This is the last in a 4-part series previewing the Los Angeles Regional which begins Today. We've covered the venue, the plucky 4-seed, and the coach we love to hate. Today we look at the host and primary obstacle to LSU continuing it's postseason, the UCLA Bruins
When It comes to UCLA Baseball, The guy with the most knowledge hands down is Bruins Nation's RyanRosenblatt. And that's no exaggeration, since the local LA papers seem to barley know the team even exists. We talked about that, and what he thinks we'll see from the Bruins this weekend.
PodKATT: UCLA's got the best pitching staff in the regional by a good distance. Since we already know that Gerrit Cole (3.27 ERA, 124 K to 46 BB, 96.1 IP) gets the opener against Kent St., what do you think is Savage's plan is for the 2nd day vs. LSU or (hopefully not) UCI?
RyanRosenblatt: I would be surprised if Coach didn’t go with Trevor Bauer on Saturday, regardless of whether it is in the winner’s bracket, loser’s bracket, versus UC Irvine or LSU. Bauer has been the Bruins’ Saturday guy all year long and actually has had the best numbers on the team for two years now. He’s also an uber-competitor who has done well in big games.
Bauer enters the weekend 9-3 with a 2.84 ERA in a team-high 101.1 innings. He has 124 strikeouts to go with it and teams hit just .247 against him. The numbers have been very good and he’s been very good to finish off the season, only being betrayed by his defense. He’s the go-to guy on Saturday and I’d be shocked if anyone else gets the nod on day two.
PK: It's become somewhat of a theme over the last few weeks that when things go south, Ranaudo comes riding to the rescue if he's had a day or 2 of rest. What's the Bruins backup plan when things go wrong?
RR: Ummmm, we’re going to have to play a guessing game for this one because we don’t know yet. The closest thing the Bruins have had to things really going wrong is a sweep at the hands of Arizona St., but they didn’t look for anyone to come to the rescue or go to a back up plan. They kept going about things the way they had been doing it and won 11 of their next 12.
I think that we could see Gerrit Cole on short rest if UCLA is in need of another arm, but that’s about it. The coaching staff has worked hard to remake the mentality of the program and has emphasized the need to stay on an even keel. If things go wrong, I think UCLA just keeps doing things the way they’ve been doing them and hope their talent carries them through.
PK: A lot of fans, myself included, think that JRS's relatively small dimensions will help our hitters. But UCLA's stats aren't exactly amazing. Is it really a hitter's park?
RR: It’s not the hitter’s park that the dimensions would lead you to believe because of the night games. If you hit a home run at night at Jackie Robinson Stadium, you’ve gotten all of the ball and then some. Nothing comes cheap at night because the air gets very, very heavy. With such heavy air, the ball does not carry and it makes it tough to hit one out.
That said, during the day when the air isn’t as heavy, the ball will go. The hill above the third base line and trees behind the seating bowl makes it so the wind doesn’t blow out. That isn’t going to help the ball out, even during the day, but the relatively small dimensions and not-heavy air allows for higher scoring games.
PK: Bottom of the 9th, 2 out, tied. Who do you want at the plate?
RR: The strength of the UCLA lineup is in their depth so this is a tough one. There are no real easy outs one through nine so the bottom of the lineup can get things done just as well as the top. If I had to pick a batter though, it comes down to one of three guys.
Dean Espy is the power option that can really belt one. He hit seven home runs this season despite starting just 33 games, in part due to injury and hit .359. For the most complete hitter, you lean Tyler Rahmatulla has the most total bases and hits. Blair Dunlap is probably the guy you lean to though because he’s the most experienced hitter on the team and he’s hitting .333 with 104 total bases in 198 at-bats.
PK: I've been looking around for info and it's pretty clear you are one of the few in LA who covers this team like a die hard, and it's gotten you some pretty good access. With all the big name programs in the LA area, why do you think local college baseball coverage is so lacking? Do the NBA and MLB teams really have that strong a hold on the college fan base?
RR: I really think it’s a mix of multiple things. First of all, there isn’t the same fervor for sports as you see in other areas because of the options that LA offers. Sports is one of very many forms of entertainment in LA so the entertainment dollar is very much split between dozens of things.
When you do narrow it down to sports, college sports do struggle compared to NBA and MLB teams. When you look at basketball, you’re competing against the Lakers. It’s not like the NBA option is a middling NBA team. When you take a look at MLB, the Padres are not the competition. It’s the Dodgers with their World Series titles and Fernando Valenzuela, who to this day is still hugely responsible for the affinity that the large Latino population in LA has for the Dodgers.
So yes, the college teams do fight that to a degree. That doesn’t means they can’t be successful though and I think they can be more successful than they have been. UCLA has struggled to make use of technology until recently and their marketing and methods of exposure were very primitive. They didn’t promote their programs to the best of their ability and when you have top competition from the pros, you need that. Many UCLA students graduated without knowing where Jackie Robinson Stadium was, despite it being very close to campus. That’s the level of exposure and marketing the baseball team got, but especially in the last year or so it has gotten better and hopefully continues to get better.
Ryan might be checking in a few times today, so post any other questions you might have below.