There was once a time that USC was a national powerhouse in baseball, but that feels like a very long time ago. Ever since firing Mike Gillespie, USC has gone from national baseball power to laughingstock. Not once since firing Gillespie have the Trojans made a Regional and while they have their own long list of problems getting things going, one of their biggest is what's going on across town. To be specific, their problem is John Savage.
Since Savage took over at UCLA, the Bruins have dominated the Trojans. USC hasn't won a season series against UCLA since 2005 and 16 of the last 21 games between the two have gone the Bruins' way. USC isn't just out of the national picture, they are an afterthought in the Pac-12 and a distant second place in Los Angeles, much to the delight of a UCLA program that has helped put the Trojans in their hole.
This season is no different than the rest for USC. They enter this weekend, the last of the regular season, 23-29 overall without a chance of even being eligible for a Regional, let alone get chose for one. They are 8-19 in the Pac-12 and looking like a good bet to finish 10th in the conference. They have lost three straight and 12 of their last 13 as they add another bad season to a long list of them of late.
Things don't figure to get any better this weekend either, and that's just how UCLA likes it. While the Trojans are just trying to get to the end of the season, the Bruins would love nothing more that to make clear once again the gulf between the two programs. That a series win can seal up a national seed for UCLA and just makes things all better as the Bruins gear up for a Selection Monday that the Trojans haven't been a factor in for quite some time.
The series kicks off on Friday night (6 pm PT) with Adam Plutko on the mound for the Bruins, which is good news for the boys in blue and gold. Plutko has been sensational of late, putting together a string of good starts. It started by carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning three weeks ago, then continued with seven shutout innings two weeks ago and last week he turned in 6.1 shutout innings. Now Plutko is 8-3 with a 2.88 ERA on the year and looking every bit like the the ace the Bruins thought he would be.
Saturday (2 pm PT) will see Nick Vander Tuig toe the rubber for the Bruins and while they have just about given up on hoping for dominant performances from the sophomore, they are plenty happy with what they are getting from him. Vander Tuig's 4.97 ERA won't wow anyone, but he is 8-3 on the year because he keeps things from getting out of hand. Game after game, Vander Tuig just does enough to keep the Bruins in the game and while it is not ideal, it is more than enough to work with.
Zack Weiss will finish things off on Sunday (1 pm PT) in the regular season finale. A half-hour before first pitch, the NCAA will announce the Regional hosts, which should include UCLA, and then Weiss will take to the mound in hopes of closing out the regular season on a high note. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA and has come on strong of late, giving the Bruins hope that he's starting to peak at the right time.
The Trojans haven't announced any probable starters for the weekend, but it is almost assured that Stephen Tarpley and Andrew Triggs will get starts. The freshman Tarpley has been great this season, compiling a 2.85 ERA while opponents have hit just .232 against him in 72.2 innings. He hasn't gotten the bench run support, which is why he is 5-3, but he's a tough pitcher. On the flip side is Triggs, a senior who has a 3.34 ERA in 99.2 innings, but is just 5-6 because he hasn't gotten much help.
For the Bruins, it is about figuring out how they are going to play without Kevin Williams, who will miss the weekend with a knee injury and whose status for the postseason is up in the air. Both offensively and defensive, the Bruins are going to have to figure out how to replace him in case he cannot go in the Regionals. The juniors Beau Amaral, Jeff Gelalich, Cody Keefer, Tyler Heineman and Trevor Brown are going to keep hitting and Cody Regis has picked it up of late, but without Williams a couple of the freshmen like Kevin Kramer, Shane Zeile and maybe even Eric Filia-Snyder will have to step up.
A national seed is hanging in front of the Bruins' noses right now. With the number one RPI in the country, a slew of quality series wins and an exceptional road record, UCLA has a good resume that has them on the verge of securing a national seed. The last thing they want to do now is lose the series this weekend and put their national seed up in the air. Well, that and losing to a USC program that they have established themselves as several steps ahead of. This series can let the Trojans head to the offseason on a high note and there's nothing the Bruins would like more than to secure a national seed, continue their dominance over USC and send their rivals back across town well aware of the gulf between the two programs.
As is always the case with the Trojans at Jackie Robinson Stadium, expect big crowds and show up early if you want your choice of seats. Tickets for the series at Jackie Robinson Stadium are $7 for adults, $5 for kids and free for students and Wooden Club card holders. If you can't make it, John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call online, GameTracker will be going and make sure to check my UCLA baseball twitter for game updates, notes, observations and everything else on the squad.