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UCLA Baseball: On the Road to Corvallis, Series Preview vs. Oregon State

UCLA Baseball is on the road this weekend, taking on the #2 ranked Oregon State Beavers. These are two teams on very different paths, as the Bruins stumble to the finish line and the Beavers look to wrap up a super-regional (top eight seed) post for the postseason.

Happier times
Happier times

UCLA Baseball hopes to make a statement, albeit a late one in a long season, as the Bruins travel north to take on #2 ranked Oregon State on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. UCLA is 23-22-1 (10-11 in Pac-11 games, tied for 6th). The Bruins have only won once in their last seven games, taking last Friday's series opener against Stanford.

Oregon State is 35-8 (17-4 in Pac-11 games, currently 1/2 game behind Washington, but leading the Huskies in terms of winning percentage). The Beavers have won eight straight, and 10 of their last 11. To say these two teams are heading in different directions would be an understatement.

Friday night, James Kaprielian (6-4, 2.43) takes on senior Ben Wetzler (8-1,0.78). UCLA is 8-4 in Friday games, and the Bruins have won five of their last six Friday contests, a testament to Kaprielian's outstanding season. The Bruins average score on Friday is 4-3, reflecting Kaprielian's ability and a general lack of scoring when facing the opposing ace. And the Bruins have not seen an ace with Wetzler's credentials.

Oregon State is 9-2 in Friday games, winning eight of their last nine Friday contests. The average score in these games is 5-2, reflecting solid pitching but also an offense which has not had much difficulty scoring runs against opposing aces.

Not only is Wetzler 8-1, with a 0.78 ERA, but he is holding opposing teams to a .140 batting average. And that is against teams with more consistent offense than UCLA has shown. Wetzler was suspended for the first 11 games of the season, as the Phillies threw a hissy fit when he turned down their offer as a 5th round selection last summer to return to Corvallis. The Phillies turned Wetzler in to the NCAA for having an agent present during salary negotiations, a practice routinely used when MLB teams are dealing with 20-21 year olds. The only party hurt by this seems to be the Phillies, who have had their visit privileges revoked by colleges in response to their heavy-handed tactics. Wetzler meanwhile has not missed a beat since returning to the rotation. This will be a heavyweight matchup. Wetzler has given up more than three runs only once in nine starts this season. But Kaprielian has been almost as consistent, only giving up more than three runs twice in 12 starts this season. This will be the Bruins' most likely chance to win on paper, despite Wetzler, because Kaprielian has been so solid. This is also a chance to see two of the top pro prospects, with Wetzler certain to go high this year, and Kaprielian certain to go high next year when he is a junior.

On Saturday, UCLA sends Grant Watson (4-7, 3.81) to the mound to face sophomore Andrew Moore (4-3, 2.81). The Bruins have lost six straight Saturday games, falling to 4-8 on Saturday this season. The average score in these games is 3-4, which would imply a better record than 4-8. UCLA's inability to win close games really shows up on Saturday, as the Bruins have lost all three one-run Saturday contests. UCLA has not been able to score as many runs against the opposition's #2 starter. And Watson has been able to go deep pretty consistently, but the Bruins have been in a hole as a result of early big innings by the opposition, which the Bruins have not been able to overcome. This season has been a disappointment for Watson, after going 9-3, with a 3.01 ERA as the Sunday starter last year.

Oregon State is 8-3 in Saturday games, having won four of the last five. The average score in these games is 6-4. The Beavers have been able to score more against #2 starters, which doesn't bode well, even though they have given up more runs in games which Andrew Moore starts. Moore has also had a disappointing season, after being a 1st team All-American as a freshman, with a 14-2 record and a 1.79 ERA. This looks like the best chance for the Bruins offense to put up some runs, but Watson needs to do a solid job of holding the opposition in check early.

On Sunday, UCLA starts Cody Poteet (3-3, 3.90) against junior Jace Fry (9-1, 1.59). UCLA is 6-6 in Sunday games. The typical pattern in recent weeks has been Friday win, Saturday loss, Sunday loss to lose the series. The Bruins are 1-5 in their last six Sunday games. The average score for the season in Sunday games is 5-5. The Bruins can score against the #3 starter, but they return the favor way too often. Last year, UCLA was 26-1 in regular season games when the Bruins scored at least five runs. This year, in the same situation, the Bruins are 13-6-1. Obviously, 26-1 is beyond the pale. But only winning two of every three when you score at least five leads to an early end to the season. This is even more of a problem in conference play. In seven conference series, the Bruins have scored at least five runs five times on Sunday, and scored four runs one other time. But in those six games, the Bruins are 3-3. So the Bruins have been able to score on Sunday, but have not been able to keep the opponent off the board.

And this Sunday, UCLA faces a pitcher with a 9-1 record, an ERA of 1.59, and an opponent batting average of .193. Ouch. Oregon State is 9-2 in Sunday games (same as Friday record), and has won seven of the last eight Sunday contests. The average score in these games is 7-2. So the Beavers pounce on the opponent's #3 starter, while holding the opposition to the same number of runs on Sunday as they do on Friday. Poteet will have to bring his A game to keep this game close.

As a team, Oregon State is 3rd in the conference in batting average, 3rd in runs scored, 1st in ERA, and 1st in runs allowed. The Bruins are 9th in the conference in batting average, 8th in runs scored, 3rd in ERA, and 3rd in runs allowed. The Bruins are solid in pitching, particularly with Kaprielian (Friday) on the mound. The Beavers are solid in pitching, particularly with either Wetzler (Friday) or Fry (Sunday) on the mound. However, the Beavers also add in offense, particularly in the person of outfielder Michael Conforto, who will be a 1st round selection in the upcoming draft. Conforto is batting .407. He has a .552 on-base percentage. He has a .627 slugging percentage. You get the picture.

Every game starts 0-0 in the top of the 1st. But the Bruins will have to get a lights-out performance from Kaprielian on Friday (which is certainly possible), they will need to jump on Moore on Saturday, and they will need to get Poteet's A game on Sunday.

All three games will be televised on Pac-12 Network. Game times are 7:30 Friday, 7 Saturday, and 3 Sunday.

Go Bruins !!