The UCLA baseball team will pass the midpoint of the season over the weekend, when the Bruins (13-13, 6-3 PAC 12) welcome the Washington Huskies (14-9, 4-2 PAC 12) to Jackie Robinson Stadium for a three game set. UCLA has 29 games to go, and will have 26 to go after this weekend.
Before we get into some details about the series, let’s see how the .500 Bruins will need to fare going forward during the second half of the season. I think 31 wins and a top 4 finish in the PAC 12 gets the Bruins an at large bid to the postseason. Disagree with me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, but that is the premise I am working from.
31 wins means that UCLA will need to finish the season at an 18-11 clip, winning most PAC 12 series. Although this team is improving, UCLA faces some tall orders in the second half of the season, with one-loss Oregon State coming to LA, and the Bruins visiting Stanford and Oregon. That doesn’t even mention games against ranked Long Beach State, Fullerton, and San Diego State.
Although this team is young, some of the guys are starting to come around. Will it be enough to win another 18 games against tougher competition in the second half of the season? Time will tell.
Washington is no slouch itself. The Huskies are coming off a series win against a good Baylor team in Seattle. UCLA and UW have the same winning percengage in conference (.667), although the Huskies have played one less conference series than the Bruins. The teams are first and second, respectively, behind #1 nationally ranked Oregon State (15-1, 9-0 PAC 12).
The Huskies are solid in categories usually dominated by the Bruins: pitching and defense. Washington’s pitching staff is doing a good job, with a team ERA of 3.08, good for second best in the PAC 12. Of their top 4 starters, two have ERAs in the twos and the other two have ERAs in the threes.
Unlike UCLA, the Huskies bullpen has been lights out as of late, not having allowed a single run in conference play. The Huskies only have two saves on the season, so there is no reliable closer who has been through the trials of pressure situations in late games.
Washington will start two freshman this series, and tonight it will be Leo Nierenberg (0-1, 3.22 ERA), a righthander. Tomorrow it will be the lefty, Chris Micheles (1-2, 3.68 ERA). Sunday is TBA.
As for the Husky defense, they are tops in the PAC 12, with only seven errors on the year, and a .9827 fielding percentage.
Washington is hitting a solid .260 as a team. Although they do not have anybody hitting over .333, five regulars are hitting between .333 and .289. Like the Bruins, some of the Husky starters are hitting in the low .200s. Washington has only eleven home runs on the season.
The Bruins are coming off a series win in Phoenix against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Although ASU appears to be having a down year, getting a series win on the road in the desert should help the young Bruins’ confidence.
UCLA has lifted its team batting average to .264. The team has been on a bit of a power surge of late, scoring eight or more runs in seven of its last nine games. In the two games where the Bruins didn’t score eight or more, they lost both times, 5-4.
Freshman, Kyle Cuellar, is doing a lot of the damage, hitting .400 with 16 RBI and a .545 slugging percentage, good for second on the team. Sean Bouchard is continuing has workhorse season, hitting .343 with six home runs and 23 RBI, leading the team in both categories. Another freshman, Ryan Kreidler, is hitting .300 with 17 RBI. And the guys who started slowly, guys like Brett Stephens and Michael Toglia, have brought their averages up considerably, and have been contributing more. Keep it up, guys!
I am not worried about any of UCLA’s starters. I worry about the guys who come in around the 6th or 7th inning in a close game. That has been UCLA’s weakness all season. Hopefully, Griffin Canning will start the Bruins off right tonight with a strong performance deep into the game and we can stay away from our shaky bullpen.
The following are the date, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, April 7th at 6 p.m. PT:
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, Jr. (2-1, 2.87 ERA)
UW - Leo Nierenberg, RHP, Fr. (0-1, 3.22 ERA)
Saturday, April 8th at 2 p.m. PT:
UCLA - Moises Ceja, RHP, Sr. (1-1, 2.53 ERA)
UW - Chris Micheles, LHP, Fr. (1-2, 3.68 ERA)
Sunday, April 9th at 1 p.m. PT:
UCLA - Jon Olson, RHP, So. (2-1, 3.69 ERA)
UW - TBA
None of the series will be televised. UCLA stalwarts, Jon Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will call the action for the Bruins via online streaming audio, keeping it fun and fresh no matter what the score. Or simply check the live stats.
Or, if you are in LA, get out to a game! It is going to be a beautiful sunny weekend and this looks to be an evenly matched series.
This series feels like another coin toss to me. I do not think that either team sweeps, but I think Washington might be the better team because of UCLA’s bullpen woes. On the other hand, Washington is a long way from home. If UCLA gets better production from its bullpen, it will take the series. If not, it won’t. Simple as that.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Washington Huskies game one open thread. Follow along and let us know your thoughts in the comment section.