The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (12-10, 4-2 PAC 12) heads to Berkeley this weekend to take on the Golden Bears (15-6, 4-2 PAC 12), in a battle of two of the four teams tied for 1st place in the PAC 12. The series starts tonight at 7 p.m. PT.
This is a tale of two teams going in different directions. Right now, UCLA is licking their wounds. The Bruins dropped a heartbreaking series to Arizona last weekend, blowing a 4 run lead in the bottom of the 9th inning on Sunday. UCLA followed that up getting bombed by a pedestrian Cal State Fullerton squad at home, 14-7, the Bruins fourth midweek loss in four midweek games. UCLA has lost three of their last four.
UC Berkeley, on the other hand, is ranked nationally between #10 to #13, after sweeping a top ten Oregon State Beaver team last weekend in Northern California. The Golden Bears have won four straight and have one of the top Friday starters in the nation, Daulton Jeffries (6-0, 1.29 ERA). Jefferies has started six games this season and won ‘em all. UC Berkeley is a good hitting team and a good pitching team. Very balanced. They remind me a bit of UCLA last year.
This is going to a very tough series for UCLA. For the Bruins to have success, they will need to avoid some of the mistakes that have been plaguing them this season. If anything, make the Golden Bears beat you. I don’t want to see UCLA beating itself with walks, hit batters, bad pickoff moves, errors, past balls, and wild pitches.
Sean Bouchard is swinging a hot bat, having raised his average to .324, to go with a home run and 21 RBI (the UCLA team leader). Eric Filia and Kort Peterson continue to hit the ball well, with .353 and .320 batting averages, respectively.
The problem is the bottom of UCLA’s lineup with Brett Stephens hitting .169, Trent Chatterton at .203, and Jake Hirabayashi hitting .068. Christoph Bono is also below the Mendoza line, at .219.
As a team, UCLA is hitting only .244, which means that there is not much room for error by the Bruins’ pitching and defense.
Unfortunately, UCLA has been getting erratic performances from its pitching and defense. I do not recall a John Savage coached team with more errors on pickoff plays and hit batters, often in the same innings. Those types of things are self-inflicted wounds and can kill a team with a slim margin of error, which appears to define the Bruins at this stage of the season.
Maybe this will be the weekend where all three UCLA starters do well. I do not believe that UCLA’s Friday starter, Griffin Canning, and its Sunday starter, Grant Dyer, have won games in the same weekend all season. When one pitches well, the other doesn’t. Sunday starter Kyle Molnar has continued to improve this season. He is a rock solid Sunday starter halfway through his freshman year and I expect big things from him for the rest of his UCLA career.
The bullpen continues to be a mixed bag. Moises Ceja is about the only UCLA pitcher out of the bullpen who has been consistently good all season. Brian Gadsby and Scott Burke, who pitched very well early in the year, have gotten roughed up of late. Others have had consistently bad seasons thus far.
UCLA will need to dig deep from a pitching perspective as it will face a very good hitting team in UC Berkeley.
UC Berkeley Hitting
The Golden Bears are led by sophomore catcher, Brett Cumberland, who is absolutely killing it at the plate. Cumberland is hitting .391, with 8 home runs and 20 RBI. He gets on base over 50% of the time and his slugging percentage is an obscene .844. Rightfully so, Cumberland hits clean up.
Senior third baseman, Mitchell Kranson, is hitting .344 with 3 home runs and 12 RBI, out of the three hole. Five other guys are hitting between .292 and .274. That’s nice balance throughout the lineup, something UCLA has not been able to enjoy with its top heavy batting order.
UC Berkeley is hitting .288 as a team. Among the Golden Bears’ regular players, only one player is hitting below .250. The Golden Bears’ lineup will present a significant challenge for UCLA's pitching staff.
UC Berkeley Pitching
Berkeley’s pitching might be better than its hitting. I’ve already told you about Jeffries, who will likely enter the MLB draft after this season. He has 47 strikeouts in 42 innings. MLB scouts are salivating over this guy.
Cal’s Saturday starter is Ryan Mason, an experienced senior who is 3-1 this season with a 2.50 ERA. Although not as dominant as Jeffries, Mason has been very solid, going 35 and 2/3 innings and striking out 26.
The Friday/Saturday combo of Jeffries and Mason remind me of UCLA combo of James Kaprielian and Grant Watson last year (although Watson was a lefty). You have the powerful, highly regarded junior on Friday followed by the wily senior on Saturday.
Although Berkeley’s coaching staff has not named a starting pitcher for Sunday, I expect it to be lefthander Matt Ladrech (2-1, 4.25 ERA), unless he is banged up. Ladrech has started most Sunday games for Cal this season and UCLA has trouble against lefties. Another possibility is right hander Jeff Bain (2-1, 3.50 ERA), but Bain started the midweek game on Tuesday. Both Ladrech and Bain are sophomores.
Sophomore rightly Erik Martinez is the Berkeley closer. The kid is tough, with a 0.66 ERA and eight saves.
The Golden Bears’ team ERA is 2.90, good enough for #24 in the nation and 2nd in the PAC 12. Since UCLA has not been hitting the ball consistently this season, this match up favors Berkeley.
The following are the dates, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, April 1, 7:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (3-2; 3.43 ERA)
UC Berkeley—Daulton Jeffries, RHP, Jr. (6-0; 1.29 ERA)
Saturday, April 2, 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (1-1; 4.43 ERA)
UC Berkeley—Ryan Mason, RHP, Sr. (3-1, 2.52 ERA)
Sunday, April 3, 1:00 p.m. PT
UCLA—Kyle Molnar RHP, Fr. (2-1, 4.50 ERA)
UC Berkeley—Not Yet Announced
None of the games this series will be televised. Follow the action in all three games with John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm via streaming online audio, including tonight’s game. You can also follow tonight’s game via live statistics.
I hate to pick against my beloved Bruins, but I cannot see UCLA winning this series on the road. You have to give the edge to the Golden Bears tonight, with Jeffries throwing. Tomorrow’s match-up is more of a toss-up from a pitching perspective, and UCLA’s Sunday starter, Kyle Molnar, is certainly trending in the right direction. But, because of the top heavy UCLA lineup and its inconsistency hitting the ball when its needs to, compared to the Golden Bears’ consistent, top to bottom production, I cannot see UCLA taking both the Saturday and Sunday games. I think UCLA avoids the sweep, but drops the series. I would love to be made to eat crow on this prediction.
This is your UCLA vs. UC Berkeley, Game One open thread.