UCLA has now won 10 of its first 11 games in the 2015 season. Last season, UCLA was 9-7 before winning its 10th game. In the 2013 championship season, UCLA won its 10th game after starting the season 9-2. I like comparisons which involve the 2013 team more than those which involve the 2014 team.
There is one big difference so far in 2015, versus 2013. In 2015, David Berg and the rest of the bullpen staff have had only one save opportunity. The Bruins have been ringing up runs at such an accelerated pace and the starting pitchers have been so dominant that the game is usually well in hand before we get to the back-end combo of Grant Dyer and David Berg. In 2013, by contrast, the first 10 wins included five saves. As a minutia point (taking Fox's cue that there is nothing trivial about baseball), James Kaprielian, the current staff ace and likely 1st rounder in the 2015 draft, was the closer for the Bruins' first two save opportunities in 2013 as a freshman. David Berg as a sophomore was his setup pitcher, even though Berg was coming off a freshman All-American performance in 2012. Coach Savage flipped the roles after the first two saves, and the rest was history. This is comparable to Steve Alford's ingenuity last year in moving Zach LaVine into the starting lineup after the season had started. Oh, wait...
The Bruins only scored 23 runs in the Michigan State series. But the Bruins only batted in 20 innings, thanks to big leads going into the 9th inning on Friday and Saturday, and our own tribute to Midwestern weather on Sunday with a rain-shortened 4 1/2 inning contest.
Michigan State was second in the Big 10 in ERA in 2014, and was seen to have a good pitching staff in 2015. In the first six games of 2015, the Spartans had only given up 17 runs, including four to Oregon State in a 10 inning game. The Bruins almost matched MSU's prior season total with 14 runs on Friday night. They added five runs on Saturday, and four runs in four innings (not 10 like Oregon State) on Sunday.
Meanwhile, on the mound, we had the following results from the UCLA starting pitchers-
James Kaprielian 7 innings, 2 runs (on a two run homer), 3 hits, no walks, 8 K's
Grant Watson 7 innings, no runs, 4 hits, no walks, 3 K's
Cody Poteet 3 innings, no runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 K's
The combined WHIP for the three starters in the series was 0.67, and the combined ERA was 1.20. Kaprielian and Watson won their games. After Poteet's start was cut short by a rain delay, Grant Dyer pitched the last two innings on Sunday and picked up the win.
Despite only having four innings to bat on Sunday, Kevin Kramer had two hits in each game of the series from the leadoff position. He wound up 6-11 (.545), with five runs scored and two RBI's. Luke Persico went 4-9 (.444) with two runs scored and five RBI's. Ty Moore went 5-8 (.625) with four runs scored and an RBI. And Chris Keck went 5-9 (.556) with three runs scored and nine (!) RBI's in the cleanup position.
The rest of the lineup did not fare as well as the fearsome foursome. They will need to pick it up going forward, so the table is set when the lineup turns over after the first inning. But so far, so good for the offense. And when Brett Stephens returns to DH and leadoff, look out. Stephens had scored 13 runs in five games before hitting the injury list with a broken hand. He was expected to miss three weeks, and this finished week one.
Here are some season stats to further demonstrate the dominance of UCLA so far-
On-base % UCLA .426, opponents .286
Slugging % UCLA .508, opponents .296
ERA UCLA 2.39, opponents 9.51
WHIP UCLA 1.13, opponents 1.99
That is how you wind up winning 10 of 11 with only one save opportunity.
The degree of difficulty now ramps up big time. Tomorrow night, the Bruins finish their away-home series with Cal State Northridge at Jackie Robinson Stadium. This will be a rematch of the game 4 pitching duel with Griffin Canning on the mound for UCLA. The first time the score was 1-0, and David Berg picked up his only save so far.
Then we have the best three days of non-conference baseball in recent memory. On Friday night, the Bruins take on defending champion and #1 ranked (Baseball America and D1Baseball.com) Vanderbilt. This will be your chance to see two likely first round draft choices face each other, as James Kaprielian (#13 prospect in the junior class) takes on Carson Fulmer (#9 prospect in the junior class).
On Saturday night, the Bruins take on #1 ranked (Collegiate Baseball) TCU. With the fourth team in this mini-tourney the JustSC Trogans, it will be interesting to see if TCU flips their rotation to have their Friday starter face the Bruins. If they do, then UCLA will face Tyler Alexander, the #4 prospect in the sophomore class (draft eligible, and should go early). If they don't, then UCLA will face Preston Morrison, the #6 prospect in the senior class (who will also therefore go pretty early). Either way, the Bruins will be facing a tough pitcher.
And on Sunday, the Bruins travel to Dodger Stadium to take on the Trogans in a nonconference game. Southern Cal is undefeated against a bunch of cupcakes and finally hit the top 25 this week (#20 in Collegiate Baseball and #25 in Baseball America). This will be the second game of a doubleheader, with the first game featuring Vandy and TCU.
As the Bruins continue to pound the opposition, they move up in the rankings. This week, the Bruins are #4 in D1Baseball.com, #6 in Baseball America and #7 in Collegiate Baseball. So in the space of three days, you have the chance to see three teams ranked in the top four in at least one poll.
Conference play starts the following weekend. This weekend will give us a very good idea of where UCLA stands on the national scene.
Go Bruins !!