Happy Friday! Another week is in the books and, this time of year, that means another weekend of UCLA Baseball . . . weather permitting. The Bruins (10-4, 0-0 Pac-12) are scheduled to open Pac-12 play tonight against the Washington State Cougars (4-9, 0-0 Pac-12) at 3 p.m. PT, that’s right, 3 p.m. PT, as the game has been moved up from it’s 6 p.m. starting time due to potential inclement weather.
Neither team is playing particularly well right now, although weather cancellations and postponements have also affected both teams’ play.
Wazzou has gone 2-6 in their last eight games, including a sweep at the hands of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Cougars had a four game series at home against Sacramento State cancelled two weeks ago due to inclement weather (snow).
After a 7-1 start, UCLA has gone an underwhelming 3-3. The Bruins have also had one game, at home to TCU, cancelled due to weather (rain) and another game, at Cal State Northridge earlier this week, postponed in the 8th inning due to inclement weather (rain). UCLA leads CSUN, 3-2, and they will finish that game on May 15th, before the second game of the home and home series at JRS.
Which team, UCLA or Wazzou, will start things right in Pac-12 play with a series win?
The Washington State Cougars were picked to finish tenth in the 11-team PAC 12 in the preseason poll of conference coaches. (Colorado does not field a baseball team). Wazzou has, so far, lived down to that billing and have the second worst non-conference record among PAC 12 teams. They are 1-4 away from home.
The Cougs have issues on the mound as well as at the plate. WSU has a team batting average of .229, with only four home runs (by comparison, UCLA’s Michael Toglia has four home runs). They have scored only 42 runs in 13 games, averaging 3.23 runs per game. And when your team ERA is 4.78, over one and one-half runs per game lower than the average number of runs score, you are not going to win a lot of baseball games.
Redshirt sophomore Isaac Mullins (0-2, 4.40 ERA), a lefthander, is scheduled to take the hill for the Cougars tonight. Mullins has not been good enough to win a game so far in his three starts this season.
In his first appearance, Mullins took the hard luck loss after giving up only one earned run (and another one unearned) in five innings, in a 8-1 loss to UC Riverside. Mullins was shelled in his second appearance of the season, at Alabama, giving up four earned runs in four innings, taking a deserved loss. And finally, last Friday, he gave up two earned runs on nine hits in 5 and 1⁄3 innings in a no-decision against St. Mary’s.
With respect to everyday starters, Washington State is led at the plate by two guys hitting in the .270s, which is usually not the recipe for a winning team. Shortstop and lead off hitter Andres Alvarez (.275, 0 HR, 2 RBI) has fourteen hits and Justin Harrer (.273, 0 HR, 4 RBI), who plays infield and outfield, has twelve.
I say everyday starters because Blake Clanton, who has started only five of WSU’s thirteen games, and has half as many at bats as most of Wazzou’s starters, is trying to work his way into the lineup, hitting .364 with two home runs, seven RBI, and a team leading .636 slugging percentage. With those kind of numbers, I am not sure why he is not playing more, at least out of the DH spot. UCLA pitchers had better watch out from him, whether he is starting or in a pinch hitting role.
UCLA’s typical Friday starting pitcher, Jake Bird (1-1, 0.36 ERA), will get things started for the Bruins tonight. Aside from the first game of the season against Portland, where he cruised, Bird’s outings have not been as smooth as his 0.36 ERA would indicate.
And that is because of unearned runs. Jake only has one earned run on the season, but has been done in by seven unearned runs. He gave up one run (unearned) in a win against Portland, followed by two runs (both unearned) in 5 and 2/3 innings in a no decision against Baylor. In 6 and 2⁄3 innings against Illinois, Jake conceded seven hits and his only earned run of the season in a no decision. Last week, he was the unfortunate victim of bad UCLA fielding in a loss, allowing four runs, all unearned, on only four hits against a hot-hitting Vanderbilt team.
Tonight’s matchup sets up well for Jake against a light-hitting Wazzou team. I think that he is going to have a fine performance tonight. Hopefully the Bruin defense backs him up!
There is one other somber note regarding the UCLA pitching rotation this weekend. Jon Olsen was hit in the face with a batted ball in the 1st inning of the Southern Cal game last Sunday and came out of the game. Unfortunately, Jon suffered facial fractures and will be undergoing (or may have already undergone) surgery today. He is out indefinitely. I know that everybody here at BN sends their best wishes to Jon for a successful surgery and a speedy recovery! Get well soon, Jon.
Zach Pettway moves into the Saturday starter role, and the UCLA starting pitcher in the final game of the series is TBA, although Coach Savage limited Ryan Garcia’s pitch count against CSUN on Tuesday. Expect him to get the start on Sunday.
UCLA’s bats have cooled down since the start of the season. Toglia is still hot and leads the team in most offensive categories. Chase Strumpf, however, who still leads the team in RBI and was batting well over .400 for much of the season, is now hitting .269. The Bruins are getting nothing out of the catcher’s spot, with Will McInerny hitting only .143 and Daniel Rosica hitless in 13 at-bats. Jack Stronach is hitting the ball better, batting .278, and Head Coach John Savage has increased his playing time. Some of that playing time is at the DH spot, taking at-bats from Kyle Cuellar who continues to struggle, hitting .100.
The Pac-12 looks to be loaded this year. Oregon State is 15-1, Stanford is 14-2, and Southern Cal is a very surprising 10-4. Oregon and Berkeley both have twelve wins, and Arizona has ten. As such, home victories against the bottom of the conference are at a premium.
UCLA needs to be laser focused this weekend against one of the bottom dwellers in the Pac-12. If they are, they could earn a sweep. Frankly, the Bruins should sweep the Cougars. A series win at home would be OK, but not great. I like Jake Bird tonight in at least a seven inning performance against Washington State, giving UCLA’s bullpen a rest.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Washington State game one open thread.