The momentum of UCLA's four game winning streak and weekend sweep of the Oregon Ducks came to a halt on Tuesday in Fullerton, where the Bruins yet again got poor pitching in a midweek game, falling to the CSUF Titans, 10-7. UCLA (19-19, 9-9 PAC 12), now turn their sights to the Utah Utes, starting at today at 11 a.m. PT (the time is not a misprint, they're playing at 11 a.m. PT tomorrow as well).
Although Utah is tied atop the PAC 12 standings at 9-6, their overall record is only 14-22, as the Utes started off the season very slowly, losing eight out of nine at one point before the beginning of PAC 12 play. Utah could be vulnerable this weekend, as they have lost four out of their last five, all at home, to UC Riverside, Utah Valley, and Oregon State. The Utes, however, did beat the Beavers last Sunday.
With only 18 games left in the regular season, UCLA needs series wins, badly. Last weekend, each of UCLA's weekend starters, Griffin Canning, Grant Dyer, and Kyle Molnar, has great outings and got the wins. UCLA will need more of the same out of those guys this weekend, as the Bruin bullpen has been a house of horrors, with one or two exceptions.
At the plate, UCLA continues to get great production from Eric Filia (.336, 2 HR, 26 RBI) and Luke Persico has steadily improved his production throughout the season. Persico is now hitting .315, with 2 home runs and 19 RBI. Kort Peterson and Sean Bouchard are hitting slightly below .300, and are among UCLA's top RBI guys (Bouchard is first; Peterson third).
Catcher Daniel Roscia has come on strong lately, raising his average up to .243. He has also been playing well behind the plate. I believe that the 2016 catching platoon is over, as Rosica has outperformed Jake Hirabayashi. Expect to see Roscia behind the dish for the remainder of the season.
I cannot reconcile Utah's overall record with their PAC 12 record. Is the PAC 12 balanced this year, or is it not very good? The Utes have won series against Oregon, ASU, and swept Arizona. They lost their last two PAC 12 series, however, at Southern Cal and at home against Oregon State.
Looking at the pitching match-ups below, Utah's three starters for this weekend appear to match up pretty well against UCLA's starters. Today's starter for the Utes, Jayson Rose has an identical record as UCLA's Griffin Canning (5-4) and a slightly lower ERA (2.70 for Rose to 3.45 for Canning).
Rose gave up five runs (five earned) in five innings, while taking the loss last Friday to Oregon State. In his previous start, against UC Riverside, Rose threw eight innings of scoreless, one hit ball. Before that, he was a hard luck loser at Southern Cal, surrendering three runs in seven innings. Let's hope UCLA's offense is closer to Oregon State's and Southern Cal's than UC Riverside's!
Utah's team batting average (.262) is slightly better than UCLA's (.250). DaShawn Keirsey, Jr., Utah's lead off hitter and center fielder, is batting .316. The typical number two and three hitters, Cody Scaggari and Dallas Carroll, are also producing. Scaggari is hitting .306 with 3 home runs and 20 RBI. Carroll leads the Utes with 4 home runs. Utah has sixteen total home runs on the season, which seems low for a team playing at elevation.
To some extent, the bottom of Utah's order suffers from some of the same maladies as does UCLA's. Low averages and relative lack of production when compared to the top of the order.
The Match Up
The following are the game dates, times, and projected starters for the series:
Friday, April 29 at 11:00 a.m.
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (5-4, 3.45 ERA)
UTAH – Jayson Rose, RHP, So. (5-4, 2.70 ERA)
Saturday, April 30 at 11:00 a.m.
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (2-2, 5.44 ERA)
UTAH – Dalton Carroll, RHP, Sr. (3-5, 4.94 ERA)
Sunday, May 1 at 6:00 p.m.
UCLA – Kyle Molnar, RHP, Fr. (3-4, 3.59 ERA)
UTAH – Josh Lapiana, LHP, So. (2-4, 4.68 ERA)
These two teams appear to be about even on paper. Utah has not had a huge home field advantage this year, going 6-5 at home. UCLA swept Utah in Los Angeles last season. But that was a completely different UCLA team. For me, it comes down to UCLA's starting pitchers. If the Bruins can get seven innings out of Canning, Dyer, and Molnar (and that is asking a lot), they could win each of the three games. I don't think either team sweeps. Someone will win two and lose one. For me, it is a toss up. If UCLA can get the series win, it would be huge for the Bruins.
This is your UCLA v. Utah baseball Game One open thread.