This Friday through Sunday Cal will host UCLA in a huge series to close out their home schedule for the year. UCLA (#10, Coach's Poll) is one of the two best teams in the conference and they will come to Berkeley riding an exciting sweep of USC. The series presents Cal with an excellent chance to notch a few impressive wins. A series win would assure Cal of post-season baseball and help push towards an easier playoff path. A sweep would vault the Bears into 2nd place in the Pac-10. But if UCLA wins two or three games it will extend a streak of disappointing results at the worst possible time. And with a road trip to Eugene to visit the suddenly powerful Oregon Ducks, Cal perhaps wouldn't feel as secure about their post-season position as they did just a week ago.
UCLA started the season as the hottest team in the nation - they won 22 games in a row (23 if you count an exhibition against a Japanese team), an absurd feat. Needless to say, no team could keep up that kind of pace. But besides a sweep at the hands of #3 Arizona St., the Bruins have played well and carry are 13-5 against everybody but the Sun Devils. UCLA has no blatant weakness - their hitting, pitching and fielding are all above average within the Pac-10. Cal will need all of their bats working to get a series win. The best news? The games are at Evans Diamond where the Bears are 9-1 against Pac-10 competition in 2010.
Hit the jump for some players to watch and a preview of each game!
Bruins to watch (You could choose just about any regular starter, but we'll try anyway):
Blair Dunlap - Perhaps the Bruin's best power hitter. UCLA doesn't have one or two huge sluggers, but most starters have decent power. Dunlap has hit 5 on the season along with 17 doubles, and he's not especially prone to the strikeout. One of many similar hitters in a UCLA lineup that doesn't offer many breathers.
Niko Gallego - Gallego sounds like your classic disruptive spark plug - he takes walks, he gets hit by pitches, he steals bases (with an absurd 95% success rate) and generally makes life difficult for the defense and the pitcher. If Cal can keep him off the base paths they'll remove a major speed threat.
Dan Klien - If Cal could steal one player from UCLA I might choose this guy - the shut-down closer. Klien has an ERA of 1.86 over 38.2 innings and an impressive 46 strike outs to 7 walks. Hopefully Cal doesn't find itself behind in the late innings - I'd rather not see this guy period.
Probably Pitching Matchups:
Friday: Gerrit Cole vs. Erik Johnson
Saturday: Trevor Bauer vs. Justin Jones
Sunday: Rob Rasmussen vs. Dixon Anderson
I'm assuming that Cal and UCLA will continue using the same pitchers in the same order that they've been doing for most of the Pac-10 season. UCLA's three starters all have remarkably similar stats - ERAs in the high 2s and low 3s, 70-80 innings pitched, 90-100 strike outs, etc. Cole is the hardest to hit (a paltry.192 batting average for batters faced) but he's also the wildest of the three, having allowed 41 walks on the year. Cal will have to be patient and disciplined against Cole - if they swing the bat they'll likely end up striking out. Bauer is UCLA's answer to Justin Jones, at least in terms of leading the team in innings pitched.
The key for the series? Easily, Cal's starting pitching throwing well. Cal cannot beat UCLA in a bullpen battle - the Bears starters must slow down UCLA's attack or they'll get drawn into a slugfest they'll be unlikely to win.