Fresh off its biggest series win of the season over then #2 ranked Stanford, the UCLA Bruin baseball team (19-8, 8-4 PAC 12) heads down the 405 freeway tonight to face the Long Beach State Dirtbags (12-20, 1-2 Big West). This will be the only matchup between these two squads this season, and the first time UCLA will have played at Blair Field since the Bruins were eliminated from the postseason in 2017.
LONG BEACH STATE
Long Beach State is having an uncharacteristically poor season, after having made the NCAA postseason in three of the past four years under Head Coach Troy Buckley. This was a team that won over 40 games last season and hosted a Super Regional, losing to Cal State Fullerton in three games, and narrowly missing the College World Series (the Dirtbags lost game three by the score of 2-1). The Dirtbags have never had a losing season in seven years under Coach Buckley, but would need a strong showing for the rest of 2018 to reach the .500 mark.
In defense of The Beach, it has three new starting pitchers this season as two were drafted into MLB in 2017, and the third, John Sheaks, was lost for the season due to injury. LBSU also lost several of its top hitters from 2017, including its top four home run hitters, who were responsible for 24 of The Dirtbags’ 30 home runs last season.
As a result, Long Beach has struggled from the plate this season, hitting only .227 as a team and featuring only two regular starters (and only four players total) hitting better than .222. Among the regular starters, junior center fielder, Clayton Andrews (who is also a starting pitcher) leads the team in batting, hitting .292, with no home runs and 15 RBI. Junior second baseman, Jarren Duran (.274, 2 HR, 11 RBI), leads LBSU in home runs.
The Dirtbags have had issues with their pitching staff as well, with a pedestrian team ERA of 4.03. The major bright spot is closer Chris Rivera, who, picking up from a very successful 2017, has saved eight games and sports a 0.64 ERA. Rivera has struck out 19 in 14 innings.
Long Beach State has not announced its starting pitcher tonight, although freshman lefthander Adam Seminaris (1-4, 4.86 ERA) typically starts in the midweek game. Seminaris, however, has been roughed up in his last two starts, both against San Diego State, giving up a combined eight earned runs in nine innings, and taking the loss in both games. Coach Buckley might be rethinking his midweek strategy.
The Bruins are coming off their biggest series win of the season, taking two of three from the Stanford Cardinal, and moving up in the national rankings—the Bruins are nationally ranked between #15 and #18. UCLA is also the leader of the PAC 12 at 8-4, percentage points ahead of both Stanford and Washington, both of whom have played one less series than the Bruins and sit at 6-3.
In what many predicted would be a pitchers’ series between the then #2 and #4 ERA leaders in the nation, UCLA plated 26 runs against the Cardinal. UCLA is now hitting a very respectable .274. with 22 home runs and 177 runs scored in 27 games. Five Bruins are hitting .299 or better, and the only Bruin starter who is really underperforming at the plate is Ryan Kreidler, who has moved from shortstop to third base in recent games to get freshman Kevin Kendall into the lineup. Kendall is hitting .344 in 32 at-bats, and figures to see more time in the second half of the season.
I would be remiss if I did not mention UCLA’s Jon Olsen. Olsen, wearing a protective mask, started game three of the Stanford series only four weeks after taking a line drive off the face against Southern Cal, a gruesome sight to behold. Olsen broke his orbital bone, among multiple facial fractures, and had titanium implants to help fix things. Congratulations to Jon on his remarkable comeback so far and best wishes for his continued recovery (Olsen is expected to continue to wear the protective mask for the next few games).
It will not be Olsen pitching tonight for UCLA, however, as sophomore righty Jack Ralston (0-1, 6.10 ERA) has been listed to take the mound for the Bruins. We could see a committee approach used by Head Coach John Savage, as he has more options now that Olsen appears to be returning to the fold as a weekend starter.
This game is a classic trap game. Coming off the high of a huge series win against a top opponent, UCLA now faces a down-in-the-dumps Long Beach State team that will likely struggle to reach .500 this year after a spectacular 2017. Last year, UCLA lost several midweek games against lesser opposition. If the 2018 Bruins are to be a better team than the 2017 iteration—and every indication so far this season shows that they are—UCLA needs to take care of business tonight.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Long Beach State Dirtbags open thead. Go Bruins!!!