The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (11-7, 3-0 PAC 12) heads east to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats (14-6, 1-2 PAC 12) in a weekend series that starts today and ends on Saturday.
After starting the season slowly, including a series loss to now 17-2 North Carolina, the Bruins have been playing better baseball of late. UCLA is ranked in the top 25 in all major polls. More importantly, the Bruins have been getting better pitching, better defense, and better hitting, each of which was an issue at times earlier in the season. Hopefully UCLA can continue their solid play on the road this weekend (and next weekend at U.C. Berkeley).
Although Arizona comes into the weekend having lost their PAC 12 opening series at Washington, two things bode well for the Wildcats. First, they destroyed the Huskies, 17-7 to avoid the series sweep, and built some momentum, which transferred over to a midweek trouncing of Utah Valley, 14-0. So they are coming into this series with hot bats. Second, the ‘Cats are riding an eight game home winning streak. UofA has only lost one game in Tucson this season. Arizona is not ranked in any of the major polls, but a strong showing against UCLA could vault them into the rankings.
Can UCLA cool Arizona’s hot bats or will the Bruins wilt in the desert this weekend?
Eric Filia and Kort Peterson lead the Bruins in batting average (.352 and .333, respectively), home runs (2 apiece), slugging percentage (.507 and .492, respectively), and on-base percentage (.466 and .469, respectively).
After that, it is a pretty big drop-off in overall production. Luke Persico is hitting .288 with 6 RBI. Sean Bouchard leads the team in RBI with 16, but is only hitting .255 and leads the team in strikeouts with 21.
Trent Chatterton and Brett Stephens are hovering around .200 in batting average and the offensive production of UCLA’s catchers has been practically non-existent. The Bruins are hitting .245 as a team.
UCLA, however, has been getting more timely hits of late and, at least last weekend, taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes and turning those mistakes into runs. The Bruin hitters might need to step up their game this weekend in order to keep pace with Arizona’s offense.
UCLA got masterful performances last week from Griffin Canning on Friday and Kyle Molnar on Sunday. At one point, Molnar struck out eight in a row. Molnar’s stellar performance earned him the honor of PAC 12 Pitcher of the Week.
After missing two starts due to injury, Grant Dyer returned to action last week, but as UCLA’s #2 starter. He was not stellar, but he was not awful either, conceding single runs in four consecutive innings but keeping Washington State from an inning with a crooked number. Dyer will pitch on Friday this week.
UCLA’s bullpen continues to improve, with veterans such as Jake Bird and Moises Ceja putting in very solid outings last weekend. Freshman, Brian Gadsby continues to shine in the closer role, throwing 3 and 1/3 innings last Saturday into extra frames for the victory. Gadsby retired all ten batters that he faced.
The Bruins pitching staff will be tested this weekend against the hot hitting Arizona batting order.
The Wildcats are hitting .306 at a team. The Wildcats' on base percentage as a team is .404. Five starters are hitting over .300 (UCLA has two). And that does not include reigning PAC 12 Player of the Week, Bobby Dalbec (.258, 4 HR, 14 RBI). Dalbec has a .515 slugging percentage. Oh, Dalbec also pitches, going 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA on the season.
Shortstop and typical lead-off hitter, Cody Ramer is hitting .349, with an on-base percentage of .421. First baseman, Ryan Aguilar, is hitting .350, with 4 home runs and 18 RBI. Clean-up hitter, second baseman J.J. Matijevic is hitting .338 with 14 RBI. Unlike UCLA (whose catchers are hitting a combined .106 with 4 RBI), the ‘Cats are also getting offensive production out of their catcher. Backstop, Cesar Salazar, is hitting .345 with 13 RBI.
So Arizona's lineup is pretty formidable. To have success against UofA, the Bruins are going to have to cool down the 'Cats at the plate.
UCLA’s lineup, which is full of lefthanders, typically does not fare well against top left handed pitchers. The Bruins will face a pretty good one today in J.C. Cloney, who has been a workhorse for the ‘Cats, throwing 34 and 2/3 innings so far this season, striking out 22 batters. Only one pitcher on Arizona has thrown more innings, and that would be the Wildcats’ #2 starter, Nathan Bannister, who will pitch the Friday game this week. Bannister has pitched 35 and 2/3 innings, striking out 25.
Although Austin Schnabel has started the last two Sunday games for Arizona, closer Bobby Dalbec is listed as the starter for Arizona in the final game of the series. Expect a committee approach, which is exactly what happened in Schnabel’s two prior Sunday starts.
Arizona’s bullpen has been a bit like UCLA’s with some players excelling, and others struggling. If UCLA can force the ‘Cats to use their bullpen early in the series, Arizona might need to turn to players who have not fared well this season.
The following are the dates, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Thursday, March 24, 6:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (3-1; 2.55 ERA)
Arizona—J.C. Cloney, LHP, Jr. (2-1, 3.12 ERA)
Friday, March 25, 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (0-1, 6.35 ERA)
Arizona—Nathan Bannister, RHP, Sr. (3-1, 3.53 ERA)
Saturday, March 26, 1:00 p.m. PT
UCLA—Kyle Molnar RHP, Fr. (2-1, 4.50 ERA)
Arizona—Bobby Dalbec, RHP, Jr. (4-1, 1.21 ERA)
None of the games in Tucson will be televised. Fans can, however, follow the action in all three games with John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm via streaming online audio, including tonight’s game.The game will also be video streamed courtesy of the University of Arizona, which will also provide live stats.
UCLA’s record is not as good as Arizona’s, but the Bruins have played a much tougher schedule. Still, the trip to Tucson will not be easy. Statistically, Arizona is a much better hitting team and the teams are close to even from a pitching perspective. UCLA will need to fight hard for a series win. I think that both teams will win at least one. The question is who will win the series?
This is your UCLA vs. Arizona, Game One open thread.