The UCLA baseball team takes the field at Jackie Robinson Stadium today at 6 p.m. PT, hosting the Long Beach State Dirtbags. UCLA is coming off a disappointing series loss at home to North Carolina, which saw the Bruins drop from a consensus top 10 team to a consensus top 15 team in the national rankings. Anyone who followed the series might wonder if UCLA should be ranked that high. Long Beach State is coming off a home series of their own against Holy Cross, in which the Dirtbags won the series, but dropped the series finale, 3-2. This is your UCLA v. LBSU baseball preview and open thread.
UCLA comes into the game after playing poorly in its opening series. Only two Bruins are hitting above .200, Eric Filia and Kort Peterson. Filia had the game winning, walk-off single on Saturday night, saving the game for UCLA, 6-5, in a contest in which they only had four hits
Peterson, the Bruins’ clean-up hitter could have drastically changed the outcome of Sunday’s game, coming to the dish on consecutive at bats with the bases loaded. He grounded into an inning-ending double play and struck out, stranding all six runners.
Lead-off hitter, Brett Stephens doesn’t have a hit. Neither does Trent Chatterton. These are the guys that will need to step up with the bat to replace UCLA’s talented starters from last year.
UCLA has 14 hits and is hitting .147 through the first three games. UCLA has struck out 38 times, almost 13 times a game!
UCLA Pitching & Defense
In the past, however, UCLA’s pitching and defense could pull them through stretches in which the bats weren’t going. Neither good pitching nor good defense was on display against The Tar Heels.
UCLA committed eight errors in the series, including five in the Sunday finale, which resulted in a total of five unearned runs. UCLA appears to miss Darrell Miller, Jr.’s defense, as freshman Jake Hirabayashi, who split time behind the plate with Daniel Rosica, allowed four past balls in the series.
All three weekend starters were roughed up, with Grant Dyer going five innings and allowing four earned runs, for a 7.20 ERA. Not the type of outing you need from your Friday starter. On Saturday, Griffin Canning went five innings, allowing three runs (and two more runs unearned) for a 5.40 ERA. Sunday’s starter, Kyle Molnar, a true freshman, allowed five runs in five innings, for a 9.00 ERA. The starters have to do better. Period.
The bullpen was a mixed bag, with Jake Bird getting hammered in his one appearance (which put Sunday’s game out of reach for the Bruins). Freshman Nathan Hadley, pitched well, giving up no runs in three appearances, throwing a total of three innings.
Long Beach State comes into the game with better numbers, albeit against an inferior opponent (Holy Cross) than the one UCLA faced (North Carolina). Shortstop Garrett Hampson is hitting .500 with six hits. DH, Luke Rasmussen, is hitting .373 with with three RBI.
As a team, however, LBSU is only hitting .218. The Dirtbags have only struck out 18 times.
LBSU Pitching and Defense
The Dirtbags’ Friday and Saturday starters, Tanner Brown and Darren McCaughan, have identical numbers, each having pitched seven innings, gave up one run, for a 1.29 ERA. UCLA will face Dave Smith, a junior college transfer this season who is a new to the Dirtbags. Long Beach State has not committed an error this season.
UCLA - Hunter Virant, Jr. LHP (0-0, 0.00)
LBSU – Dave Smith, Jr. RHP (0-0, 0.00)
UCLA will send Hunter Virant to the mound tonight. Virant became the Sunday starter last year after Griffin Canning was injured. The big lefty pitched pretty well, starting 4 games, going 1-2, with a 3.45 ERA. Virant gets his first start of the season today, although he did pitch 2/3 of an inning in scoreless relief on Saturday against UNC, contributing to the Bruins’ sole win.
Long Beach State will counter with junior righty Dave Smith. Smith, a transfer from Cosumnes River JC, has never thrown a pitch in Division 1 ball.
In our UCLA Baseball season preview, we asked, given all of the holes that they need to fill from their 2015 season, whether the Bruins would be rebuilding or reloading. Based on the results from the weekend, the early verdict is "rebuilding." Obviously, there is a ton of baseball left, and North Carolina could turn out to be very good. It is not time to hit the panic button yet.
Today’s game gives the Bruins an opportunity to even its record. Although Long Beach State is historically a very good team (UCLA split with them last season, winning at JWS and losing in extra innings in Long Beach), I like the pitching matchup in this one. Virant has experience at this level while Smith does not. The Bruins are due to get some hits. LBSU didn't hit Holy Cross that well (relying on their weekend starters to hold down the fort), so hopefully the bump up in competition will be too much for them to overcome.
The first pitch is at 6 p.m. PT. If you have a chance, come out to Jackie Robinson Stadium to cheer on the Bruins! The game will not be televised, but you can listen to John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm call the game or follow along with live statistics.
This is your UCLA vs. LBSU baseball open thread.