Baseball Preview: UCLA

Cal State Fullerton's season was teetering on the brink a few weeks ago with nothing assured for where things were headed for the post-season. Fullerton swept both UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara and won the first two games of the Cal Poly series and 13 of 14 games overall before dropping the final game in San Luis Obispo.

The Titans are playing with a great deal of confidence and are now on course for a national top eight seed that would guarantee hosting a regional and a super regional if they won their regional.  Fullerton heads into this weekend with lots of momentum and will be playing a non-conference series against an opponent they have played more games against than any other team over the last two seasons, the UCLA Bruins.  The Titans went 9-2 against UCLA the last two years and eliminated the Bruins in a super regional two years ago and a regional last season.

UCLA once again came into this season with high expectations despite losing 3/4 of their infield, their catcher and their Friday SP.  The Bruins were picked #12 by Baseball America, who infamously picked UCLA #1 going into last season, and picked by the coaches in the Pac 10 conference to finish second.  But much as they did in 2008, UCLA once again has failed to live up to those predictions and is 25-24 and 14-10 in conf in what has been a very down year for the Pac 10 with the conference unlikely to have more than three teams playing in regionals. 

The Bruins got off to a terrible 2-10 start and were still only 13-19 in the middle of April before the light bulb started to go on.  UCLA went on a 10-3 run, which included a sweep of Washington and a series win over Oregon State, to get back over .500 and start having thoughts of playing in a regional.  The Bruins reverted back to their inconsistent ways last weekend when they lost a series at home to Cal and the play that pretty much decided the series was a fly ball that was dropped in LF in the 9th inning that the Bears converted into two runs and a win.  UCLA's RPI is in the mid 70's and their hopes for qualifying for a regional are slim.  

OUTLOOK

If UCLA has any chance of making it into a regional they are going to have to win this series and their series next weekend at ASU.  The Bruins definitely have a pitching staff that is more than capable of pulling off the upset but their offense has been very inconsistent against weekend pitching, scoring four runs or less in 9 of 18 games over the last six weekend series and hitting only .276 in conf games.  Also, UCLA usually has played poorly against Fullerton and teams coached by John Savage are 4-21 against the Titans (2-7 at UC Irvine, 2-14 at UCLA) so there is definitely some sort of mental block for the Bruins when they play Fullerton. 

The Titans are playing about as well as they were earlier in the season when they went on an 18-2 run against some tough competition and are a more well rounded team than UCLA.  There aren't likely to be many runs scored in this series because of the pitching staffs of both teams and the Bruins could win this series with the way that Cole and Bauer are pitching but Fullerton is on too much of a roll to pick against the Titans this weekend and Fullerton should win two of three games in the series.