The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (6-6) squares off against the University of Texas Longhorns Baseball team (6-7) in a non-conference weekend series at Jackie Robinson Stadium, before PAC 12 conference play begins next weekend against Washington State Cougars (also at JWS). Texas, like UCLA, is struggling a bit this season. Especially considering that Texas is one of the college baseball "bluebloods," with six National Championships, including two in this millennium (’02 and ’05). The Longhorns have played two four games series with PAC 12 squads already this season, going 2-2 against Stanford in Austin and getting swept by U.C. Berkeley, also in Austin. Texas is 4-1 against team not named Stanford or Cal this season. This will be Texas’ first road series of the season. In fact, the ‘Horns have only played one road game, a midweek win at Texas State. Can UCLA’s continue the PAC 12’s winning ways this weekend? Let’s dive into this matchup.
UCLA had sixteen hits and scored twelve runs against Cal State Northridge on Tuesday. The Bruins still lost, 20-12 (ugh!), but those numbers helped UCLA’s offensive stats. The Bruins are now hitting .247 as a team. Eric Filia (.404, 1 HR, 11 RBI) continues to put up good numbers out of the three hole. Kort Peterson is hitting .343. Although Christoph Bono is only hitting .245, he is making them count with 10 RBI.
On the bad side, UCLA is getting next to nothing from the catcher’s position. Also, Trent Chatterton and Brett Stephens, although hitting better, still have a long ways to go toward respectability because of their shockingly slow starts from the plate.
The Bruins have legitimate issues with their pitching staff. Grant Dyer’s injury has moved Griffin Canning from his Saturday starter role to that of Friday starter. Canning has been a bright spot for the Bruins, winning two of his three starts (UCLA won Canning’s other start, but he did not get credit for the win).
But Canning moving to Friday leaves a huge hole on Saturday. In fact, the Bruins still have not announced the identity of their Saturday starter. Jake Bird started last Saturday, and he pitched three scoreless innings. As the game wore on, however, it became a committee approach, with five other pitchers making an appearance in the last six innings. We could see more of the same on Saturday, which puts stress on the bullpen, if needed, on Sunday.
Sunday starter, Kyle Molnar, who looked like he had good stuff in the Southern Cal game and has the potential to be outstanding, is still a freshman and makes mistake that hurt him, hence the 6.23 ERA. He is improving week by week and I expect Molnar to be a strong spot for UCLA by the end of the season.
The BIG issue for UCLA has been its midweek starter (frankly, Hunter Virant and Justin Hooper have been awful, and I am not convinced that Hooper is ready for pressure situations), but let’s table that issue until the next midweek game (March 29th, as there are no midweek games the next two weeks, which may allow UCLA to revamp its midweek strategy since the Bruins are 0-3 in midweek games).
Texas sports a very respectable 3.26 ERA (UCLA’s is 5.32). The Longhorns' Friday starter, who is usually the "ace" of the staff, is sixth on the team in ERA at 3.18, which speaks volumes about those other five pitchers. Texas' Saturday and Sunday starters are among those other five pitchers, and both have sub 2.00 ERAs.
Blake Wellman has six appearances out of the bullpen with a 2.35 ERA. He would seem to be a likely candidate to pitch if one of Texas’ starters gets into trouble.
The Longhorns are hitting .258 as a team, .011 points better than UCLA. The Longhorn’s lineup, however, appears to be in a state of uncertainty. Four Texas players who have started ten games or more are also among the bottom six of their hitters, average-wise (.250 or below). Conversely, four of Texas’ top five hitters have started only seven games or less. This tells me that certain players are not getting the job done at the plate and may be slowly replaced by guys who are hitting or the guys who are not getting it done are still being played with the hope that they’ll do better. The three Longhorns who lead the team in at bats are Zane Gurwitz (.268, 0 HR, 3 RBI), Bret Boswell (.222, 1 HR, 9 RBI), and Kody Clemens (.216, 1 HR, 8 RBI). Not great numbers from your guys who are getting the most ABs.
The following are the dates, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, March 11, 6:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (2-0; 1.74 ERA)
Texas—Kyle Johnston, RHP, So. (1-1, 3.18 ERA)
Saturday, March 12, 2:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Unknown
Texas—Ty Culbreth LHP, Sr. (2-1, 1.71 ERA)
Sunday, March 13, 12:00 p.m. PT
UCLA—Kyle Molnar RHP, Fr. (0-1, 6.23 ERA)
Texas—Connor Mayes RHP, So. (0-1, 1.93 ERA)
There is no TV for any of the games in the series.
Get out to Jackie Robinson Stadium for this once in a blue moon opportunity to see the Longhorns at JWS! UCLA hasn't played the University of Texas since 2003.
It think, sitting twelve games into the season and sitting at 6-6, this UCLA team is easy to predict. If the Bruins get decent pitching (including minimal walks, no past balls, no erroneous pick off plays, no hit-by-pitches), serviceable play from either of their freshman catchers (no past balls, errors), and no errors from the fielders, they can win any game, even if they play small ball and do not score a lot of runs. And it appears that this UCLA team might indeed be one of those small ball type teams. But when the Bruins compound pitching, catching, and defensive mistakes, it becomes difficult for this team to win. Unfortunately, UCLA is making a lot of mistakes when it is in the field. Texas has its own issues (and has not played a road series yet this season), so UCLA can take this series if they "get things cleaned up" while they are in the field. I Iike UCLA for the win tonight with Canning on the hill. I am less confident about Saturday and Sunday. We shall see . . .
First pitch is at 6 p.m.
This is your UCLA vs. Texas, Game One open thread.