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UCLA Bruin Baseball Faces Oregon State in a Critical Series

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The 21-5 Bruins return home after a road sweep at WSU to take on the 21-7 Beavers.

James Kaprielian
James Kaprielian
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the UCLA Bruins baseball team opens their most significant PAC 12 series of the season to date, squaring off against the Oregon State Beavers at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Unlike most weekend series, this one will run from Thursday to Saturday. As an added bonus, all three games of this series will be televised on the PAC 12 Network. Let’s take a closer look at how the teams stack up, this critical series, and today’s matchup.

THE BACKGROUND

Ucla

UCLA (21-5; 8-1 in PAC 12 play) is ranked in the top 10 in all the college baseball ranking services. Interestingly, The Morgan Center is promoting this game using the worst of the ranking services, Baseball America, which ranks the Bruins at #9. UCLA is ranked as high as #4 the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Collegiate Baseball, and is ranked #6 by USA Today. You would think touting the Bruins as #4 would drum up more support. Ironically, in their loss to the Bruins on Sunday, Washington State’s athletic website reported that the Cougars lost to (then) #5 UCLA.

UCLA is in sole possession of first place in the PAC 12, with three teams one game back at 7-2. The Bruins are riding an eight game winning streak, and are winning games even when they aren’t playing their best. For example, UCLA was able to sweep Washington State on the road despite stranding 30 baserunners in the series, and was able to sweep Utah at home despite stranding 27 baserunners in that series. UCLA is feasting on the lower echelon of the PAC 12, having played the 7th, 9th, and 10th teams in the PAC 12 (of course, UCLA’s record against those teams is a big part of why those teams are where they are).

Oregon State

Oregon State (21-7; 4-2 in PAC 12 play) fell out of the national rankings after losing their series (1-2) to Cal Poly in Corvallis last weekend. In all fairness to the Beavs, they did also play a rare two game mid-week series against San Jose State, taking both games, which may have affected their play over the weekend. Five games in one week is a lot in the college game.

Oregon State is tied for 5th in the PAC 12 with just$C*, at 4-2, having only played two series in conference, one at ASU (they lost that series 1-2) and one at home against Washington State, in which they swept the Cougs. The Beavers have only played four true away games this season (going 2-2), although they have played eight neutral site games (going 5-3). A three games series in Westwood will be a significant test for them.

THE TEAMS

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On offense, UCLA is led by lead-off hitter, Kevin Kramer, who is hitting .410, with 31 runs scored and an on base percentage of .512. Left-fielder, Ty Moore, was named PAC 12 Player of the Week (congratulations, Ty!), and is hitting .384 on the season with 26 RBI. Third baseman, Chris Keck, is also having an excellent season, hitting .333 with 6 home runs and 28 RBI. First baseman, Luke Persico, is hitting .320, with 3 home runs and 21 RBI. This quartet typically represents four of the top five spots in UCLA’s lineup, although the Bruins have, at times, gotten timely hitting from the bottom of the lineup as well.

On the hill, UCLA starters have been superb. Of their four starters, Cody Poteet has the highest ERA, an above-average 3.10 ERA. UCLA’s weekend starters are all in the low 2s, except for Grant Watson, who is under 2. UCLA has gotten consistent production out of its bullpen, with Tucker Forbes, the usual 7th inning guy (the set-up man to the set-up man); Grant Dyer, the usual 8th inning guy; and, of course, Dave Berg the closer. The Bruins combined 2.32 ERA is tops in the PAC 12 and 6th in the nation. Head Coach, John Savage, is a master with a pitching staff.

Although a bit shaky early in the season (game two of the North Carolina series comes to mind), the Bruins’ fielding has improved since PAC 12 play, with a .986 fielding percentage. On the season, the Bruins are still .981, good enough for 7th in the nation.

Coach Savage is known for pitching and defense but, as a bonus this season, he is getting hitting for average and for power as well. UCLA’s 21 home runs have already more than doubled UCLA’s home run output last season (8), and the Bruins are not yet quite to the half-way point in the season. This offensive surge for UCLA is not just due to the new, more flat-seamed baseball, designed to increase offense, as UCLA’s opponents have only hit 9 home runs against the Bruins this season.

Oregon State

Oregon State lost a number of starters from last year, and were picked to finish 5th in the PAC 12. Some of their new faces, however, have picked up the slack. For example, Oregon State has gotten fantastic offensive production out of freshman, K.J. Harrison, who can play first base or catcher. Harrison, typically the 3 hole batter, is hitting .389, with 32 RBI and 7 home runs. Gabe Clark, typically the DH, has hit 7 home runs. Leadoff hitter and centerfield, Jeff Hendrix, is hitting .327 with 4 home runs, 17 RBI, and 26 runs scored. Freshmen, Joe Gillette, and sophomore, Kyle Nobach, who seems to be getting the majority of starts in left and right field in OSU platoon system, are hitting .340 and .348, respectively. Oregon State is a very young team and gets very good production from its underclassmen.

Oregon State’s starting pitching is also very good. After losing two of their weekend starters from last season, junior right-hander, Andrew Moore, has grabbed the role of Friday starter. Moore sports an ERA of 1.87, although his record is only 2-1, which means he isn’t getting a lot of run support. Freshman, Dave Rasmussen (3-1; 1.91 ERA) has settled into the Saturday starter spot. Earlier this season, Rasmussen threw a perfect game (27 up; 27 down) against WSU, the first in Beavers’ history and something no PAC 12/PAC 10/PAC 8 pitcher had done since 1973. He did, however, get roughed up by Cal Poly last weekend. The Friday matchup between Rasmussen and Grant Watson should be very interesting. OSU’s Sunday starter, Travis Eckert, is undefeated, at 3-0, with an ERA of 2.80.

The Beavers’ bullpen was a concern heading into the season, but they have acquitted themselves nicely for the most part. Freshman right-hander, Mitch Hickey, 4-0 with 4 saves and a 1.88 ERA, has emerged as the team’s closer.

THE DETAILS

This is an important series over a holiday weekend, so hopefully the UCLA faithful will fill Jackie Robinson Stadium to support the Bruins. For those of us out-of-towners, the entire series will be televised on the PAC 12 Network. If you cannot come out to the park or watch on television, you can follow James Ramey and Tim Wilhelm via online audio stream or you can follow via live game stats. The following are the dates, times, and expected starters for the series:

Thursday, April 2, 7:00 p.m. PT

OSU-Junior RHP, Andrew Moore (2-1; 1.87 ERA)

UCLA-Junior RHP, James Kaprielian (6-1; 2.35 ERA)

Friday, April 3, 7:00 p.m. PT

OSU-Freshman RHP, Dave Rasmussen (3-1; 1.91 ERA)

UCLA-Senior LHP, Grant Watson (4-2; 1.76 ERA)

Saturday, April 4, 4:00 p.m. PT

OSU-Junior RHP, Travis Eckert (3-0; 2.80 ERA)

UCLA-Freshman RHP, Griffin Canning (5-1; 2.20 ERA)

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is where the rubber begins to meet the road. The Bruins need a series win to maintain at least a tie for first place in the PAC 12. That is what I am hoping for: a series win at home against a quality opponent. Anything more would be gravy. Anything less would be disappointing. The Bruins need to continue to build upon their momentum going into a critical series at just$C* next weekend. The Beavers have been average on the road, only playing in four true road games, splitting them. Hopefully, OSU’s very young team will feel some pressure outside the friendly confines of Corvallis. It all begins tonight at 7 p.m. PT when UCLA’s ace, James Kaprielian, takes the mound for the Bruins.

This is your UCLA vs. Oregon State Game One open thread.

Fire away with your comments (especially if you are fortunate enough to make out to Jackie Robinson Stadium).

Goooooooo Bruins!!!!