The UCLA Bruin Baseball team (6-9) opens PAC 12 play by welcoming the nationally ranked Arizona Wildcats (13-3) to Jackie Robinson Stadium for a three game series, starting tonight at 7 p.m. UCLA is reeling, losers of four straight, including a sweep at Texas last weekend and a midweek loss against UC Irvine, 5-3, at home. The ‘Cats came into this week ranked anywhere from #6 to #12 in the national polls, but dropped a midweek contest to Cal State Fullerton, 4-0, on Wednesday. Arizona is 0-2 in road games on the season.
The difference between the Bruins and the ‘Cats is stark, and I am not talking about the teams’ respective win/loss records. Unlike the Bruins, Arizona is absolutely hitting the cover off the ball, batting an incredible .357 as a team.
Four starters are hitting over .400, Alfonso Rivas (.442), Jared Oliva (.429), Mitchell Morimoto (.419), and Nick Quintana (.404). As a team, they have 47 doubles, 11 triples, and seven home runs. The team’s on base percentage is a whopping .450. That’s right, almost half of ‘Zona’s batters get on base.
Opposing pitchers have a combined 9.34 ERA against the Wildcats. Simply stated, Arizona is an offensive juggernaut.
Pitching is a different story, however, as Arizona has a team ERA of 4.24. But when you are scoring nine runs a game, who cares, right? JC Cloney is a star, sitting at 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. He’ll start tonight. Michael Flynn, Arizona’s Saturday starter, has also pitched well, with a 2-0 record and a 1.40 ERA.
After that, there is a major drop off. Tylor Megill, for example, has started three games but sports an 11.88 ERA. The aforementioned Alfonso Rivas (the top hitter for Arizona) also pitches, but he has also struggled from the mound, going 0-0, starting two games, appearing in four, with an ERA of 6.75. Arizona has not announced its Sunday starter.
The Bruins are the polar opposites of Arizona. Although the bullpen has struggled in key situations, as a team, UCLA maintains an excellent 2.98 team ERA. Conversely, UCLA is experiencing drastic hitting woes, batting .222 as a team.
The team’s hitting struggles have had the biggest impact on tonight’s starter, UCLA’s Griffin Canning. Despite a 0.96 ERA, Canning is still 0-0 in four starts. That is a big problem, as Canning is as good of a talent as past UCLA stars, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, and James Kaprielian. It is a shame that this team as squandering Canning’s talents. UCLA is also missing Jake Bird (2-0, 0.69 ERA), who won his first two contests but has missed his last two Saturday starts.
Sean Bouchard has been UCLA’s best hitter, but his monster numbers from earlier in the season have cooled. "Bouch" is still hitting a very respectable .303. Freshman, Kyle Cuellar is hitting his way into the starting lineup. Cuellar knocked in all three runs in UCLA’s midweek, 503, loss to UCI, and his average is .364. No other UCLA starter is hitting better than .254 (that would be another freshman, Ryan Kreidler). Three players who regularly start for the Bruins are below "the Mendoza line."
Although PAC 12 play is just starting, no team in the PAC 12 has a worse overall record than the Bruins. Every one of the other eleven teams in the PAC 12 (Colorado does not field a team) has at least a winning record.
The following are the date, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, March 17th at 7 p.m. PT:
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, Jr. (0-0; 0.96 ERA)
Arizona–JC Cloney, LHP, Sr. (4-0, 1.00 ERA)
Saturday, March 18th at 2 p.m. PT:
UCLA - TBA
Arizona –Michael Flynn, RHP, So. (2-0, 1.40 ERA)
Sunday, March 18th at 2 p.m. PT:
UCLA - Jon Olson, RHP, So. (0-1, 5.06 ERA)
Tonight’s game and Sunday’s game will be televised in the PAC 12 Network.
As always, the excellent duo John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the UCLA call via online streaming audio. You can allow follow along with live stats.
I predict that the UCLA Men’s Basketball team will beat Kent State tonight. No other predictions. Sorry. You don’t want to know my prediction for UCLA Baseball this weekend. Maybe the Bruins scratch out a run or two for Canning tonight, but if were a betting man, well . . .
This is your UCLA v. Arizona Game One open thread.