The Bruins are in a lull, and if they don’t return to form this weekend they will endanger their chances of obtaining home-field advantage for the postseason.
No. 11 UCLA baseball (30-14, 14-7 Pac-12) has to win the upcoming series against unranked Washington (23-20, 13-8) this weekend to avoid falling to fourth place in the Pac-12. The Bruins are on their longest losing streak of the season – four games – and have averaged just over 1 run per game in that span.
The first two seeds in the Pac-12 tend to earn home-field advantage in the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals. The eight hosts of the Super Regional last year went a combined 15-3 in the round, with six teams advancing to the College World Series.
“The importance of hosting in the West is critical – it’s very tough to get to the Omaha in the West. When we’re a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, we usually host,” said coach John Savage in the preseason. “We really want to win the league and be right there and host.”
UCLA sits one game behind second place in the Pac-12 standings with three conference series remaining. UCLA was tied with Stanford for first place, but dropped a game below Oregon State and sits at third place after getting swept by Arizona last weekend.
“It’s a tough time right now because we’re on a four-game losing streak but I think (this weekend) is a good time to turn it around,” said sophomore second baseman Chase Strumpf. “Just come back and show that losing games doesn’t really matter because we can turn it around whenever.”
UCLA will be tested by a Washington team with the fourth-best ERA in the conference. Washington swept Arizona on March 18 and is coming off a series win over Arizona State. They are now one game behind the Bruins in the conference standings.
UCLA’s pitching staff has allowed an average of just 3.2 runs in the last 12 games and holds the second-best ERA in the Pac-12 and fifth-best in the nation.
However, it lost two pitchers with starting potential in junior Jon Olsen and redshirt sophomore Kyle Molnar for the rest of the year. Both pitchers returned from injury for brief periods in April and were expected to work their way into the starting lineup before the NCAA tournament.
“We’re so thin on the mound right now. We’re running guys out there that really lack experience,” Savage said. “But we’re near the top in the league in pitching and we don’t even have our weekend rotation. We like the way those guys are competing, but if you don’t score any runs you’re not going to win.”
The Bruins capitalized on their defense by winning eight straight games and scoring 10.9 runs per game before their current four-game losing streak.
“Right now we’re struggling to put some runs on the board,” said sophomore left fielder Jeremy Ydens. “Hitting is not easy, especially at this level, and we have an extremely talented lineup one through nine. I have total faith that it will come around.”
Conference leaders No. 2 Stanford (38-6, 17-4) and second-place No. 3 Oregon State (36-7-1, 14-6-1) will also play this weekend. The best possible outcome for UCLA’s chances at retaining the No. 1 seed is if Oregon State takes two out of three and UCLA sweeps Washington. This will leave a one-game difference between the three leaders. If Stanford and UCLA both sweep, the Bruins will regain the No. 2 seed.
“We were tied for first going to (Tuscon, Arizona), and then we come back down three games. You never really get ahead in the Pac,” Savage said. “We’ve won the league several times and … it always comes down to the last game. Everybody beats up on each other and you gotta be able to take a blow.”
Senior right-hander Jake Bird will take the mound for the Bruins on Friday at 6:05 p.m. in Seattle. Freshman Zach Pettway will start Saturday and sophomore Ryan Garcia will take the mound Sunday.