With Alford running our hoops program, there's a rather large contingent of Bruins who can't get behind a program led by the Hoosier Loser, but fortunately, spring is here and there's one UCLA program which we can support without reservations: Coach John Savage's defending national champion, #18-ranked baseball squad.
UCLA hosts Arizona State on the third weekend of conference play. The Bruins are currently in a three-way tie (with Washington and Oregon) for first at 5-1. Arizona State is tied for fifth at 3-3, but is coming off a huge series win on the road at Oregon State, so UCLA would be wise not to sleep on the Sun Devils because they certainly have the quality to big up big road series wins.
Today, the Bruins will send our ace, James Kaprielian (3-3, 2.97 ERA) to the hill against Arizona State's southpaw Brett Lilek (3-1, 1.65 ERA). The Bruins are 3-3 in Friday games, all of which has been started by Kaprielian. UCLA' s average score in these games is 3-3. Every game has been decided by 3 runs or less, and four of the six Friday tilts have been decided by a single run. Arizona State is 3-3 in the opening game of a series (five on Friday, one on Thursday). The average score in these games is 4-5. That is a lot of runs for Friday games, where the opposing aces are matched up. The Sun Devils will try to address this by advancing Lilek from his spot as the Sunday starter into the Friday hurler after his first two starts of the season. The Sun Devils are 4-1 in games which Lilek starts, but is that because he's the more dominant pitcher on the staff, or is it because Arizona State has been better against weaker Sunday starters? We'll find out later tonight.
On Saturday, Savage will send Grant Watson (4-1, 1.76 ERA) up against Arizona State's left-handed Ryan Kellogg (2-2, 3.65 ERA). UCLA is 4-2 in Saturday games, all of which have been started by Watson. UCLA's average score in these games is 4-3. Arizona State is 3-3 in Saturday games. Arizona State's average score in these games is 5-5. Watson has been very strong this year and has been coming on stronger as the season as gone on. As noted int he official website's series preview:
Watson is 4-1 in six starts this season, striking out 28 batters in a team-high 41 innings while posting a team-leading 1.76 ERA, which is also seventh-best in the Pac-12. Additionally, he is holding opponents to a .177 batting average against him, the fifth-lowest in the conference, and has walked just seven batters all year. Watson picked up the win in his last start vs. Washington State with eight strong innings on the mound. He has pitched eight innings in three of his last four starts and in his last four starts, has posted a 3-0 record with a 0.90 ERA. Finally, in his career Watson has logged a 22-5 record as a starter.
Finally, on Sunday, Cody Poteet (2-1, 3.41 ERA) will get the final start against ASU's Darin Gillies (1-1, 4.71 ERA), a right-handed pitcher who has struggled for consistency this season, which bodes well for the Bruins. UCLA is 5-1 in Sunday games, all of which have been started by Poteet. UCLA's average score in these games is 5-4. Arizona State is 4-2 in Sunday games. Arizona State's average score in these games is 6-3. This has clearly been the Sun Devils' day so far this season, including a 7-3 win last Sunday to take the Oregon State series in Corvallis, but it's also been UCLA's best day so far and most of the Sun Devils' success came with Lilek on the hill.
It'll be a good series, but if UCLA wants to make a legitimate push to win the conference, they'll need to come away with a series win (if not an outright sweep) against ASU. Both squads come into the series riding a three game winning streak, with the Bruins fresh off a narrow 2-1 win against Long Beach State on Tuesday. Postseason aspirations are on the line, but every game starts tied at zero in the top of the first, so let's get at it Bruins. Stay tuned for the game thread later this afternoon.