The top-ranked UCLA Bruin baseball team (38-8, 16-5 Pac-12) travels to the Pacific Northwest this weekend for a three-game series with the cellar dwellers of the Pac-12, the Washington State Cougars (10-33-1, 2-18-1 Pac-12). On paper, UCLA should win this series and probably sweep, but games are not played on paper and UCLA needs to remain focused in its quest to secure the top seed in the NCAA tournament with only ten regular season games remaining in the season.
Last Time Out
On Tuesday night, the Bruins faced perhaps the poorest Long Beach State squad since the 14-win team in 1988, before the Dirtbags were even called the Dirtbags, which started in the 50-win season that followed in 1989. Nevertheless, UCLA struggled to prevail at Jackie Robinson Stadium, taking twelve innings to eek out the victory, 2-1.
UCLA started quickly with a first inning lead-off double by Garrett Mitchell, who advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Chase Strumpf grounder to second base. After one inning, UCLA led 1-0.
The Dirtbags evened the score in the top of the second inning, in the exact same fashion. A lead-off double, a wild pitch to advance the runner to third, and a ground out to second base tied the game at 1-1.
And then . . . not much happened for ten innings. In the bottom of the eleventh inning, Mitchell tripled to lead things off, but UCLA could not get him home.
UCLA would finally win the game in underwhelming fashion in the bottom of the twelfth inning. Michael Toglia reached on an error (a misplayed pop-up to left center field), and Jake Pries doubled to move Toglia to third base. After Matt McLain struck out swinging, the Dirtbags intentionally walked pinch hitter Kyle Cuellar, loading the bases and setting up a potential inning-ending double play.
It wasn’t to be for LBSU, however, as catcher Antonio Torres couldn’t handle a pitch from reliever Tyler Gums, allowing Toglia to score the game-winner on a walk-off passed ball.
The game was flat out ugly, but it still counts as a UCLA win. Also, credit goes to the UCLA pitching staff, which only allowed four LBSU hits and one run in twelve innings. Felix Rubi got his first start as a Bruin throwing five innings of one-run ball, and Holden Powell threw two innings of two-hit, no-run ball, earning the victory. Michael Townsend, Nate Hadley, and Kyle Mora also pitched well.
Washington State Cougars
Although Washington State’s record is woeful, they have won two straight games, salvaging a win versus Washington on Sunday and beating Gonzaga in Spokane on Tuesday. Further, of their forty-four games, only thirteen have been at home, where the Cougs have gone 5-8. Such is the life of a college baseball team in the northern part of the country.
Washington State doesn’t hit the ball particularly well, with a combined .258 team batting average, worst in the Pac-12. No regular starter is hitting over .300, although junior third baseman Dillon Plew is close at .295 with four home runs and 25 RBI, leading the team in HRs and RBIs. Wazzou has only scored 194 runs on the season. UCLA, by comparison, has scored 291 runs.
The Cougars’ pitching is not much better. Only the Arizona Wildcats sport a worse earned run average in the Pac-12 with the Cougs at 6.64 and the ‘Cats at 6.75. Only one WSU pitcher, Tyson Guerrero, has an ERA below 4.76. Guerrero has started three games and also has a save. So it appears that WSU is not quite sure how to use him. He is not listed to start this weekend. The combined record of WSU starting pitchers to face UCLA this weekend is 2-17, compared to UCLA’s starters, who are a combined 19-0.
The Bruins have done pretty well against left-handed pitchers and the Cougars will be sending two winless lefties against the Bruins this weekend. Freshman Ky Bush (0-6, 12.35 ERA), will take the hill tonight against the Bruins. If UCLA starter Ryan Garcia (6-0, 1.29 ERA) pitches as well as he has pitched in his past few outings, this should not be much of a contest. Saturday pits another undefeated UCLA starter Jack Ralston against another winless lefty, AJ Block. Both of these games should be UCLA victories.
In my mind, the question is whether UCLA wins Sunday’s game, where it will be a freshman versus freshman match-up for the sweep. I think that they will.
This is your UCLA Bruins versus Washington State Cougars baseball game one open thread.