Coming off a tough, midweek 2-1 loss in extra innings to the Long Beach State Dirtbags, the UCLA Bruins baseball team (31-10; 16-5 PAC 12) squares off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a three-game, nonconference series at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Bruins are in first place in the Pac-12 Conference and will be keeping an eye on the Arizona State v. UC Berkeley series in Northern California this weekend, in a battle between the second and third place teams in the PAC 12. The Zags (20-21; 10-11 WCC) are in sixth place in the West Coast Conference and are coming off a series loss at Santa Clara. UCLA has not played Gonzaga since 2002 and is an all-time 13-4 against the Zags.
THE GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Gonzaga’s 3.38 team ERA leads the West Coast Conference, although it is over one run worse than UCLA’s team ERA. The Zags’ Friday and Saturday starters, Andrew Sopko and Brandon Bailey, respectively, both have ERAs below 3.00. Of course, the competition in the WCC is far from that of the Pac-12. The Bulldogs will start a reliever on Sunday, freshman Eli Morgan, who is on an 11 and 2/3 scoreless inning streak. It will be interesting to see how the Bruins’ hitters fare against these starters.
Gonzaga hits .277 as a team. First baseman, Taylor Jones, leads Gonzaga in batting average, hitting .426, typically out of the 3 hole, in 94 at bats. Jones has scored 15 runs, hit 4 home runs and has 22 RBI. Centerfielder and typical number 2 hitter, Sam Brown, and third baseman and typical lead-off hitter, Mitchell Gonsulous, are also hitting over .300 and each have in excess of 20 RBI. Right fielder, Justin Jacobs, leads the Bulldogs with 30 RBI and has a very respectable .286 batting average. Jacobs typically hits in the cleanup spot.
THE UCLA BRUINS
Although their pitching was solid, the Bruins failed to get timely hits on multiple occasions last Tuesday against Long Beach State, which could have ended the game before the Dirtbags got a timely hit to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning. In fact, in 41 at bats, the Bruins only managed 5 hits. The Bruins sole run was scored as a result of a walk, a stolen base, and two wild pitches. That is not going to get it done, no matter how well the UCLA pitchers perform.
Overall, UCLA’s pitching staff continues to maintain an outstanding, 2.22 earned run average. UCLA ace, James Kaprielian, needs to rebound tonight from arguably the worst start of his UCLA career last weekend in a loss against Stanford, in which he gave up a career-high 12 hits, as well as 5 earned runs in 5 and 1/3 innings pitched. Grant Dyer, UCLA’s typical eighth inning setup man, had an outstanding outing in relief against CSULB, throwing 4 and 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, striking out 5. Dave Berg seeks to bounce back from Tuesday’s extra-inning affair, as he took the loss, his first of the season, giving up two hits and a walk in his one inning of relief. Berg only needs one more appearance to tie the NCAA record for most career appearances, and two more appearances to break that record. It figures that this will be the weekend that he ties and, possibly, breaks that record.
The Bruins are hitting .286 as a team. Although the bottom half of the lineup has been performing better, Kevin Kramer’s batting average and on-base percentage have been slowly declining for some time now. At one point, he was hitting close to .430 and getting on base over half the time; both of these numbers have declined by about 100 points, as Kramer is now hitting .329. Of course, .430 is a tough standard to maintain and .329 is still very solid for the season. It would be nice, however, if Kevin could get his bat going out of the leadoff spot like it was early in the season as UCLA enters the stretch run.
Here are the dates, game times, and projected starters for the series:
Friday, May 1, 6:00 p.m. PT
Gonzaga - Andrew Sopko, RHP, Jr. (7-3, 2.17 ERA)
UCLA - James Kaprielian, RHP. Jr. (7-4; 2.61 ERA)
Saturday, May 2, 2:00 p.m. PT
Gonzaga - Brandon Bailey, RHP, So. (6-2, 2.95 ERA)
UCLA - Grant Watson, LHP, Sr. (7-3; 1.94 ERA)
Sunday, May 3, 1:00 p.m. PT
Gonzaga - Eli Morgan, RHP, Fr. (0-0, 2.16 ERA)
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, Fr. (7-1; 2.72 ERA)
There is no TV for any of the games in the series. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call for all three games, including tonight’s 6 p.m. PT game via streaming online audio. You can also follow live statistics. Of course, if you have a chance, come out to the ballpark and cheer the Bruins on in person.
The Bruins should sweep this series. Period. No offense to Gonzaga, but UCLA is the superior team in all aspects. Obviously, to do so Kap will need to have a good outing tonight. If they win tonight, I think the Bruins outclass the Zags on Saturday and Sunday.
Although they have not lost a series this season, the Bruins haven’t swept one since March. After finishing the month of March on an 8 game winning streak, the Bruins went 10-5 in April. The longest winning streak in April was 3 games. This is by no means poor, and the competition was certainly stiffer in April, but we are approaching the postseason and the Bruins need to start playing their best baseball of the year. They did not do that against Long Beach State on Tuesday. Here’s to hoping that it starts tonight.
This is your UCLA vs. Gonzaga Game One open thread.