The UCLA Bruin baseball team (9-2) returns to Jackie Robinson Stadium tonight after four games away from home and will take on the Loyola Marymount Lions (3-9). First pitch is at 6:00 p.m. PT.
UCLA went 3-1 on its trip last week but, if not for a bullpen meltdown on Friday, the Bruins would have gone undefeated. UCLA beat Fullerton on Tuesday and, then, traveled to U.S. Bank Stadium for the DQ Classic, where the Bruins played three games indoors, on the Minnesota Vikings home (artificial) turf.
UCLA was in control of the first game against Illinois, but then the bullpen turned a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning into a 5-3 loss. In both of UCLA’s losses this season, the bullpen has failed to hold a Bruin lead. UCLA rebounded the next day, beating Michigan State 4-1 on the strength of a complete game by Jon Olsen, and finished the weekend with a Sunday win over Minnesota, 6-1 in which true freshman right handed pitcher, Zach Pettway, continued to impress, raising his record to 3-0.
Now, the Bruins welcome LMU for a midweek contest. Like the Bruins, the Lions are also returning from a long trip, playing four games in Honolulu against Hawai’i last weekend. Loyola Marymount earned a split against the Warriors. Other than the pair of wins against Hawai’i, LMU has only prevailed in one other contest this season, a victory over Oregon (the Lions have also lost three games to the Ducks).
At first glance, this looks to be a game UCLA should win. Let’s take a brief look at Loyola to see how the teams look on paper.
Freshman left hander Holden Christian, a product of Oaks Christian High School, will take the mound for the Lions tonight. Christian started the Lions’ midweek game against Southern Cal last week and allowed a run on four hits in three innings. He had another short start two weeks ago against Irvine and only went two innings, allowing one run on one hit, and striking out five. The problem is that he issued five walks. I would not be surprised to see a similar start tonight followed by a committee effort out of the bullpen, although that might not be enough for the Lions as LMU is allowing 4.44 runs per game as a team.
Loyola Marymount is not doing too well at the plate to start the 2018 season. The Lions are hitting .211 as a team, and no player is batting higher than .300. Niko Decolati and Nick Sogard are close, at .298 and .297 respectively, but there is a big drop after than to get to Niko Pacheco at .250 (yes, that’s no a typo—LMU’s top three hitters are all named Niko/Nick). Although the Lions have five home runs on the season, no one has hit more than one and the team leader in RBIs, Jamey Smart, only has six.
Michael Toglia continues to dominate from both sides of the plate. The sophomore first baseman from Gig Harbor, Washington is hitting .439, has clubbed four home runs, and driven in 12 RBIs. He leads the Bruins in batting average, home runs, doubles (six), slugging percentage (.878), walks (eleven), and on-base percentage (.547). Impressive, most impressive.
UCLA is hitting .261 as a team, with Chase Strumpf and Daniel Amaral leading the remaining Bruins. Ryan Kriedler (.229) has cooled off a bit after a hot start and Kyle Cuellar (.107) has never gotten started. Kyle might have a rest tonight (at least to start the game) with the Bruins facing a left handed starter.
Ryan Garcia will take the hill for the Bruins. Garcia has pitched well for the Bruins this season, starting both midweek games and appearing twice in relief in weekend games. In his two starts, against Pepperdine at home and Cal State Fullerton on the road, Garcia has thrown 10.2 innings, allowed one run on six hits, striking out 12. Look for Garcia to continue his solid work against midweek competition tonight against the light hitting Lions.
Even though they must be road weary and have off-kilter body clocks (both of the Bruins’ contests last Friday and Saturday started at 9.am. PT), UCLA figures to prevail tonight against Loyola Marymount. The Lions will also be feeling the effects of travel and weird game times, having played their last four in Honolulu.
With both teams equally affected by travel, the advantage on the mound and at the plate goes to UCLA. I predict that the Bruins will get their tenth win of the season tonight, something that they didn’t do last season until March 26th.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Loyola Marymount Lions open thread.