Stanford looks to give UCLA first loss

No. 2 UCLA (21-0, 0-0 Pac-10) will kick-off its Pac-10 season as it hosts a three-game series against No. 19 Stanford (12-7, 2-1 Pac-10) starting on Thursday. The Bruins, projected to finish third in the Pac-10 behind Arizona State and Oregon State, are off to their best start ever behind an extremely talented starting pitching staff. In addition, they have outhit their opponents in all 21 games.

Stanford, meanwhile, has won eight of its last 12, after winning two of three against USC over the weekend and losing against the University of San Francisco on Monday. Although the offense only scored one run on Monday, it is still averaging close to seven runs per game. Stanford fans hope that two of the three rotation spots have been figured out, as Jordan Pries continues to throw well and Brett Mooneyham had arguably his best outing of the season on Sunday.

Keys to the Series

The last time the Stanford offense faced pitching of UCLA's caliber, they managed to scored five runs in three games at Texas. Now that the team has more experience, how will they respond against Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, and company?

Stanford must figure out a way to disrupt the rhythm of the Bruins' starting pitchers. The offense's first challenge will be to make contact. UCLA's top three starters have all recorded many more strikeouts than innings pitched and their strikeout to walk ratios are in the neighborhood of at least four-to-one. Thus, the Cardinal should look to be aggressive early in the count, as they should expect UCLA's starters to throw a lot of strikes.

UCLA's best pitching prospect is sophomore right-hander Gerrit Cole. According to Keith Law, a respected scout for, Cole is a "Tall righty whose fastball sits around 94-95 mph and tops out at 96. Also mixes in an above aberage low 80s slider and a 80 mph changeup. Smooth, effortless delivery. Aggresive with the strike zone." Cole is a potential top-five pick in the 2010 Major League Draft.

The team's number-two starter is sophomore righty Trevor Bauer, a first-round talent himself. So far, Bauer has a 2.33 earned-run average in five starts. He leads the team in innings pitched with 38.2, and has given up 23 hits, struck out 56, and allowed 10 walks. Opponents are batting .170 off of him.

The team's number-three starter, lefty Rob Rasmussen, is also worthy of first-round consideration. According to Jason A Churchill, another scout, Rasmussen "uses a low-90s fastball to set up a low-80s changeup and a curveball that the scout called ‘very good, above average and sometimes it's a legitimate strikeout pitch for him.'"

UCLA has a huge +29 run differential in the first inning. It will be important for the Cardinal to always remain within striking distance in order to keep the Bruins starting pitchers from becoming too comfortable and aggressive.

This will be a difficult task for the Cardinal, as they have an unusual -21 run differential in the first inning. This trend for Stanford will have to stop, beginning in this series. Once UCLA has a lead, the pitching staff is automatically granted more freedom to be aggressive and attack the Stanford hitters without caution.

Like many of the previous series and much of the season, Stanford's success hinges on the performance of the starting pitching behind Jordan Pries.

Though all of the Cardinal pitching staff will be faced with a difficult challenge as it encounters an offense which averages close to nine runs per game, both lefties, Scott Snodgress and Brett Mooneyham, have improved mightily over their last two starts and should get opportunities to start this series. In addition, the backend of the bullpen for the Cardinal, specifically Brian Busick and Alex Pracher, have been very consistent, so the Cardinal have a good chance of maintaining a lead in late-game situations.

In addition, Stanford's pitching rotation will be in an unusual situation, with the series starting on Thursday instead of Friday. This means that, if the rotation is to be kept in order, the starting pitchers from last series will get one fewer day of rest that normal. For Thursday, it is unlikely that Coach Marquess will start Brett Mooneyham, who pitched twice last week. Instead, it's possible he may give the start to Scott Snodgress, who threw an inning on Monday versus USF, or Jordan Pries, who pitched on Saturday. Even freshman Mark Appel, who had his first career start last Friday, may get asked to start Thursday's game. On the other hand, UCLA's rotation will be perfectly rested, as they had a three-game series starting last Thursday. They beat Pepperdine on Tuesday, 2-1, but did not have to expend any of their three main starting pitchers, who will likely pitch in order against the Cardinal.

Projected Defensive Alignment

Thursday – 6:00 p.m.
RHP Jordan Pries (34 IP, 3.44 ERA) or LHP Scott Snodgress (19.1 IP, 6.41 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (37.2 IP, 2.63 ERA)
Stanford Cardinal
C – Zach Jones (.300 average, three HRs)
1B – Stephen Piscotty (.326/.425/.452, three Ks in 73 AB)
2B – Colin Walsh (.333/.467/.528, two HRs
3B – Kenny Diekroeger (.313/.366/.500, two HRs)
SS – Jake Schlander (.246/.400/.410, 15 BBs, two HRs)
LF – Christian Griffiths (9-for-31, one HR)
CF – Jake Stewart (6-for-12 in last five games)
RF – Tyler Gaffney (.349/.481/.512)
DH – Adam Gaylord (11-for-22, .560 on-base) or Jonathan Kaskow (15-for-37, four 2Bs)

UCLA Bruins
C – Steve Rodriguez (.333/.429/.704, five HRs)
1B – Justin Uribe (.414 average, one HR)
2B – Tyler Rahmatulla (.443/.520/.671, 14 BBs, 12 Ks)
3B – Dean Espy (.411 average, four HRs)
SS – Niko Gallego (.422 on-base, 11 BBs, three HRs)
LF – Cody Keefer (.489 on-base, 17 BBs, 12 Ks)
CF – Beau Amaral (.333/.406/.386)
RF – Brett Krill (.338/.378/.506)
DH – Blair Dunlap (.400/.444/.680, 10 2Bs, three HRs)

Friday – 6:00 p.m.
RHP Jordan Pries or LHP Scott Snodgress vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (38.2 IP, 2.33 ERA)

Saturday – 2:00 p.m.
LHP Brett Mooneyham (22.1 IP, 6.85 ERA) vs. LHP Rob Rasmussen (30.2 IP, 2.64 ERA)

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