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UCLA Baseball: Titans Invade Westwood Seeking to Avenge February Loss

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Cal State Fullerton has rebounded in the last two months since dropping a home game to the Bruins, 12-2.

Scott Chandler

The UCLA Bruin baseball team (25-10) wraps up its homestand tonight by welcoming the Cal State Fullerton Titans (19-19) to Jackie Robinson Stadium, before playing the next seven (and ten of the next eleven) games on the road. First pitch tonight is at 6 p.m. PT.

The Bruins will try break their two game losing streak in midweek games, losing to Long Beach two weeks ago, 5-2, and being crushed at home last week by Irvine, 8-1. Of course, UCLA has swept the last two weekend series so the midweek losses have not hurt as much. The Titans, coming off a series win against a solid Hawai’i squad, will try to pay the Bruins back after dropping a contest in Orange County earlier this season.

CAL STATE FULLERTON

Fullerton has come a long way since that 12-2 loss on February 27th. At that time, the Titans were 1-6 and struggling at the plate. Since then, the Titans have gone 18-13 (6-3 in the Big West), to even their record at 19-19 and tie for first place in conference play.

Fullerton has pretty good pitching, with a 3.62 team ERA, and the Titans are hitting the ball much better after a slow start to the season, batting .258 as a team.

Tonight, the Titans will start Tanner Bibee (2-3, 4.04) against UCLA. Bibee was by far the most effective pitcher against the Bruins earlier this season, throwing six innings of long relief, and allowing only one run on four hits (UCLA scored eleven runs in the other three innings). Head Coach Rick Vanderhook is no doubt hoping that Bibee will be able to replicate that magic he had against the Bruins last time.

UCLA BRUINS

UCLA is now ranked #9 by all major college baseball services. Despite that, most pundits do not have UCLA as a national seed or even hosting a regional. Why? The dreaded RPI. I hate the RPI, a metric that looks at the teams you beat (and lost to), as well as the teams those teams beat (and lost to). The problem with RPI, among other things, is that it does not take margin of victory into consideration.

Because of this flawed metric, you see a ludicrous situation where 25-10 UCLA (a team responsible for two of top ranked Stanford’s five losses) has an RPI of #30, while teams like Tennessee Tech (34-5), who has played nobody, and Stetson (30-11), who played a three game series against something called “New Jersey Tech” last weekend have a better RPI than the Bruins. Hopefully, as long as the Bruins continue to take care of business, this kind of garbage sorts itself out.

UCLA has not announced its starter for tonight’s game, but it will not be Ryan Garcia, the starter in most of their midweek games this season. Garcia got the Sunday start against Southern Cal two days ago, and threw six shutout innings, earning the victory. Will we see Jon Olsen tonight? Or might Head Coach John Savage tap Kyle Molnar? Or will it be a committee approach? Having five excellent starters for four weekly spots is a good situation for a coach; it will be interesting to see how Coach Savage positions his rotation tonight and down the stretch towards the postseason.

FINAL THOUGHTS

UCLA, riding high after a punishing sweep of Southern Cal last weekend, by the combined score of 42-6, must avoid a letdown tonight versus the Titans, who will be hungry to avenge their loss to the Bruins earlier this season. Last week, the Bruins talked a lot about avoiding a letdown against Irvine after sweeping the Utah Utes, but then promptly went out and laid an absolute egg against an Irvine squad that is better than advertised. Tonight, against a team that might be on the postseason bubble and who will be looking to improve its lot with a quality road victory, the Bruins’ actions will speak louder than words.

This is your UCLA Baseball versus Cal State Fullerton open thread. Go Bruins!!!