The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (25-23, 14-10 PAC 12) will play its final home series of the season this weekend against the Utah Utes (24-21, 12-12 PAC 12). This series is huge for the postseason aspirations of both teams, as the loser of the series could find itself outside of the field of 64. First pitch in the series opener tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium is at 6 p.m. PT.
At present, both Baseball America and D1Baseball.com have UCLA in the field, but barely. Baseball America lists both UCLA and Utah on the bubble, with UCLA one of the last four in and Utah one of the first four out. Obviously, that could change depending on the result of this series. Buckle up, Bruins fans, this should be interesting, especially tonight with an excellent pitching match-up.
The Utes are hot, winners of four straight, including a series win over bottom-of-the-PAC 12 Southern Cal last weekend in Salt Lake City. Before that, Utah lost a series at home against UC Riverside, so the Utes are not without flaws.
Utah has won some big series in conference play though, sweeping Arizona in Tucson, and taking two of three from both Cal and Oregon in Salt Lake City. The Utes are 10-11 on the road this season.
The Utes are very good from the plate, hitting .291 as a team, with four starters hitting over .300. Utah has what I would call an average pitching staff, with a team ERA just under 4.00.
Tonight’s Utah pitcher, however, is outstanding. Jayson Rose is 7-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 75 strikeouts on the season. He will be a good foil for UCLA’s Griffin Canning, in what should prove to be a great pitching match-up this evening.
The Bruins missed out on a golden opportunity to gain some postseason security last weekend, dropping the series to Washington State in Pullman. After only managing 12 hits in the first two games, UCLA exploded for 15 hits and 12 runs in a 12-2 defeat of the Cougars in the series finale, avoiding the series sweep.
UCLA desperately needs this series win against the Utes at home, and then needs to keep winning at UC Irvine in a midweek game next week, followed by a trip to Oregon to end the regular season. A record of 5-2 in the last seven games, which would give UCLA 30 wins, should get it done. Anything less would be cutting it close. In the Bruins favor is their 14-10 conference record, good enough for sole possession of 3rd place in the PAC 12.
As far as UCLA pitching goes, both Canning and Jake Bird need bounce back performances from last weekend, as both pitchers were hit early and often by the Cougars. I expect Canning to be up to the task tonight in a big game.
Equally important, UCLA hitters need to take the right approach at the plate in this series. These games cannot be ones where the Bruin bats go into hibernation for multiple innings, as has been the case in many games this season. UCLA needs a complete team performance this weekend.
The following are the date, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, May 19 - 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Griffin Canning, RHP, Jr. (5-3, 2.51 ERA)
UTAH – Jayson Rose, RHP, Jr. (7-2, 3.31 ERA)
Saturday, May 20 - 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Jake Bird, RHP, Jr. (4-3, 2.95 ERA)
UTAH – Riley Ottesen, RHP, So. (4-3, 4.86 ERA)
Sunday, May 21 - 1:00 p.m. PT
UCLA – Jon Olsen, RHP, So. (5-1, 3.25 ERA)
UTAH – Josh Lapiana, LHP, Jr. (3-5, 4.92 ERA)
I think and hope that UCLA secures the series win against Utah, dashing the Utes’ postseason hopes and keeping UCLA alive going into the final weekend of the regular season. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section!
This is your UCLA Bruin Baseball versus Utah Utes Game One open thread.