The UCLA baseball team (30-14, 14-7 PAC 12) is in the midst of a four game losing streak, the longest of the season for the Bruins. It won’t get any easier for UCLA this weekend, as the Bruins face the Washington Huskies (23-20, 13-8 PAC 12) in Seattle.
Last week, the Bruins were not really competitive and were swept by the Arizona Wildcats, who parlayed that sweep into a projected spot in the postseason (according to D1Baseball.com). This weekend, the Huskies will look do do the same.
Washington’s team this year reminds me a lot of the UCLA squad last season, who were 24-20 (13-8 PAC 12) with three series left in the 2017 season and had to win a lot in May in order to reach the 30 game threshold and barely qualify for a postseason spot. In that respect, a series win for the Huskies would go a long way toward their quest for entry into the field of 64. UCLA has to snap out of it’s losing streak NOW against the hungry Huskies.
U-Dub has won four of its last five games, including a series win at Arizona State last weekend. The Huskies will be well rested and did not play a midweek game this week.
I stated above that the Huskies remind me of the 2017 Bruins, and that comparison is apt not only because of their record, but because those two teams are statistically similar.
The Huskies are eighth out of eleven team in the PAC 12 in batting average, hitting just .259 as a team (UCLA hit .258 last year). They don’t score a lot of runs (10th in the PAC 12 with 188—by comparison UCLA has 306 runs this year) and are dead last in home runs in the conference with only 18. This is a team that UCLA pitching staff should be able to handle, although UCLA’s four game losing streak does not give one confidence.
U-Dub is led by Mason Cerrillo at the plate. Cerrillo, a junior left fielder, is hitting .371 out of the lead off spot. A trio of regular Husky starters, Braiden Ward (.308, 0 HR, 10 RBI), Nick Kahle (.307, 0 HR, 18 RBI), and Joe Wainhouse (.296, 8 HR, 36 RBI) are hitting around .300 in the number two, number three, and clean up spots. After that, the next best hitter is batting .248. One could say that the Huskies lineup is top heavy, which the Bruin staff could work to its advantage.
Washington has a pretty good pitching staff, with a team ERA of 3.57 (UCLA’s ERA was 3.41 last season). Freshman left hander Lucas Knowles (3-4, 3.94 ERA) gets the start for Washington tonight. Knowles has been a bit of a mixed bag in his last four starts, getting two wins, a blowout loss in which he conceded seven runs—five earned—in 3 and 1⁄3 innings, and a no decision. The important thing to know is that the two wins occurred in the friendly confines of Husky Ballpark, where he will get to operate this evening.
After flying high with three straight series wins, the Bruins crashed to earth last weekend, scoring only four runs in three games in Tucson. The offensive doldrums continued for UCLA in its midweek game, where the Bruins could only scratch out one run—in the 9th inning of a 5-0 ballgame—against Long Beach State.
Hopefully UCLA hitting coach Rex Peters has since worked on the Bruins’ approach at the plate, which was poor against the Wildcats and even worse Tuesday night against the Dirtbags. UCLA actually had the bases loaded with no outs and the tying run at the plate against Long Beach, with three of its best hitters coming to the plate, Chase Strumpf, Michael Toglia, and Jack Stronach. Incredibly, in what seems to be failure to adjust to how the umpire was calling the strike zone, all three struck out looking at pitches that were low and on the outside edge of the plate.
The Bruins, hitting .290 and among the best in the PAC 12 in offensive statistics, are better than that, and they need to revert back to form this weekend.
As has been the case all season, UCLA will look to Jake Bird (5-3, 1.87 ERA) as its Friday starter and he will try to get UCLA back on track tonight. Although he took the 2-0 loss last weekend, Bird pitched well, throwing a complete game and only allowing two runs. If he does the same tonight, hopefully the Bruin bats give him some run support.
I effusively praised the Bruins in my Arizona series preview last weekend, encouraging UCLA fans to catch a game or two of the televised games. Lo-and-behold, the Bruins laid an egg and did not look like the team I have been following all season.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
I predict that the Huskies pour more salt on the Bruins wounds, and humiliate UCLA even further this weekend. Washington will take the series, knock the Bruins out of the PAC 12 Conference title race, and raise questions in Bruin fans’ minds about the postseason fitness of this squad.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Washington Husky open thread.