Mississippi State visits Los Angeles this weekend, playing UCLA on Friday, Southern Cal on Saturday, and Oklahoma in the Dodger Stadium Baseball Classic (formerly called the Dodgertown Classic) on Sunday.
The Bruins host Mississippi State and Oklahoma at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and then travel across town to Chavez Ravine to square off against Southern Cal in a non-conference game.
First up for the UCLA Bruins baseball team (3-5) is Mississippi State (7-2). The Bruins last played the Bulldogs in the 2013 National Championship series, where UCLA's pitching and defense beat Mississippi State's power in a two-game sweep.
Both teams are ranked closely together, with the Bruins at #21 in the D1Baseball.com poll, and the Bulldogs at #20. In the NCBWA poll, UCLA is #20; Mississippi State is #19. The major difference is that the Bulldogs are winning and the Bruins are struggling.
The quality of Mississippi State's opponents, however, is questionable at best. Mississippi State has played all of its games at home, losing two to undefeated Florida Atlantic. The Bulldogs' seven wins have come against South Dakota State, Nicholls State, UMass Lowell, and Alcorn State, not exactly baseball powerhouses.
UCLA has lost its last two games, to Cal Poly and UCSB, respectively, after seemingly turning a corner in its first two games at Cal Poly. The Bruins have started hitting, but are getting poor pitching, and that extends to more than giving up hits, as the walks, hits-by pitiches, wild pitches, errors on pick-off moves, and past balls continue to haunt UCLA's battery. And UCLA's staff is about to take a another hit tonight.
The Bruins are hitting better, raising their average to a hair below .240. Scott Jarvis is hitting .464 in 13 at-bats, aided by a five hit game last weekend. Eric Filia and Kort Peterson are still hitting well. Luke Perisco and Trent Chatterton hit well over the weekend, getting their batting averages closer to respectability.
That's not the problem right now.
The problem is the pitching. Just look at last week's midweek game against UCSB.
The Bruins’ staff issued seven walks, five batters hit by a pitch, wild pitches, and two errors committed by a pitcher in their midweek loss, 11-6, at UCSB. The Gauchos only had seven hits; the Bruins twelve. Ouch!
UCLA’s battered pitching staff takes another hit as Grant Dyer will be unable to go for the Bruins tonight. That means Head Coach John Savage’s Saturday starter, sophomore righty, Griffin Canning, will take the hill for the UCLA. He’s very solid.
But what about the rest of the weekend? Freshman Kyle Molnar would be slated to move up from Sunday to Saturday starter, but he’s had issues, with a 6.75 ERA. Hunter Virant and Justin Hooper have been the weekday starters, but with 15.43 and 18.00 ERAs, respectively, can you count on either one of them against Southern Cal in Dodger Stadium?
Personally, I’d like to see Scott Burke get a start. Burke has pitched very well in long relief in some tough spots this year, with a 3.27 ERA and second on the team in innings pitched (behind Canning). Moises Ceja has also pitched pretty well in his appearances this season. The freshmen? Well, I'll just echo the words of UCLA announcer Tim Wilhelm in his Tuesday afternoon broadcast. When speaking about the UCLA freshman on the staff, he referred to their collective struggle this season as a "baptism of fire." An apt comparison, in my opinion.
Mississippi State Hitting
This might not be the offense powerhouse of 2013, but these guys are pretty darn good. Mississippi State sports a .340 batting average as a team. Their catcher, Jack Kruger, a transfer from Orange Coast College (yeah, that OCC), is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .563, with eight doubles and 13 RBI.
The Bulldgos have nine (NINE!) other players who are hitting between .389 and .304. Mississippi State has four home runs on the season.
It will be up to Griffin Canning to try to keep a lid on these guys.
Mississippi State Pitching
The Bulldogs have 13 pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA. They have six pitchers who have pitched at least two innings and have not given up a run. All of this amounts to a 2.51 team ERA, which is excellent at any level. UCLA will face Mississippi State's Friday starter, Dakota Hudson, who has a 1.64 ERA.
Can UCLA play like Florida Atlantic in their one game against Mississippi State, or will the Bulldogs treat the Bruins like they treated South Dakota State, Nicholls State, UMass Lowell, and Alcorn State?
UCLA—Griffing Canning, So. RHP (1-0, 2.25 ERA)
Miss. St.—Dakota Hudson, Jr. RHP (1-0, 1.64 ERA)
Canning has done well in his two outings and UCLA has won both games that he started. He is the clear choice to start on Friday now that Dyer is banged up.
Hudson has started two games, thrown 11 innings, recording 17 strikeouts. Hudson started in the season opening loss to undefeated Florida Atlantic, receiving no decision, and started (and won) the Friday game against UMass Lowell, throwing six innings of two-hit ball, striking out nine. He will test the Bruins . . . or will the Bruins test him?
In what shapes up to be a good pitching match-up, I give the struggling Bruins a slight advantage. With any pitcher other than Canning starting, I would think that the Bulldogs would have the advantage, but Canning is a special talent. If UCLA can get him any support, I predict a Bruin win. The rest of the weekend will be tough because of issues with the pitching staff's depth. It will interesting to see how Coach Savage handles his staff this weekend. A Griffin Canning appearance into the late innings tonight would give Coach Savage even more flexibility on Saturday and Sunday.
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 feel free to listen to John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm call the game. You can also follow along with live statistics. Or do both while posting on BN!
This is your UCLA vs. Mississippi State baseball open thread.