This is where things get interesting. UCLA baseball (37-12; 18-6 PAC 12) squares off against the Arizona Wildcats (28-20; 12-15 PAC 12) tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the second to last PAC 12 Conference series of the season, and the last home conference series for the Bruins. All of UCLA’s final regular-season foes, the ‘Cats, UC Irvine, and Oregon, are still in the postseason mix and will be playing hard in each game.
The Bruins have a three-game lead in the PAC 12 Conference over the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Oregon State Beavers, and just$C*, so with each win, UCLA gets closer to the PAC 12 title. Arizona is looking to bounce back from a demoralizing series loss at home to Washington, whereas the Bruins are coming off a huge series win at Arizona State, followed by a nice mid-week win on the road at Cal State Fullerton.
Arizona leads the conference in hitting, batting .304 as a team (UCLA is hitting .289). They also lead the PAC 12 with 20 triples, and are tops in slugging percentage at .435 (UCLA is second at .422). Finally, the Wildcats lead the PAC 12 in on-base percentage at .388 (UCLA is second at .377).
Arizona is led by Scott Kingery, who is hitting .418, leading the conference. Kingery also has 5 HR and 35 RBI. The third and eighth best hitters for average in the PAC 12 are also Wildcats: Kevin Newman (.367, 1 HR, 32 RBI) and Bobby Dalbec (.333, 14 HR, 48 RBI). Dalbec leads the PAC 12 in homeruns, slugging percentage (.619), and is also the projected Sunday starting pitcher! A man for all seasons. Although the Wildcats have superior offensive numbers when compared to UCLA, the gap is not that great and, as discussed below, the gap between the teams respective pitching staffs is wide, giving the Bruins the advantage.
The Wildcats are ninth in the conference in pitching, with an ERA of 4.09 (UCLA is first at 2.16). Both of Arizona's Friday and Saturday starters, Cody Hamlin and Nathan Bannister, the two guys who will be facing UCLA’s James Kaprielian and Grant Watson, have ERAs in excess of four. Their Sunday starter, Bobby Dalbec, has ERA in the low threes (3.22 to be exact), but only has two wins against six losses on the season, and hasn’t been getting run support from the rest of the ‘Cats.
Arizona’s bullpen is pedestrian. Interestingly, the aforementioned Bobby Dalbec, PAC 12 home run leader, PAC 12 slugging percentage leader, and this Sunday’s projected starting pitcher for the 'Cats, also leads Arizona in saves with five. So it is difficult to predict what UCLA might see out of the Wildcats’ bullpen.
The Bruins will throw their typical Friday and Saturday starters, James Kaprielian and Grant Watson, respectively. Griffin Canning, who had most recently gotten Sunday starts until last Sunday, when he sat due to back spasms in favor of Hunter Virant, may or may not pitch on Sunday. The UCLA Sunday starting pitcher at this time is TBA. It could be Canning, if he is healthy enough. It could be Virant or it could also be Cody Poteet, who was the Sunday starter earlier in the season. Kap needs a big outing at home tonight to start UCLA off right, especially with Sunday being a question mark.
Unlike earlier in the season, when the top of UCLA’s lineup was the strength, there is now balance throughout the lineup, with four batters hitting over .300 and four batters hitting in the .260 to .290 range. Reigning PAC 12 Player of the week, Ty Moore, leads the Bruins, hitting .353 with 46 RBI and 4 homeruns. Kevin Kramer is hitting .329, has a seven-game hitting streak, and has reached base in nine straight games. Seven of the nine typical Bruin starters have 25 or more RBI. All of Arizona’s starters are right-handed pitchers, so expect the left-handed heavy Bruins to match up well against the Wildcats’ pitching staff.
This is the final regular season series of the season at JRS. If you can, come out to the ballpark for a game or two. It looks like the rain is going to stay away. For those of us out-of-towners, the entire series will be televised on the PAC 12 Network. If you cannot come out to JRS or watch on TV, 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:
Friday, May 15, 7:00 p.m. PT
ZONA - Cody Hamlin, RHP, Jr. (6-3, 4.53 ERA)
UCLA- James Kaprielian, RHP. Jr. (9-4; 2.15 ERA)
Saturday, May 16, 4:00 p.m. PT
ZONA – Nathan Bannister, RHP, Jr. (6-4, 4.20 ERA)
UCLA- Grant Watson, LHP, Sr. (7-4; 2.20 ERA)
Sunday, May 17, 1:00 p.m. PT
ZONA - Bobby Dalbec, RHP, So. (2-6, 3.22 ERA)
Arizona is in seventh place in the conference. Although they hit very well, their pitching is underwhelming. The numbers seem to indicate that UCLA’s pitching should be able to cool down the Arizona bats, and that UCLA’s very solid hitting should be able to take advantage of the Wildcats’ pitching staff. In order to maintain comfort in the PAC 12 race, and in order to hold serve in the national rankings, the Bruins need a series win. Of course, a series sweep would be spectacular and would all but salt away the PAC 12 Conference for the Bruins. A series win would be good for Arizona’s postseason resume, so the ‘Cats will be hungry to pull out all of the stops. It should be fun.
This is your UCLA vs. Arizona Wildcats Game One open thread.
Fire away with your comments and Go Bruins!!!