This weekend, the UCLA Bruins baseball team (29-8; 14-4 PAC 12) travels north to The Farm to take on the Stanford University Cardinal (16-21; 4-11 PAC 12). UCLA is ranked in the top 3 by the college baseball ranking services, while Stanford is unranked. The Bruins lead the PAC 12 Conference by ½ game over Arizona State, while Stanford sits in the cellar. At first blush, one would think that this translates to an easy series win on the road. Think again.
THE STANFORD CARDINAL
Stanford was projected to make the postseason and was picked to finish fourth in the PAC 12, but their season was derailed before it barely got started by a devastating, season ending injury to their ace, Cal Quantrill, who was projected be some to be the number one pick in the 2016 MLB draft. Quantrill underwent "Tommy John surgery" (elbow ligament replacement surgery) in March. Before his injury, Quantrill was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
Without Quantrill, the Cardinal got off to a poor start in PAC 12 pay, losing their first nine games in series sweeps at home against Arizona, at Arizona State, and at home against Washington. Since then, they have secured series wins at UC Berkeley and at home against Utah. In their mid-week game against UC Berkeley on Tuesday, the Cardinal carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning, ultimately prevailing against the Golden Bears, 4-0. Stanford is 6-3 in their last 9 games, so they are playing better baseball. UCLA cannot overlook them.
Stanford has a team batting average of .252 (10th in the PAC 12), and are led by Mikey Diekroeger (.315, 1 HR, 15 RBI), Matt Winaker (.299, 2 HR, 21 RBI), and Tommy Edman (.285, 0 HR, 22 RBI). Stanford only has 12 home runs on the season. The Cardinal is 9th in the PAC 12 in runs scored and 9th in the PAC 12 in hits.
Stanford has struggled with its pitching, with a team ERA of 4.95, 10th in the PAC 12. Not including the injured Quantrill, no Stanford pitcher has an ERA under 3. The closest is Marc Brakeman (1-1, 3.15 ERA), whom the Bruins will face on Saturday. No Stanford pitcher has more than 3 wins.
Stanford is incredibly well-coached, managed by Hall-of-Famer Mark Marquess, in his 39th year at the helm of the Cardinal. That’s right; Marquess has been coaching Stanford baseball since 1977, an incredible achievement. For reference, Marquess’ coaching stint began before the movie, "Star Wars," was released. Think about that for a moment. In the previous 38 seasons, only once did the Cardinal fail to reach the .500 mark, so it is not unreasonable to conclude that somehow, some way, Stanford will claw its way back over .500 this season. Let’s hope that the Cardinal does not get closer to .500 at the expense of the Bruins.
THE UCLA BRUINS
UCLA continues to play excellent ball. After its 15-8 thumping of UC Irvine on Tuesday night (a game in which UCLA recovered nicely after it blew a 6-0 lead when the Anteaters scored 7 runs in the 3rd inning), the Bruins are undefeated in mid-week games. They have not lost a weekend series all season. UCLA is undefeated when it leads after the 6th inning.
The Bruins are getting it done with a mixture of pitching and hitting, a potent combination for postseason success. Offensively, UCLA is 4th in the PAC 12 in batting average (.293), 2nd in slugging percentage, 2nd in on-base percentage, 3rd in runs scored, 3rd in RBI, and 2nd in total bases. Although the Bruins continue to be led by Kevin Kramer (.351, 4 HR, 22 RBI), Ty Moore (.360, 3 HR, 36 RBI), and Chris Keck (.319, 6 HR, 33 RBI), they have gotten much better production of late from the bottom 4 of the order. Christoph Bono, for one, has raised his average to .265, and swung a particularly hot bat against the Anteaters on Tuesday, going 4-5, with a double, a triple, 2 runs scored and 2 RBI. Kort Peterson was phenomenal out of the 6 hole against UCI, also going 4-5, with 4 runs scored and 3 RBI, accounting for almost half of UCLA’s 15 runs.
On the mound, UCLA leads the PAC 12 in team ERA, at 2.26. Opponents are hitting a paltry .214 against the Bruins’ staff. UCLA is second in strikeouts in the PAC 12 (one K behind Oregon). UCLA’s weekend starters, James Kaprielian, Grant Watson, and Griffin Canning have a combined 19-7 win loss record, with a combined 2.29 ERA. The Bruins’ big three out of the bullpen, Tucker Forbes, Grant Dyer, and Dave Berg, are 6-0, and have been absolutely lights out, essentially shortening the game for Bruin opponents to 6 innings.
Here are the dates, game times, and projected starters for the series:
Friday, April 24, 7:00 p.m. PT
UCLA - James Kaprielian, RHP. Jr. (7-3; 2.12 ERA)
Stanford – Brett Hanewich, RHP, Sr. (2-3, 4.35 ERA)
Saturday, April 25, 7:00 p.m. PT
UCLA - Grant Watson, LHP, Sr. (6-3; 2.15 ERA)
Stanford – Marc Brakeman, RHP, Jr. (1-1, 3.15 ERA)
Sunday, April 26, 2:00 p.m. PT
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, Fr. (6-1; 2.63 ERA)
Stanford - TBA
Games One and Three of the series will be televised on the PAC 12 Network. Game Two will be televised on ESPNU. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call via online streaming audio. Neither the UCLA nor the Stanford official website indicates that live stats are available for any of the games in the series.
To me, this is a "trap series." All of the numbers and statistics favor UCLA, even though Stanford is playing better. I think that UCLA Head Coach, John Savage, will have the Bruins ready and that they will not experience a letdown. My expectation for this series is a series win. My hope for this series is a road sweep. Arizona State has a non-conference series against Tennessee Tech this weekend so a series win (or better) is the only way the Bruins will maintain sole possession of first place in the PAC 12. If the Bruins only take one game at ‘Furd, they will be in a virtual tie with ASU for first place. Worse and they will fall out of first place. That’s how it is this season in the highly competitive, demolition derby of the PAC 12 Conference.
This is your UCLA vs. Stanford Game One open thread.