The eyes of the college baseball world will be focused on the Sunken Diamond at Stanford this weekend, as the #1 ranked UCLA Bruins baseball team (21-5, 7-2 Pac-12) heads north to take on the #2 ranked Cardinal (19-3, 6-0). First pitch tonight is at 6:05 pm PT.
This will only be the third #1 versus #2 series in college baseball this decade. The last two involved SEC teams, with #1 Texas A&M at #2 Florida in 2016 and #2 Texas A&M at #1 LSU in 2015. Before that, you have to go back to 2008 and, before that, the year 2000. Ancient history!
Last Time Out
On Tuesday night, the Bruins routed Cal State Northridge by the score of 10-1. Freshman Jessie Bergin (3-0, 3.18 ERA) earned his third win of the season, throwing 52⁄3 innings, allowing one run on three hits. Bergin struck out eight and only walked one.
Jack Filby, Nate Hadley, Kyla Mora, and Felix Ruby combined to close the game out, pitching 31⁄3 innings of no hit, no run ball.
On the other side of the ledger, UCLA’s bats staked Begin to a four-run lead in a second-inning explosion. After Jake Pries and Matt McLain singled, Ryan Kreidler doubled home two runs to get UCLA on the board. Kreidler then scored on a Matador throwing error and Chase Strumpf doubled home the fourth run of the inning.
The Bruins scored two more on a two-out, two-run triple by Michael Toglia in the sixth inning, putting UCLA up, 6-1. Toglia’s bat is coming around and he has raised his batting average to .262.
UCLA piled on with four more runs in the seventh inning as UCLA sent ten batters to the plate. The big blow was a bases clearing, three-run double by Jack Stronach, one of the top hitters in the country right now at .426.
There is one footnote to the game. CSUN committed four errors. Of UCLA’s ten runs, only four were earned. The Matadors also walked eight batters. UCLA will not get these kind of gifts against a very good defensive team in Stanford, nor can they expect eight walks in a game from the Cardinal pitching staff.
The Cardinal have only lost three games all season, a pair of one-run losses to UNLV and Cal State Fullerton and a 4-0 defeat at the hands of a talented Texas squad, when the Longhorns plated four runs in the ninth inning. Stanford is undefeated in Pac-12 play, but they have only played two series to UCLA’s three. The Cardinal swept the two worst squads in the conference, beating Utah at home and Washington State in Pullman.
With their 2-0 win over Fresno State on Tuesday, the Cardinal are riding a ten-game winning streak. At the same time, the Bruins are pretty hot too, having won eight of their last nine.
Stanford will, however, face a tougher challenge in the UCLA Bruins than the recently vanquished Utes, Cougars, or Bulldogs.
Stanford is remarkably similar to UCLA in its makeup. Both teams rely on pitching and defense and both teams can hit and score runs, making both prime contenders to challenge for a spot in Omaha in June. Stanford maintains a team ERA of 2.43, #3 in the nation (UCLA is #4 at 2.46 ERA). Stanford’s fielding percentage is .978 (#26 in the nation), while UCLA’s is .982 (#8 in the nation). Stanford is hitting .263 as a team, whereas the Bruins are hitting .279. UCLA has scored 145 runs on the season and Stanford has 135, while playing in four less games.
As you can see, these teams are evenly matched and they are #1 and #2 in the nation for a reason.
Tonight, Brendan Beck (1-2, 2.45 ERA) will take the hill for the Cardinal. Yes, Beck has two of the Cardinal’s three losses, but his ERA is solid and he has an amazing 36 strikeouts to just 3 walks. For a UCLA team that can sometimes play small ball and take full advantage of free passes, facing Beck will be a challenge.
Plus, Beck’s unfavorable decisions were a 2-1 loss to UNLV and the aforementioned Texas game, when he was pitching into the ninth inning in a scoreless game. So, in those two losses, Stanford only collectively scored one run. UCLA cannot rely on that tonight, as UCLA’s starter, Zach Pettway, has gotten into a habit of allowing runs early and, then, settling down later in the game. Pettway must come out of the gate sharp tonight.
I would be surprised if either team swept this series. But I think it will be a toss up to predict the winner of this series.
If I was a betting man, I’d say that the teams split the first two games, with the Cardinal prevailing tonight and UCLA prevailing tomorrow. If Pettway can avoid his recent slow starts, maybe I am wrong about tonight. Either way, I think it will come down to Sunday’s rubber match and one heck of a pitching match-up for a Sunday game!
This is your UCLA baseball versus Stanford Cardinal game one open thread.