The UCLA Bruins baseball team (14-4, 2-1 Pac-12), by virtue of its series win last weekend over defending national champion Oregon State have ascended to the top of the college baseball world, moving into the #1 ranking in all services that have updated their rankings after play last weekend.
After splitting the first two games of the series, the Bruins prevailed over the Beavers last Sunday, 9-7, in a high scoring match-up. That, combined with a series loss by previously #1 Vanderbilt, opened the door for UCLA to claim the top spot.
This weekend, UCLA hosts its second straight Pac-12 opponent, this time welcoming the Arizona Wildcats to Jackie Robinson Stadium for a three-game set starting tonight at 6 pm PT.
Last Time Out
On Sunday, in the rubber match between then #2 UCLA and then-#3 Oregon State, the Beavers led off the top of the first inning with back-to-back solo home runs by Alex McGarry and Adley Rutschman, jumping to an early 2-0 lead.
It was short-lived.
In the bottom half of the frame, UCLA pushed across five runs, sending ten men to the plate, recording five hits, and taking advantage of an Oregon State error.
But the Beavers would claw back to tie, scoring a another run in the second inning on an RBI double by Joe Casey, and two more runs in the top of the fifth inning on another Adley Rutschman home run, making the score 5-5.
Once again, it was short-lived.
The Bruins rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run home run by Chase Strumpf, his third of the season, and a solo home run by Michael Toglia, his first dinger of the 2019 campaign. The Bruins led, 8-5, going into the final four innings.
UCLA would score another in the bottom of the sixth, and Arizona would record single runs in the seventh and the ninth innings, but closer Holden Powell was able to strike out Ryan Ober to end the game in the ninth inning, with the tying run on first base and the go-ahead run at the plate.
Powell earned his sixth save of the season while Ryan Garcia (1-0) pitched 42⁄3 innings of relief, recording the win.
Arizona is an outstanding hitting team. The Wildcats bat .327 as a team, good for 4th in the nation. Arizona has six regular starters hitting over .300, two of which, junior second baseman Cameron Cannon (.417, 4 HR,. 22 RBI) and junior outfielder Matt Frazier (.412, 1 HR, 28 RBI), are hitting over .400. The ‘Cats have hit 17 home runs in their 20 games (compared to UCLA, which has only hit 11 through 18 games).
But Arizona needs to hit well and score runs because its pitching staff has had issues so far this season. The staff ERA is almost 5.00, checking in at 4.90. Quinn Flanagan (3-0, 1.14 ERA), who has been the ‘Cats Saturday starter so far this season, leads the team in ERA. After his outstanding numbers, however, the second best ERA on the team is owned by Avery Weems, who so far has been Arizona’s Friday starter, at 3.86. The rest of the pitchers on the Wildcat staff have earned run averages over 4.00.
Arizona does not appear to have a clear-cut closer at this time. The ‘Cats have four saves as a team, with four different players have one save.
Arizona has only played four road games, losing two to the University of Houston and winning the third against Houston. The ‘Cats also played and pounded Rice University while in Houston.
It should be a challenge for this Arizona team to travel to Westwood, but they have a lot more to play for now that the Bruins are ranked #1.
The Bruins are at the top of the heap. Let’s see how long they can stay there as teams might make that extra effort to try to knock off #1. A series win versus Arizona would likely keep UCLA at the top, whereas a series loss would drop them out of the top spot.
The battle will be between UCLA’s pitching (top ten in the nation with a 2.21 ERA) and Arizona’s hitting (#4 in the nation in batting average).
I predict that UCLA takes two games out of three from the Wildcats, who are only 2-2 away from Tucson. I’ll take great pitching and very good defense (UCLA is #11 in fielding percentage in the nation at .982) over hitting any day.
This is your UCLA Bruins baseball versus Arizona Wildcats game thread. Let us know what you think in the comment section.