The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (24-21, 13-8 PAC 12) concludes its seven game road trip this weekend, against the Washington State Cougars (22-22, 8-13 PAC 12) in Pullman, WA. The Bruins are already 3-1 on the trip, sweeping Southern Cal at Dedeaux Field last weekend, but dropping a tough 4-3 contest at Cal State Fullerton in the OC on Tuesday night. First pitch of game one against the Cougs is tonight at 7 p.m. PT
UCLA will look to continue its good play of late, going 6-3 in its last nine games. Before that, UCLA played the best team in the nation, Oregon State, as tight as the Beavers have been played this season. The Bruins will need to continue their good form down the stretch.
UCLA is are sitting at 24-21 overall and tied for second in the PAC 12 at 13-8 with ten games to play, seven of which are on the road. Here is the Bruins’ remaining schedule:
May 12-14 @ Washington State (three game series)
May 19-21 Utah (three game series)
May 23 @ UC Irvine (one game)
May 25-27 @ Oregon (three game series)
In the most recent prognostications, UCLA is projected to be in the field of 64, but the Bruins cannot falter down the stretch. I have a said all along that UCLA needs to win at least 30 games this season to make the postseason. That means the Bruins would need to go 6-4 in their last ten games.
That’s doable. Wazzou and Utah, UCLA’s next opponents, are 9th and 8th in the PAC 12, respectively. If the Bruins wins both series, even if is only two games to one, and steal one on the road at UCI, UCLA could reach the 30 win plateau by winning just one in Eugene in the final series of the season.
One win better than that scenario increases the Bruins’ chances of making the posteason, while one loss more lowers UCLA’s chances. It is that simple. Every game counts now.
To start this ten game stretch run, UCLA has to feel good about starting Griffin Canning (5-2, 2.29 ERA) tonight. Canning has been masterful in his last four starts, getting three wins (the only no decision was against the aforementioned Beavers). During those four starts, Canning has gone 33 and 2/3 innings (averaging over 8 innings per start), scattered 23 hits, allowed only 3 earned runs, and recorded 42 strikeouts. Those are very impressive numbers. A similar performance tomorrow night would be a huge boost for the Bruins.
While we are the subject of pitching, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Jake Bird has worked himself back into the rotation as Saturday starter this weekend. Head Coach, John Savage appears to be going with the hot hand.
Bird pitched great in 6 and 1/3 innings of relief last Saturday, allowing only four hits and no runs. On the contrary, Moises Ceja, who had made seven straight starts through last Saturday, has been chased early in his last two starts, not making it out of the 4th against Cal Poly and not making it out of the 2nd against Southern Cal. I think this move makes sense, as Jake is better suited to starting than coming out of the pen, and I think Ceja can be very effective out of the bullpen.
Finally, UCLA’s freshmen are no longer playing like freshmen, especially Michael Toglia. The switch hitting right fielder is now hitting .281 with 6 home runs and 26 RBI, the latter of which are both second on the team only to veteran Sean Bouchard, who is having an outstanding year, leading the Bruins in hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. Freshman, Kyle Cuellar continues to lead UCLA in batting average at .327.
The Bruins have to feel good about themselves going up north, but they have to take care of business against the Cougars.
And he Cougs will not be a push over. They have a 22-22 record overall, not too different from UCLA, and, like the Bruins, have been playing better ball of late. Although they are ninth (out of eleven) in the PAC 12, WSU has won its last three PAC 12 series, against Washington, Utah, and Oregon.
Wazzou would like nothing more than to add UCLA to that list and will try to play the role of spoiler. The Cougars would need to win out to have a realistic shot at making the postseason due to their poor record in conference, but they would love to make things difficult for the Bruins.
To do so, the Cougars need better results from the mound. Simply stated, Washington State has issues with its pitching. Although their Saturday starter, Cody Anderson (4-2, 2.64 ERA), has a nice record and ERA, the other two starters have ERAs of 5.64 and 5.70, respectively. Wazzou sports a 4.98 ERA as a team, which is not great, to say the least.
It is interested to note that all of the Cougar starters are lefties. Expect to see to some righties (Jeremy Ydens anyone?) this weekend where you might usually see lefties in UCLA’s batting order.
On the offensive side of things, the Cougs have six starters who are hitting better than .290, and are hitting .276 as a team, which could give the Bruins fits on defense. Washington State does not have a ton of power, with only 18 home runs as a team on the season.
The following are the anticipated starting pitchers for this weekend’s series in the Palouse:
Friday, May 12, 7:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, Jr. (5-2, 2.29 ERA)
WSU – Damon Jones, LHP, R-Jr. (2-3, 5.64 ERA)
Saturday, May 13 , 4:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Jake Bird, RHP, Jr. (4-2, 2.80 ERA)
WSU – Cody Anderson, LHP, Jr. (4-2, 2.64 ERA)
Sunday, May 14. 12:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Jon Olsen, RHP, So. (4-1, 3.34 ERA)
WSU – Isaac Mullins, LHP, Fr. (2-2, 5.70 ERA)
UCLA needs a series win. Anything less will put more pressure on the Bruins in the final seven games. A series sweep would release some of that pressure, giving the Bruins a bit more leeway to end the season. I predict a series win for the Bruins, but I think that they will drop one in the Palouse.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on the preview and the game in the comment section below.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Washington State Cougars game one open thread.