The UCLA Bruins Baseball team got punched in the mouth at home last weekend against the North Carolina Tar Heels, losing two of three, and got punched again at home on Tuesday, falling 10-1 to the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Can the Bruins (1-3) take a punch?
We will find out tonight as UCLA travels to San Luis Obispo to take on the Cal Poly Mustangs (4-0), who swept their four-game opening series at home against the University of the Pacific Tigers. Cal Poly needed an extra inning to beat UoP in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader, but won their other three games in convincing fashion, including the series finale, 19-2. Unlike UCLA, Cal Poly has had the luxury of playing with a lead most of the time in their first four games. UCLA, on the other hand, has allowed their opponents to score first in each of its games.
Collectively, the Bruins are struggling in all facets of the game: they are hitting .165; their team ERA is 7.00; and they have committed nine errors in four games. Individually, the picture is not much rosier. UCLA’s third best hitter for average is hitting .214. The Bruins’ second best pitcher by earned run average has an ERA of 4.50. Baseball is and has always been a game that is immersed in statistics. The statistics don’t lie.
The one bright spot with the lumber for UCLA is Kort Peterson, who is hitting .400 with 2 RBI. Kort’s numbers could be even better, but he stranded the bases loaded twice on Sunday. Freshman Nathan Hadley has pitched well, throwing four scoreless innings of relief.
Although UCLA has lost a lot from last year, whether to graduation, the draft, transfer, or injury, these 2016 Bruins are still very talented players. These numbers will not continue. Do not, however, expect this team to morph into the squads of 2010, 2013, or 2015. It could be more like 2009’s squad (Gerrit Cole’s and Trevor Bauer’s freshmen seasons), in which the Bruins narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. I still think UCLA has what it takes to qualify for the tournament and make some noise, but it will take some time for all of the new pieces to mesh. I think that this squad will improve as the season goes on.
Cal Poly has beaten Pacific four times. I am not sure if that is any sort of barometer for the skill of the Mustangs, who are unranked in all major polls. The Mustangs went 27-27 last season, one year removed from 2014, in which they went 47-12, hosted a regional, and took Pepperdine to the limit before falling in an elimination game. Almost all of that 2014 team is gone.
Some of the 2015 team is back, including the three starting pitchers that UCLA will face, but none of those guys had winning records or impressive ERAs last season. Cal Poly’s Friday starter, Kyle Smith (1-0, 2.00 ERA), went 5-7 last year, starting 13 games, with a 3.95 ERA. Cal Poly’s second and third starters against UCLA, Slater Lee (1-0, 3.68 ERA) and Erick Uelman (1-0, 1.50 ERA), mostly came out of the bullpen and had ERAs of 6.27 and 7.01, respectively.
The top three hitters in Cal Poly’s lineup have gotten off to great starts. Center fielder and leadoff hitter, Alex McKenna is hitting .500, with 9 runs scored, 2 home runs, and 5 RBI. He has also walked 7 times, and has an on-base percentage of .650.
Josh George hits out of the two spot. He is also crushing it, hitting .471 with 7 RBI. The Mustangs’ number three hitter, Brett Barbier, leads the team in batting average, at .571, and doubles, with three. Of Cal Poly’s expected starting lineup, only two players are hitting below .250. By comparison, only two of UCLA’s players are hitting over .214.
Another interesting factor to note is that, in a bizarre scheduling quirk, Cal Poly will play Michigan on Saturday at noon, before later facing the Bruins at 6 p.m. Perhaps that extra game will wear a bit on the Mustangs on Saturday night and/or Sunday against UCLA.
Michigan is apparently playing several California teams once (also Santa Clara, U.C. Berkeley, and San Jose State) before a three game series next weekend against UC Davis, followed by a three game series in Hawai’i. Jim Harbaugh is taking Michigan’s football team to Florida for Spring Practice, so I guess that the Michigan Baseball team can get a California/Hawai’i "vacation" in late February/early March. Nice.
End of digression.
The following are the date, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, February 26, 6:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (0-1, 7.20 ERA)
Cal Poly – Kyle Smith, LHP, So. (1-0, 2.00 ERA)
Saturday, February 27, 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (0-0; 5.40 ERA)
Cal Poly – Slater Lee, RHP, Jr. (1-0. 3.68 ERA)
Sunday, February 28, 1:00 p.m. PT
UCLA-Kyle Molnar, RHP, Fr. (0-0, 9.00 ERA)
Cal Poly – Erich Uelman, RHP, So. (1-0. 1.50 ERA)
There is no TV for any of the games in the series.
As usual, John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call for all three games via streaming online audio, including tonight’s game. You can also follow tonight’s game via live statistics.
It is unreasonable to expect a series win at Cal Poly? The expectation for this program is that the Bruins will always be favored against Cal Poly. So, yes, I expect a series win. I expect UCLA to play better in all aspects of the game. Better pitching, better hitting, and better fielding. It starts tonight at 6 p.m.
This is your UCLA vs. Cal Poly, Game One open thread.