The UCLA Bruin baseball team (29-10), smack dab in the middle of a seven game road trip, heads to Irvine tonight to face the UC Irvine Anteaters (25-17). First pitch from Anteater Ballpark is at 6:30 p.m.
The Bruins have not lost in seven games, last falling to this same Irvine team, 8-1, at Jackie Robinson Stadium on April 17th. In that game, UCLA’s Jack Ralston took the loss for the Bruins and UCI’s Jake Lachemann earned the win, although both pitchers came out of the bullpen. Tonight, both of those guys will get the starts for their respective clubs.
The Anteaters were swept at home over the weekend by Cal State Fullerton, elevating the Titans to first place in the Big West Conference and dropping UC Irvine into a tie for second place. Tonight, UCI will try to replicate its success two weeks ago against the Bruins in order to get back on the winning track before hosting Oregon this weekend.
The first step to replicating success against the Bruins is in the form of starting pitcher, freshman Jake Lachemann (2-0, 3.63 ERA). Lachemann came out of the bullpen versus UCLA last month, throwing 3 and 2⁄3 innings of four hit, no run ball, earning the victory. That outing was Lachemann’s longest outing of the season, leading one to believe that UCI Head Coach Mike Gillespie will use a committee approach tonight. This will be Lachemann’s second career start.
In their last tilt, the Bruins were tagged by Cole Kreuter (son of former Southern Cal Head Coach Chad Kreuter) and Konner Zickefoose (yes, that’s a real name). Kreuter had a two run home run and Zickefoose has three hits, three RBI, and two runs scored against UCLA. The Bruins will need to be wary of those guys, but UCI is hitting .280 as a team and there are threats throughout the Anteater lineup, so the Bruin pitching staff must be ready to battle during every at bat.
The Bruins are hot right now, having won three straight weekend series. The only blemishes on UCLA’s record since April 10th are a pair of midweek losses, first to Long Beach three weeks ago and then to UC Irvine two weeks ago. As a result of its success, UCLA is now ranked in the top ten in all major ranking services and, if they keep it up over the last month of the season against some tough opposition, the Bruins could be poised to host a postseason regional.
Jack Ralston (0-2, 7.00 ERA) will get the start for the Bruins tonight. I was skeptical of Ralston after he was named starter last Tuesday night against Cal State Fullerton, but he had a very nice outing, allowing only one earned run in 4 and 2⁄3 innings.
Contrast that with his outing before that, against these very same UCI Anteaters. Ralston came on in relief in the fifth inning of a 1-1 ballgame, and surrendered three earned runs in one inning pitched, including the aforementioned Chad Kreuter home run. Ralston took the loss in that one.
Ralston will need to continue to have outings like CSUF, not UCI, as it has become apparent that all it not right with the respective comebacks of UCLA’s other potential midweek starting pitchers, Jon Olsen and Kyle Molnar. Expect Ralston to continue to handle the midweek load with only two more games to play (as well as finishing the suspended CSUN midweek game from earlier in the year).
In addition to its excellent pitching (5th in team ERA in the nation, at 2.78 ERA) and defense (20th in the nation in fielding percentage, at .978), UCLA is also hitting the baseball well. The Bruins are hitting .294 as a team, with three regular starters hitting over .300, Chase Strumpf, Michael Toglia, Jeremy Ydens, and Daniel Amaral. Strumpf and Toglia also have nine home runs, and 42 and 41 runs batted in, respectively. Strumpf gets on base over 50% of the time. We knew that UCLA’s young returning underclassmen needed to hit the ball better than last season for UCLA to have better success this year, and guys like Strumpf and Toglia have definitely delivered (as well as Jake Pries, Jake Hirabyashi, and Jack Stronach, to a lesser extent).
I am fearful that the Bruins might look ahead to this weekend’s series at Arizona. Cal Poly did not put up much of a fight last weekend and this game seems easy to overlook sandwiched between two road series. Jack Ralston had a nice outing last week, but he has had issues all season, including in his last matchup with these same Anteaters.
On the other hand, UCLA should be motivated to pay back the Anteaters for, statistically, UCLA’s worst loss of the season, at home no less. It think that UCLA’s bats will get theirs. The question is whether Ralston and the Bruin bullpen will be able to keep the Anteaters off the scoreboard.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus UC Irvine Anteaters open thread.