This weekend, the top Pac-12 offense will face the top Pac-12 pitching staff.
No. 1 UCLA baseball (35-7, 14-4 Pac-12) will take on No. 22 Arizona State (32-10, 13-8 Pac-12) in its first Pac-12 road series since taking two out of three against then-No. 2 Stanford in the beginning of April. The Bruins will face one of the best offenses they have seen this year as the Sun Devils are ranked first in nearly every major offensive stat category in the Pac-12.
“You’re being judged by conference play right now,” said coach John Savage. “It’s really the best team over the next two months is what it’s all about.”
Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in batting average at .318, runs scored with 377, home runs with 69 and RBIs with 347. Five Sun Devils are batting over .330 this season, highlighted by center fielder Hunter Bishop, who leads the Pac-12 with 18 home runs, while his 51 RBIs are second-most in the conference. Arizona State’s top-ranked offense has led the team to 14 more wins than it had at this point last year.
While the Sun Devils boast the Pac-12’s top offense, the Bruins have put forth the top pitching staff in the Pac-12, leading stat categories such as ERA, total strikeouts and WHIP. Not only does UCLA lead the conference in these pitching categories, but it also leads the nation in both ERA and WHIP.
“A lot of other people have been stepping up in big roles and are competing really hard,” said freshman right-hander Sean Mullen. “We’re a really, really solid practice team and we’re seeing the results of what that means.”
Despite the injury to sophomore right-hander Zach Pettway, the Bruin starters have only allowed three earned runs since he went down. The staff has been led by junior right-hander Ryan Garcia, who earned Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for a conference-high third time after his complete game shutout performance against Utah last Friday. Garcia is slated to start Friday in place of Pettway for the second consecutive week.
This series also marks the seventh – and possibly last – ranked opponent the Bruins will face during the regular season. In those games against ranked opponents, UCLA is 10-4, having won its last five dating back to its series against then-No. 8 East Carolina and then-No. 2 Stanford.
“We’ve played Stanford not too long ago and Oregon State not too long ago and it’s not gonna get much tougher,” said redshirt senior right-hander Nathan Hadley. “Coach (Savage) is really good at scheduling big games and big opponents, so we’re always ready.”
This will be just the second top-25 matchup for the Sun Devils this season. In its series against then-No. 5 Oregon State, Arizona State dropped two out of three games and was held to its lowest run total for a weekend series on the season. However, Savage says he does not want to downplay the strength of any Pac-12 team the Bruins face.
“From top to bottom – I’ve said it from day one – it’s the most competitive league in the country this season,” Savage said. “We’re a little over halfway through the league, so there’s a lot of baseball left.”
Friday’s first pitch will be at 7 p.m., followed by Saturday’s game starting at 3 p.m. and a 2 p.m. start for the finale Sunday.