Ah, these guys again. Though it’s been a minute since we’ve met the Bruins, the last two times we have; the 2010 College World Series (2x) and the Super Regionals in 2012 were both doozies--doozies in which, the Bruins got the best of two very good TCU teams. Now for an early season matchup, it’s the same story, different year; two modern elite program firing on all cylinders.
Aside from maybe jumping up or down two or three spots in the polls, there’s not a whole lot at stake other than forward momentum. Both teams lost last night, and both will be a little extra salty coming into tonight's game. Neither of these teams are likely to blow the other out, and most exciting; we’re seeing teams who could very well see each other again in the Cornhusker State come June.
To Live and Die in LA: Day 2, UCLA
The Bruins biggest strength, like pretty much every major program except for Louisiana Lafayette, is pitching; namely their bullpen. Good pitchers aren’t a stranger to Westwood, as UCLA produced names like Trevor Bauer and Gerritt Cole over the past five years.
We could see either Cody Poteet or Grant Watson on Saturday, though recent history has told us we’ll see Watson. Watson is most akin to Morrison; in that he works hitters better than anyone else on his team, attacks the plate with a high-80s fastball, dirty offspeed pitches, and a brilliant curveball to top it off. However, given that it's a special weekend, and given his likeness to Morrison, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bruins threw Poteet. The 6-1 righty averages a fastball in the mid-90s, along with above average secondary pitches, can certainly bring the flames--but doesn’t attack hitters as well as Watson does.
Should he start against the Bruins, Preston Morrison looks to pick up right where he left off in his 88-pitch GEM against Arizona State. Morrison, who has yet to give a run, has no more days off. There are no more series against Southern Illinois from here on out; it’s nothing but tough match-ups--but history has told us that’s he’s up for the challenge.
Whether it's Morrison or Alex Young for the Frogs, either will have their work cut out for them, because this UCLA team can hit. Ty Moore is playing better than just about anyone in college baseball right now; .550 BA, 22 hits, .650 slugging, .620 OBP, and 17 runs. Moore, has really answered the call after the Bruins lost four of their best hitters from last year, and really tore it up in the Cape last summer. Kevin Kramer, who leads the team in runs (20) and given his number of ABs, more or less has the second best BA on the team at .392, is also another big name to watch. Also, if you're interested in home run hitters, UCLA has really good ones. Kramer, Luke Persico, and Chris Keck already have 11 between them this season.
Last night at USC, the Frog bats began to find their rhythm, and took advantage of USC's bullpen once Brent Wheatley left the game. Cody Poteet is arguably better than Wheatley, so the Frogs will not only have to have a strong performance on the mound, but will also have to have their best day at the plate if they want to get out of Westwood with a win in order to avoid an 0-2 hole going into Dodger Stadium tomorrow against Vanderbilt. In part because he collected 4 hits last night, Keaton Jones is my player to watch for tonight's game. In addition to K. Jones, freshmen; Evan Skoug, Zack Plunkett, and Connor Wanhanen. Also, look for sophomore and Los Angeles native, Elliot Barzilli to make an impact over the next few days. Aside from that, it's the usual; Cody Jones, Garrett Crain--who watched a lot strikes go by last night, but who I also expect to be back to normal today--and Derek Odell.
More on Crain, and some others from last night, be careful what you wish for. As much as I talked about patience this past week, the Frogs were almost a little too patient last night. Credit the Trojans' pitching too, but I haven't seen the Frogs watch that many strikes go by in a hot minute. Another thing I'm sure folks are tired of hearing me talk about is the second hole. Wanhanen is doing fine, and collected a hit and a walk last night, but two others; Zack Plunkett and Austen Wade, also hit in the second spot. They're still testing the waters, sure--but I'm ready for Crain to go to the two-spot. Again--I dream.
Last night was also a really bad night for defense. Like, nearing comical proportions. Dane Steinhagen had a brilliant play in which he threw a rope to get an out at the plate early in the game, After that, he looked like a dog walking on ice after four cups of coffee. Skoug was a little rusty defensively, as was Derek Odell--though both recovered quite nicely. Even Keaton Jones, who was far from the problem as he still played lock-down defense, muffed what's usually a routine ball for him. For Keaton, it was more of anomaly, as errors happen and even he won't be perfect; but at the time it happened, it was salt on the wound.
The Horned Frogs have lost only two games this season, both by a score of 7-6. Like we've learned over the past few years, this isn't a team that quits. It may not always be pretty, nor may they get the win, but this is a team that's going to give it their full effort until the last pitch of the game. Again, tonight won't be easy--especially since the Bruins will be coming out a little salty after a 6-0 loss to Vanderbilt last night--but I'm confident that this team will be riding a win into tomorrow's rubber match in Dodger Stadium. Whether it's Morrison or Young, I think the Frog bats will respond well to and in Jackie Robinson Stadium, and we get a Ferrell save in a 4-1 TCU win.