The UCLA Bruin baseball team (13-16) will face the Loyola Marymount Lions (16-16) at Jackie Robinson Stadium tonight. First pitch is at 6 p.m. PT. The Bruins will look to close out their five game home stand with a win before heading out on a four game road trip, including a three game series at Washington followed by a game against Pepperdine in Malibu next Tuesday.
Just past the midpoint of the 2016 regular season, I think that it is fair to say that this UCLA team has underachieved even considering the loss of Daryl Miller, Jr. and the players (pitchers and position players) who left after last season. Although the season got off to a rocky start, it appeared that UCLA had turned things around until the Bruins blew a four run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning against Arizona on March 26th. Had UCLA closed out that game, they would have been 13-8.
Instead UCLA fell to 12-9 and that game began a stretch in which the Bruins have gone 1-8 (and the one win was only because UCLA scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Stanford last Friday night). Gone are the days of last year, where the Bruins often came into the seventh inning with a lead, leaving it up to Tucker Forbes in the seventh, Grant Dyer in the eighth, and David Berg in the ninth to lock the game down.
It seemed so easy last season. Everything seems so difficult this season.
UCLA needs to reel off some wins quickly in order to get into position for a potential postseason berth. It will not be easy. To do so, UCLA will have to improve in all facets of the game, including its 4.95 team ERA. Incredibly, no pitcher who has started a game for UCLA this season has a winning record.
Jake Bird (1-3, 5.81 ERA) gets the call for UCLA again tonight. Bird has taken the losses in the last two midweek games, although he did better last week (5 innings pitched, 3 earned runs) than the week before (1 and 1/3 innings, 6 earned runs).
The Bruins have not fared much better on offense, hitting only .241 as a team. Three of UCLA's regular starters and both of the players who make up the catching platoon (i.e., the bottom half of the order) are hitting below .200. Two of those starters were anticipated to take strides forward as seniors and the other was supposed to be UCLA's lead-off hitter of the future. Neither scenario has played out as expected.
UCLA faces an LMU team that comes into tonight's game at .500. The Lions beat Southern Cal 8-0 in a midweek game two weeks ago and have won their last two weekend series, against USF and USD, respectively. In years past, you could safely pencil this game into the books as a win. Not so this season, in which the Bruins are winless in five midweek games.
Loyola Marymount will send junior right hander Tyler Cohen (2-3, 4.14 ERA to the mound tonight against the Bruins. Cohen was solid against US Riverside last week, going 6 and 2/3 innings, and giving up only one run on four hits.
UCLA will wear uniforms honoring Jackie Robinson tonight. Perhaps this will help inspire them to victory.
Although this is not a must win game for UCLA, the Bruins need momentum going into a tough series in Seattle this weekend. Hopefully Jake Bird and the rest of the Bruins can get the job done tonight.