UCLA's baseball team, ranked #6 in the country, ran their record to 22-0 last night with an extra inning win over Stanford (#19). The Bruins are now 1-0 in conference play.
Today the Bruins look for their 23rd straight win, with every consecutive win at this point breakng the school record for consecutive wins to start the season, with the prior best being 8-0 in 1978; it's also the longest winning streak in school history period.
Taking the mount tonight is sophomore Trevor Bauer, who brings a 5-0 record into the game and a perfect 12-0 record as a starter going back to his freshman campaign. The right hander out of Hart High School began last season as a reliever, made his first appearance as a starter in a midweek game then became part of the weekend rotation in conference play where he posted a 7-0 record in Pac 10 play. (For the uninitiated, college baseball teams typically play a midweek game and a weekend series; teams usually have a midweek starter, a Friday starter, a Saturday starter and a Sunday starter – your Friday starter is considered your "ace." Typically, anyway.) On most every other team in the country, Bauer, the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2009, would be the Friday starter, but not at UCLA. The ace of the Bruins staff is sophomore Gerrit Cole who will forever be known as "the guy who got drafted in the first round by the effin' New York Yankees but decided to attend UCLA anyway." Cole, 6-0 in 2010, was also a freshman All American.
There is a truly excellent little piece on Bauer in the latest edition of UCLA Magazine. I happen to know the writer of that piece and he shared with me a little something that didn't make it into the magazine: The cap Bauer wears is the first one he was given when he joined the team last year. "It was the first hat I got," Bauer said. "I'm a fan of old time baseball and I like the look (of a well-worn cap). I don't like the new ones." There – don't say you didn't learn anything you didn't already know in this article.
Cole and Bauer provide a contrasting one two-punch at the top of the Bruins rotation. Cole is the bigger man, who pitches with an overpowering style. Though both are professional prospects, he's the one who brings the heat with big league velocity. Bauer is the thinking man's pitcher, who models his style after San Francisco Giant (and former Washington Husky) Tim Lincecum. Junior Rob Rasmussen is the Sunday starter. Here's a look at the lefty, who is 3-0. He's pitching the series finale against Stanford on Saturday. (Yes, I know the Sunday starter is pitching on Saturday. I believe the weekend series went Thursday, Friday, Saturday this weekend due to the fact that this Sunday is also Easter Sunday.) Redshirt sophomore Dan Klein, who was once considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the west by our own Brandon Huffman, is the closer.
UCLA's pitching is the big reason the team is undefeated. Heading into the Stanford series (and according to the official site) UCLA ranked first in NCAA's national rankings in ERA, strikeouts, strikeouts allowed per nine innings, and hits allowed per nine innings. The Bruins' offense ranked sixth in the country in batting average, 17th in slugging percentage and 27th in runs scored. Cole entered the week as one of six players in the nation to have recorded six victories. Cole and Bauer ranked fourth (tied) with 56 strikeouts, and left-hander Rob Rasmussen was 20th nationally in strikeouts.
In many ways, this team is what Bruin fans were looking for when Head Coach John Savage replaced Gary Adams. Savage is not only the manager, he's also the pitching coach, with major league stars Mark Prior and Barry Zito among his success stories from his days coaching at USC. Until now, though, the team has lacked consistency in the Savage era, both on the mound and at the plate.
Much of the credit for the offense this season is being given to assistant coach Rick Vanderhook. Using football parlance, Vanderhook is the offensive coordinator. Lacking true home run threat with departure of Cody Decker (now playing in the San Diego Padres organization … oh, by the way, here's another fine piece from UCLA Magazine on Decker from a few seasons ago), Vanderhook has the team playing "small ball" – bunting, moving runners, working counts and just trying to score in any way possible.
According to the official site, going into the Stanford series, four UCLA hitters with at least 55 at-bats are currently sporting batting averages of .400 or better this season. Sophomore Tyler Rahmatulla leads the group with his .443 mark, while seniors Justin Uribe (.414) and Blair Dunlap (.400) and sophomore Dean Espy (.411) have also made the list. Rahmatulla's average is the fifth-highest mark in the Pac-10, and Uribe's .414 average ranks ninth (through games played Tuesday). The last UCLA player to finish a season with a batting average above the .400 plateau was Brian Baron in 2001, who totaled a single-season school record .431 average.
This may come as a surprise, but at 22-0 the Bruins don't have the best record among Pac 10 teams. Arizona State is 26-0 and above the Bruins in the rankings. Arizona State travels to Westwood for a three game set at The Jack April 30 through May 2. At the Pac 10 represents much stiffer competition than either the Sun Devils or the Bruins faced in non-conference play it's unlikely both will be unbeaten when that series takes place. Still, it's expected that the conference title and playoff seeding will be at stake.We'll have more on the baseball team, with more in-depth stories and interview, coming soon.