The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (16-18, 6-9 PAC 12) is reaching a critical juncture in the season. With only 22 games left, and finding themselves tied for 9th in the PAC 12, the Bruins need to start winning series. After Oregon, UCLA embarks on a five game road trip, with midweek game at Fullerton, a three game series against conference leading Utah in Salt Lake City, and a midweek game at Long Beach. The Bruins' push for the postseason needs to start sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately for UCLA, Oregon (17-13, 7-5 PAC 12) comes in hot against PAC 12 competition, taking the series from Cal two weeks ago, sweeping Southern Cal last weekend, but losing a shootout to Oregon State, 11-10, in a midweek contest on Monday. Oregon is tied for 4th in the PAC 12.
The Bruins managed a come-from-behind win against Pepperdine in Malibu on Tuesday afternoon, 10-6. The Bruins relied upon a six-run 7th inning and used eight pitchers in the win over the Waves.
UCLA, however, has fared poorly against its PAC 12 weekend competition. After sweeping Washington State in its first PAC 12 series of the season, the Bruins have lost the last four series, 2-1 at Arizona, getting swept at Cal, 2-1 at home to Stanford, and 2-1 on a winnable series last weekend at Washington.
The 2016 iteration of the Bruins can be described as consistently inconsistent, especially when describing the pitching staff. Some of UCLA's pitching stalwarts, guys like Moises Ceja, have had some tough outings recently. Others who had tough outings early on, like Hunter Virant, have done better recently.
One of the most consistent UCLA pitchers has been Griffin Canning, (4-4, 3.53 ERA), who has gone the distance his last two games, losing 4-1 to Stanford and shutting out UDub 1-0. He'll take the hill for UCLA tonight. Grant Dyer (1-2, 6.50 ERA), who has struggled in his transition to starter from set-up specialist last season, will start tomorrow night. Freshman Kyle Molnar (2-4, 4.09 ERA), who struck out five of the first six batters he faced last Sunday, but gave up a grand slam two innings later,will start the series finale.
UCLA is hitting .245 as a team but there are the guys who consistently hit, and the guys who consistently do not. Daniel Rosica has started hitting the ball better, earning himself more time in the catcher's platoon with Jake Hirabayashi. As Christoph Bono struggles in his senior season, hitting .181, Head Coach John Savage has looked more to freshman Daniel Amaral, hitting .250. Amaral is a Bruin baseball legecy, son of Rich and brother of Beau. Amaral will fill the lead off spot and start in left field tonight ahead of lefty, Brett Stephens, giving Savage one more right handed bat in the order.
The UCLA hitters will have their work cut out for them. Each of Oregon's starting pitchers in this series is left handed, which does not favor UCLA's lineup, which features several lefties (one reason why the Amaral move might pay some dividends).
Taking the hill for the Ducks tonight is sophomore lefty, Matt Krook (3-1, 3.79 ERA). Although Krook struggled against Southern Cal last Friday in his last start, he still went six innings for the victory. Krook did well to extricate himself from several jams against USC.
The other starters in Oregon rotation, Cole Irvin (3-3, 4.10) and David Peterson (3-2, 1.59 ERA), the latter of which is working back from injury, also got the victories over the Trojans last weekend. Oregon has some solid arms out of the bullpen, especially closer Stephen Nogosek (1-1, 1.21 ERA), who has nine saves and 26 strikeouts in 22 and 1/3 innings pitched.
The Ducks are likely going to need their starting pitchers to do well, as the Oregon team batting average is only .233. Despite the low average, Oregon has some power in the lineup, having 16 home runs on the season. Some names to look out for are outfielder Jake Bennett (.333), outfielder Austin Greback (.296, 33 runs scored), designated hitter Steven Packard (.242. 4 HR, 25 RBI), and outfielder A.J. Balta (.206, 6 HR, 27 RBI).
The Match Up
The following are the game dates, times, and projected starters for the series:
A series win is critical. A sweep would be outstanding. Anything less than a series win would put UCLA's flagging postseason hopes in jeopardy. The Ducks are beatable. UCLA needs to find a way to get it done.
This is your UCLA v. Oregon baseball Game One open thread.
Go Griffin and Go Bruins!