The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (6-1) will play its first road game of the season tonight against the Cal State Fullerton Titans (1-6) at 6 p.m. PT. The Bruins are fresh off a series win against the Baylor Bears and a successful seven game home stand to start the season. UCLA is nationally ranked as high as #11 in certain polling services. The Titans, on the other hand, have gotten off to a slow start in 2018 after a June trip to Omaha in 2017. CSUF was swept in a three game series at Stanford, dropped a midweek contest to Nevada last week, and lost two out of three at home to Houston this past weekend.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
The Titans entered 2018 ranked in the top 20 in the various polling services. Even after a series sweep at Stanford (now ranked as high as #4 in one poll), the Titans still found themselves in the top 25 after even at 0-3. A 1-3 record last week has seen the Titans fall out of the rankings, and deservedly so at 1-6.
Gavin Velasquez, who took the loss in relief against Nevada last Tuesday, will get the start for the Titans. Velasquez (0-1, 3.18 ERA) has made three appearances this season but has not started a game. The junior right hander started eight games last year, going 4-3 with a 4.45 ERA. One of those wins was against the Bruins on May 9, 2017, at Goodwin Field, when Velasquez threw four innings of no hit ball. One has to think that Head Coach Ron Vanderhook had his performance from last season in mind when deciding to start Velasquez.
One of the reasons for the Titans’ struggles has been poor performance at the plate. CSUF is hitting only .215 as a team. Only two players (Mitchell Berryhill, with seven hits in 16 at bats; and Ruben Cardenas, with 10 hits in 31 at bats) are hitting over .300 for the Titans. Three starters are hitting below .200. That is not a recipe for success.
Is CSUF due for a breakout game? Or will the Bruins continue the Titans’ woes?
UCLA’s starting pitcher, Ryan Garcia, will have a major say in answering that question. Garcia (0-0, 1.17 ERA) was great last week against Pepperdine, throwing five innings of three-hit ball, striking out seven and walking none. Garcia probably deserved a win, but UCLA could not generate enough run support in the early innings, instead winning 2-1 on a walk off double in the bottom of the ninth inning.
UCLA’s bullpen showed a bit of a dent in the armor last weekend, blowing a 6-4 lead going into the 7th inning, and allowing four runs over the final three innings, resulting in the Bruins first loss of the season by a score of 8-6. The ‘pen didn’t need to do much on Sunday because freshman Zach Pettway dominated, throwing eight scoreless innings. Another freshman, Holden Powell, pitched the 9th inning for the save, his second of the season. It looks as if the closer’s role is Powell’s at this point.
UCLA continues to hit the ball well, led by first baseman Michael Toglia (.440, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and second baseman, Chase Strumpf (.423, 1 HR, 13 RBI). The Bruins are hitting .293 as a team, with Jeremy Ydens and Jake Pries also hitting over .300. Lead off man Daniel Amaral is hitting .333, has stolen four bases, and has scored nine runs. Just what a lead off man needs to do. UCLA’s batting leader in 2017, Kyle Cuellar, has started slowly with the bat, hitting only .158. Hopefully Kyle’s bat gets healthy tonight!
UCLA is 35-68-2 against Cal State Fullerton. It is tough to play at Goodwin Field. Even a 1-6 CSUF team can be dangerous and, frankly, this is not a team that will be down for long this season. The question is whether UCLA can take advantage of a slumping CSUF team or whether the Titans will start to fulfill their potential. My heart says that UCLA should win this game but, after last season’s circus on Tuesday nights, my brain tells me otherwise. If the Bruins prevail tonight it will be because Ryan Garcia has another quality start like last week.
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