The UCLA Bruin baseball team (10-2), winners of their last three games, will face nationally ranked teams for the first time this season in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic. UCLA, itself ranked #11 in the nation, plays #14 ranked Vanderbilt tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium (first pitch is at 6 p.m. PT), #7 ranked TCU tomorrow night at JRS, and unranked Southern Cal at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. (All rankings are those of the NCBWA. Other polls vary, but UCLA, TCU, and Vandy are ranked in each major poll).
Let’s take a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Vandy, the 2014 national champion, got off to a great start this season, going 9-1 in a ten game home stand, with its sole loss a close 5-4 defeat to Duke. Since then, the Commodores have hit the road, which has been much less forgiving. Vanderbilt is 1-3 in its last four, losing to Sam Houston State and Louisiana Lafayette at Minute Maid Park in Houston last weekend, beating the University of Houston at Minute Maid, and dropping a midweek contest on Tuesday at Long Beach State.
Drake Fellows, who has started each of Vandy’s previous three Friday games, figures to get his fourth start of the season against the Bruins. Fellows, a big (6’5’’) sophomore right hander, is 1-0 this season with a 1.76 ERA. In 15.1 innings, Fellows has struck out 20, allowed only 8 hits, 3 runs (all earned), and 6 walks. He could be the best pitcher that UCLA has faced all season, so the Bruin bats had better be ready.
Vanderbilt is doing even better at the plate, hitting an otherworldly .320 as a team. Nine players—pretty much the entire starting lineup—is hitting over .300, with only infielder Julio Infante (who had started some, but not all, games), struggling, batting .108. Vandy has a lot of pop too, hitting 16 home runs in 14 games. The Commodores have scored 128 runs in those 14 games, averaging over nine runs a game.
Now, truth be told, Vandy has fattened up against some “minnows.” The Commodores have scored 39 runs in a three game set against UMass-Lowell, 22 runs in two games against Presbyterian, and 19 runs in a single game against Austin-Peay. UCLA, however, is also “guilty” of pounding lesser competition, scoring 35 runs in three games against Portland, and 12 runs against Loyola on Tuesday. Yet, the Bruins are only hitting .267.
As mentioned above, UCLA is hitting .267 as a team. The Bruins continue to be led by sophomore first baseman, Michael Toglia, who is hitting .400 with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs. Somewhat surprisingly, Jake Hirbayashi, who beat out sophomore Jack Stronach as the Bruins’ everyday third baseman, is second on the team, hitting .318. Jeremy Ydens and Daniel Amaral are also batting over .300.
Ryan Kreidler and Jake Pries, both of whom started the season hot from the batter’s box, have cooled considerably, and Kyle Cuellar still has yet to get his bat going.
Jake Bird will take the mound for UCLA tonight, and he has pitched well in his first three starts, with a 1-0 record and a scintillating 0.49 ERA. Although the team ERA is great, at 1.93, UCLA has had some issues with its bullpen in the late innings, which has been responsible for both of the Bruins losses.
Against an excellent hitting team in Vanderbilt, Bird and, if necessary, the bullpen will need to be on its game.
Although tonight’s game will not be televised, both tomorrow’s TCU game and Sunday’s game against Southern Cal will be televised on the PAC 12 Networks. Hooray!
This game (as well as the game against TCU) will be a huge challenge for UCLA and will be a good litmus test of where UCLA stacks up against some of the best teams in the nation. Like many college baseball games against top competition, this one is a toss up. I’d like to think that the home field advantage of Jackie Robinson Stadium gives the Bruins a slight advantage (and might neutralize some of Vandy’s power), but I also think that Fellows has a very slight edge over Bird as far as starting pitchers go. UCLA does not want to get into a slugfest with Vandy, and if the Bruins have to dig deep into their bullpen, the Commodores would have a bigger edge.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Vanderbilt Commodores open thread. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section. Go Bruins!