also hold opposing teams to a .219 batting average and still walk just three per nine innings.

With Gerrit Cole on Friday night they have a pitcher with electric stuff who has shown his ability to shut down even the most potent of lineups. His 3.27 ERA is actually the worst among Bruin starting pitchers though. Trevor Bauer, who most expect to pitch on Saturday, is 9-3 with a 2.84 ERA and Sunday's likely starter, Rob Rasmussen, is 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA. If the Bruins need a fourth pitcher, thee's Garett Claypool, a senior who went 8-3 with a 2.05 ERA. When you back that up with Dan Klein (5-0, 9 saves, 2.13 ERA) as the UCLA closer, plus solid middle relief, and you have a pitching staff that can carry a team through a Regional.

Why They Won't Win the Regional

You can't teach experience and the Bruins have shockingly little of it. Half of their starting staff and a decent chunk of their bullpen has no postseason experience. Nine of the 12 position players to get significant time this season have no notable postseason experience either. When you're going up against teams who were all in a Regional last year, one of whom is the defending national champion, you've got a little to make up for.

For a team with so little postseason experience, they do have a good chunk of experience in other situations that can prepare them. A coaching staff full of it, games at Dodger Stadium, Corpus Christi and a handful of big series at home and the road will help the players some, but until guys step onto the field in the postseason for that first time, you're never quite sure how they'll react.

#2 Seed- LSU Tigers (40-20, 14-16 SEC)

When it comes to pedigree, few teams in the country can match what the Tigers have down in Baton Rouge. There has been talk of LSU going on the road in a Regional for the first time since 1989, but that's largely because they've been so consistently good with the exception of a short stretch that they have lived as a number one seed in a Regional. The defending national champions, LSU is loaded with experience and like always, brings the bats. They hit .320 as a team, hit 1.25 home runs per game and average eight runs per game. The Tigers may not play the Gorrilla Ball of year's past, but they still touch home plate plenty.

Why They Will Win the Regional

The SEC is a daunting conference, but it sure didn't look like it for LSU last weekend as now they enter the postseason as one of the nation's hottest teams. It wasn't the prettiest of seasons for the Tigers, winning two games in the middle of seven and six game losing streaks that gave them a surprising sub-.500 conference finish. That all changed when they went to Hoover, Alabama for the SEC Tournament.

While many had left them for dead as a national champion gone south, the Tigers rolled off a perfect weekend to take home a trophy to their already-crowded trophy case. A win over national seed Florida started the weekend, then they took down Vanderbilt, who many feel deserved to host a Regional. A win over Ole Miss, one of the stronger two seeds and then a win over Alabam capped the pefect 4-0 weekend. As they come out to Los Angeles, there aren't many teams hotter.

Why They Won't Win the Regional

Offense is nice, but as the old saying goes, "good pitching beats good hitting." Unfortunately for the Tigers, their pitching has been anything but good this season. Their pitcher who will open up the Regional versus UC Irvine is Austin Ross, who has a 5.07 ERA. Anthony Ranaudo has first-round MLB talent, but has battled injuries this season and has a 7.39 ERA. He's expected to to pitch on Saturday. Den Alsup, expected to pitch Sunday, has been a nice surprise for the Tigers and has a 3.61 ERA, but he's made just two starts. At the end of games they turn to Matty Ott, who has 11 saves, but has a 6.69 ERA and is walking nearly five batters per nine innings.

If the offense sputters, the Tigers might very well find themselves in the loser's bracket or heading home because the pitching hasn't been something that they have been able to lean upon. The hurlers stepped it up a week ago at the SEC Tournament, but it's that weekend versus a season's worth of struggles for LSU on the mound.

#3 Seed- UC Irvine Anteaters (37-19, 17-7 Big West)

Few teams had higher hopes that UC Irvine in 2010. A preseason top-five team loaded with experience in key spots, many expected the Anteaters to continue an astounding rise up the college baseball ranks. At the beginning of the decade, UC Irvine didn't even have a baseball program, but current UCLA head coach John Savage got the program off of the ground. Current Cal St. Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano took the program to new heights by advancing to the 2007 College World Series and then in 2008, current Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie led the Anteaters to the Super Regionals and a national seed in 2009. With a top-20 team ERA, their pitching gives them a chance in every game they play and they still have all that talent that landed them such a high preseason ranking.

Why They Will Win the Regional

Very fews teams enter the postseason with more to prove or more overlooked than the Anteaters. Their early season failures knocked them off the radar of most, but they have quietly won their last six series. They hit at a solid .304 clip and have three experienced, accomplished starrters in Daniel Bibona, CHsristian Bergman and Eric Pettis. Even so, most haven't paid attention to the Anteaters in weeks and with a national seed (UCLA) and the defending national champions (LSU) in their Regional, many have ignored Irvine this week.

When you toss in what this postseason could mean for the UC Irvine baseball program, the Anteaters have a lot to play for. They finally got the preseason accolades this season that had eluded them in the past, but their play wasn't up to par. Dismissed as a flash in the pan, the UC Irvine baseball program could make this a fourth consecutive season with great results and start to erase the flash in the pan label.

Why They Won't Win the Regional

It has been weeks since the Anteaters were really challenged and all season long, they haven't faced too much top competition. The Big West experienced one of their worst seasons in recent memory this season as evidenced by only Irvine and Cal St. Fullerton earning postseason berths. The conference's RPI dropped all the way down to eighth as a result of the down season so the Anteaters weren't getting tested too much in the Big West. In the non-conference, two games at Coastal Carolina stand out as the only notable games versus top competition.

With such a weak schedule, UC Irvine has not faced too many challenges. Games against Loyola Marymount, Sacramento St. and Nevada aren't going to do too much to prepare the Anteaters for the quality of play that they will face this weekend. The team has plenty of experience so the quality of competiton won't be a shock. They have played top competition in past years, but when it's been so long since they've been challenged, can the Anteaters just hop up and rise to the level of their competition?

#4 Seed- Kent St. Golden Flashes (39-23, 18-9 MAC)

Largely overlooked, head coach Scott Strickland has built himself a mini-power in Ohio. They have become a postseason regular as the MAC's top team, even earning some top-25 votes a year ago. In 2009, they picked up a postseason win when they went down to Tempe, Arizona and now they look at the Los Angeles Regional as their chance to make the nation take a look at little ol' Kent St. They lost their MAC Tournament opener to put their chances of postseason qualification in doubt, but five consecutive wins later and they were looking for plane tickets.

Why They Will Win the Regional

Maybe it's in the Kent water, but the Golden Flashes have had dangerous sticks for years now and 2010 is no different. Their offensive numbers equal those of LSU's with a .320 batting average and eight runs per game. They're led by Travis Shaw, who is hitting .351 with 16 homers and 60 RBI, but the rest of the offense can rake as well. If you get into a mashing contest with them, you're going to be in trouble and especially if it starts early because when the Golden Flashes start hot, it's a struggle to slow them down.

Unlike in the past, Ken St.'s ossense isn't led by the long ball. With just over one home run per game, they can still hit the ball out of the yard, but that isn't what carries them. The Golden Flashes are patient and willing to work walks. They don't steal bases either, but they pound the gaps. Only one team in the country averaged more double per game than Kent St. this season so taking extra bases is not a problem for the Golden Flashes.

Why They Won't Win the Regional

Kent St. St. is a good number four seed, but they're a number four seed for a reason. The Golden Flashes didn't have the best conference record in the MAC and had there not been a conference tournament, they would be watching the postseason from their couches. They tested themselves against top competiton once this season when they played at Kansas St., only to be swept away in four games. Kent St. will be taking a majot step up in competition this weekend, a level where they have struggled.

When you struggle to get outs, you're going to struggle against teams you can't hit into oblivion and that's what has happened to Kent St. Their team ERA is over five and against the offenses of UCLA, LSU and UC Irvine, Kent St. is going to need the type of pitching that they've yet to show that they have.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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