The UCLA Bruins baseball team (4-0) will look to continue its hot start to the 2020 season when they welcome the St. Mary’s College Gaels (2-2) to Westwood this weekend for a three-game series, starting tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium. First pitch, as usual for a Friday night game at JRS, is at 6 pm PT.
After being shut out in their first two games at Sam Houston State, 0-4 and 0-2, St. Mary’s has bounced back with two straight wins, one to avoid a series sweep at Sam Houston State, 8-7 in extra innings and then a victory over the Utah Utes at home, 9-7. The Gaels will look to continue their winning ways this weekend versus the Bruins.
Last Time Out
After sweeping UC Riverside last weekend, UCLA continued its unbeaten streak this season in its first midweek game, crushing Loyola Marymount, 10-1. Freshman right hander Jarod Karros (1-0, 1.80 ERA) started his first game as a Bruin. He threw five innings, only allowed one run on two hits, and earned the “W.”
Karros was given all of the support he needed in the first inning when the Bruins erupted for five runs. UCLA batted around and recorded four singles and three walks contributing to the early lead.
After the Lions clawed back with one run in the top of the second inning, UCLA added two more runs in the bottom half of the frame. Senior Kyle Cuellar continues to hit the ball well and, in this case, he stroked a two-run, two-out double to right-center field to push the lead to 7-1. Cuellar is batting .444 so far this year.
The Bruins scored three more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, assisted by two throwing errors by LMU.
After that, the UCLA bullpen, as it has done all season, completely shut down the Lions in the final four innings, keeping Loyola Marymount off the scoreboard and not allowing a single hit. This time, it was the combination of Sean Mullin, Adrian Chaidez, Jack Filby, and Felix Rubi who held down the fort for UCLA.
Tonight, UCLA will send Friday starter Zach Pettway to the mound for the Bruins. Pettway pitched well for the Bruins last Friday, throwing six innings and allowing only two runs on five hits. The runs scored on a two-run homer, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the win as UCLA had to come back to win that game. Hopefully, Pettway can avoid the early mistake tonight and/or UCLA can give him the early cushion that they have given to the other three starters so far this season.
St. Mary’s Gaels
After being shut out in their first two games, St. Mary’s has won two straight. They are hitting .295 as a team with five hitters batting over .300, and three of those hitters batting over .400. Leading the team is junior Gio Diaz, who is from Brentwood, no less and is hitting .526 out of the leadoff spot.
Slugger Nico Lima is batting .444 and has more pop than Diaz. So far, Lima has smacked two home runs and has driven in nine runs. The big junior left fielder bats clean-up. If the Bruins can contain these two guys, they should be fine this weekend.
It remains to be seen if St. Mary’s can maintain its 3.75 ERA through this weekend against the hot UCLA bats. Fans expected good things to continue from Garrett Mitchell and Noah Cardenas after last season and those two have produced so far in 2020, but Matt McLain looks like a light has gone on and freshman Michael Curialle has started his UCLA career with a bang, hitting .375 with six RBI and two home runs. JT Schwartz and Kyle Cuellar have also been pleasant surprises so far.
The Gaels will send junior right hander Carlos Lomeli to the mound to start versus the Bruins. Lomeli’s ERA is .150 but got a no-decision in the hard luck loss versus Sam Houston State last Friday night. Lomeli only allowed one earned run through six innings, but an error and a wild pitch led to two unearned runs. Lomeli went 10-2 with a 3.05 ERA last season so he might just be the toughest pitching challenge UCLA has faced so far this young season.
It is easy to get excited about the Bruins right now. They have smoked the competition so far this season, but let’s not forget that these are games that they should be winning. The young guys need to continue their production over a bigger sample size.
The Gaels are a step up from UC Riverside, but have been predicted to finish behind Loyola Marymount in the West Coast Conference, a team UCLA just smoked. Of course, there is a different dynamic between a one-off midweek game with a #4 pitcher and a weekend series against “the rotation.”
I predict that UCLA will win this series, but I also think that they are due for a dud at some point this weekend. So, I predict a series win, but not a series sweep. I hope the Bruins prove me wrong.