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UCLA Baseball vs. Michigan St: Series Preview and Friday Night Thread

If this was Basketball, we would have Steve Alford up against Tom Izzo for a three game series, and we would be hoping to score in double digits in the first half of every game. A win would be out of the question. But fortunately, this is Baseball.

Grant Dyer, setup man extraordinaire
Grant Dyer, setup man extraordinaire
Daily Bruin

Coach John Savage, one of the premier coaches on the national scene, leads the Bruins against Michigan State in a three game series, beginning tonight at 6 pm at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The series continues tomorrow with a 2 pm game, and concludes on Sunday with a 1 pm game.

Every game begins 0-0, top of the 1st. But a series win is pretty much a foregone conclusion, based on what we can see on paper. And a sweep is certainly attainable.

The Bruins come into this game with a record of 7-1. There are four major polls for college baseball. UCLA is ranked anywhere from 4th ( to 8th (Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America). Michigan State is 3-3, and is not ranked.

The Bruins have appeared in Omaha three times in the last five seasons, including winning it all in 2013. Michigan State has only made it to the postseason once in the last five seasons, and that was a 1-2-barbecue in the Palo Alto regional in 2012, when the Spartans were bounced by Pepperdine and Fresno State.

Six weekend games is obviously an extremely small data set. But let's take a look at the season so far based on the six games.

Friday night, James Kaprielian, projected as the top prospect in the Pac 12 conference in the 2015 draft, takes the mound for the Bruins. The Bruins are 2-0 in his starts, both of which were won by Kaprielian. Kaprielian has an ERA of 3.00 and a stellar WHIP of 1.08. He has picked up where he left off last season as the Pac 12 leader in K's, with 12 K's this year in 12 innings. His only apparent weakness so far is giving up the long ball, as he has allowed the only two homers given up by the UCLA staff.

Michigan State will counter with senior Mick VanVossen. VanVossen has had a solid career for the Spartans, and was last year's team Most Valuable Pitcher. Michigan State is 1-1 in his starts. VanVossen has an 0-1 record, with a 4.35 ERA and a WHIP of 1.26. His issue has been control, as he has walked 6 while striking out only 3 in 10.1 innings.

Saturday afternoon, Grant Watson will start for the Bruins. The Bruins are 1-1 in his starts, as the middle relievers gave back the lead which the Bruins had against North Carolina when Watson departed. Watson is 1-0, with an ERA of 2.25 and an even more impressive WHIP of 0.92.  Unlike Kaprielian, Watson pitches to contact, with only six strikeouts in 12 innings. But teams are hitting only .209 against him this season. If Watson can maintain this 2013 form, the Bruins will be set up nicely in every series.

Michigan State will start redshirt sophomore Cam Vieaux on Saturday. Michigan State's most impressive game to date was a 10 inning loss 4-3  to expected postseason entrant Oregon State, in a game played in Surprise, Arizona. And Vieaux was the starting pitcher in that game, going five innings and allowing only two earned runs. For the season, Vieaux is a tough luck 0-1, as the Spartans have only scored four runs total in his two starts. He has a super 1.64 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. It is certainly not his fault that the Spartans have lost both Saturday games this season.

The series wraps up on Sunday, with Cody Poteet on the mound for the Bruins. UCLA is 2-0 in Sunday games, with Poteet the winning pitcher both times. Poteet has an ERA of 1.64 and a WHIP of 1.27.  It would be good to see Poteet zero in more on the strike zone, as he has walked six batters against eight K's in 11 innings.

Michigan State will counter with junior Anthony Misiewicz. Misiesicz worked mostly out of the pen last year, making only three starts, but has become the Sunday starter in 2015. Sunday has been Michigan State's day so far this season, winning twice in as many tries. And Misiewicz is a big part of that success. He is 1-0, with a 0.82 ERA and a super 0.73 WHIP. He has 13 K's against only two walks in 11 innings this season.

Michigan State's pitching was expected to be their strength this season, in line with last year's 2nd lowest ERA in the Big 10 conference. This is a veteran staff, and other than the shaky start by VanVossen, the pitchers have delivered.

Michigan State's weakness was expected to be offense. And so far, that has been the case. Michigan State has scored three or fewer runs four times in six weekend games this season. Contrast that with UCLA, which has scored at least six runs in every weekend game. Michigan State's offense is led by Cam Gibson, who is the only Spartan listed on Baseball America's 2015 MLB draft top 15 prospects from the Big 10 conference.

Gibson has been batting 1st or 2nd this season. He is batting .261 so far this season, and leads the team in runs scored with five (which is five less than the 5th best mark on the Bruins). I still have nightmares as an Oakland A's fan remembering his dad limp around the bases after his home run against Eckersley.

The pitching matchup looks fairly even, but the offensive production has been pretty lopsided in favor of the Bruins. The key will be making the most of whatever opportunities are presented, and not allowing freebies (walks, hit batters, errors). Michigan State is batting .229 as a team. If we make them earn it, we should be fine. And it would be really nice to see the middle relievers shut down opponents more than they have to date. Based on Tuesday night's TV game, it seems like Griffin Canning has starter mentality. He certainly was not effective as a middle reliever in Orlando. Somebody needs to step up to bridge the gap between the starters and the very effective backend duo of Grant Dyer and David Berg. Could be Canning, could be somebody else.

There will be multiple paths to follow tonight's game, and the rest of the series. You could of course head over to Jackie Robinson Stadium and see the Bruins in person.  If you choose that path, in-game observations in the comment thread would be greatly appreciated. You can also follow UCLA's audio feed (link here). And UCLA will be providing live stats (link here).

If you want a guide to future MLB stars on the field this weekend, Baseball America has just released their  ranking of the top 50 prospects by class for this and future drafts. As you can see, they rank David Berg as the 7th most promising member of the senior class, Grant Watson as the 22nd most promising senior, Chris Keck as the 35th most promising senior, James Kaprieilian as the 13th most promising junior (which would presumably translate into a 1st round 2015 slot, assuming a relatively equal mix of high schoolers and college juniors in round 1), and Sean Bouchard as the 6th most promising freshman (2017 draft). UCLA 2015 commits Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix, who were drafted by the Astros in 2014 and offered big bucks, only to have the rug yanked from under them, opted for the 2015 draft. Aiken was always going to go pro after being drafted 1st overall. But Nix should have wound up here, except for the Astros screwup. His loss.

Meanwhile, back to the Michigan State series. Every game begins 0-0, but the road becomes way tougher next weekend, with national powers Vanderbilt and TCU coming to town. Let's take care of business and take the series.

Go Bruins !!