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Baseball Pac-12 tournament predictions

No. 3 seed UCLA baseball celebrates after a game May 15. The Bruins will be playing in the inaugural Pac-12 tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona starting Wednesday. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

By Jared Tay, Joseph Crosby, and Jay Fenn

May 24, 2022 2:51 p.m.

This post was updated May 26 at 12:42 a.m.

No. 3 seed UCLA baseball (35-20, 19-11 Pac-12) will be participating in the first-ever Pac-12 baseball tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, starting Wednesday. The five-day, double-elimination tournament features eight teams from the conference the Bruins may have to fight through to be crowned champions, and the blue and gold will begin with a matchup against No. 6 seed California. Take a look at how the Daily Bruin baseball beat predicts UCLA will fare in the inaugural event.

Jared Tay
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Second place

When I sat in front of former Bruin and long-time major-leaguer Eric Karros a week and a half ago at UCLA’s last home series, I overheard him say one thing that continues to stick with me.

I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: The Stanford players are built like men. And when they take the field, it’s men against boys.

It’s not hard to see why Karros would describe the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed this way. Their lineup is filled with juniors and uber-talented sophomores. The Bruins? The majority are freshmen and sophomores.

It shows on the field. When the Cardinal visited Westwood, they took two out of three games relatively easily. Stanford ranks first in the conference in slugging percentage, and it’s not particularly close.

Its pitching staff tells the same story. Of all the arms the Cardinal have used this season, only two have been freshmen.

Their maturity on the mound is backed up by the numbers, too. The Stanford staff ranks first in the conference in hits allowed, earned runs allowed and home runs conceded. Again, it’s not close.

The Bruins have no chance should they meet them in the championship game.

Of course, it’ll be a long road to even get to the title contest, especially given UCLA’s lack of depth in its rotation. But based on its series win at Oregon State last weekend, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to have the blue and gold clearing out the teams in its half of the bracket.

California and Washington shouldn’t be an issue, especially if the run support backs up any UCLA pitcher not named sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic. A matchup with Oregon State is more difficult to predict, but I’ll give the edge to UCLA considering what it pulled off in Corvallis. The Beavers are vulnerable, having just managed to break a four-game losing streak on the last day of the regular season.

Ultimately, the Bruins will have to wait their turn to wear the crown of Pac-12 tournament champions. Right now, the Cardinal are heads and shoulders above their competition.

Jay Fenn
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: Pac-12 champions

Max Rajcic has been the best Bruin pitcher all year and arguably the best pitcher in the Pac-12 over the last month.

The right-hander has won two Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week awards in the month of May alone, with neither of those including his one-run outing against then-No. 2 Oregon State in the final series of the regular season.

Unfortunately, the rest of the blue and gold’s rotation has been unable to find the same success as the 2021 Freshman All-American.

Freshman right-hander Thatcher Hurd led the Bruins with a 1.06 ERA before an injury sidelined him indefinitely. Sophomore right-hander Jake Brooks and freshman left-hander Gage Jump were showing their own flashes of success in the starting rotation until injuries sidelined them for the foreseeable future.

Now, I don’t know how coach John Savage will use his ace, but I have a feeling Rajcic will start the Wednesday contest against No. 6 seed California to secure the opening-round victory for the Bruins. From there, I believe the 18-year coach can scavenge whatever pitching he has to knock off Oregon State – a team that has lost four of its last five – twice in a row to reach the finals.

UCLA will then face off against Stanford, a team that blew it out twice in the regular season. However, the Bruins were able to take one from the Cardinal in April. Who started that game and went seven innings? Rajcic.

On three days of rest, I expect Rajcic to get the start for the Bruins and deliver his best start of the season. The right-hander will go seven shutout innings against the electric Cardinal offense before handing the ball off to freshman right-hander Alonzo Tredwell to close out the game and give the blue and gold its first Pac-12 championship since 2019.

 

Joseph Crosby
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: Third/fourth place (Saturday exit)

Jake Brooks, Thatcher Hurd and Gage Jump are unavailable for the Bruins.

With the lack of reliable pitching aside from Rajcic, the Bruins’ offense will be hard-pressed to carry the load in Scottsdale.

In the final week of the regular season, UCLA went 2-2 with a -7 run differential, scoring 11 runs across its two wins and only four between its two losses.

Despite this, sophomore outfielder Carson Yates was confident about the state of the offense following a series win against then-No. 2 Oregon State.

“We’re in a great spot right now,” Yates said. “We keep on hitting the way we are, we’d be a really dangerous team going into it – the Pac-12 Tournament – and eventually regionals.”

UCLA’s offense has been up and down in May, which does little to inspire confidence for a postseason run. A five-game losing streak – including a sweep at the hands of Washington – sandwiched between sweeps of Arizona State and Washington State leaves question marks about the capabilities of the Bruins to push enough runs across to win.

It becomes clear that the Bruins’ chances of making it to the championship game are slim.

If UCLA defeats No. 6 seed California in the first round, Oregon State is the most likely opponent Thursday. This is the same Oregon State team that lit up freshman left-hander Ethan Flanagan and redshirt sophomore right-hander Kelly Austin for four runs each Friday and Saturday. The Beavers may have dropped the series against the Bruins, but a season-long body of work shows they should not be underestimated.

Savage could mix it up and use Flanagan or Austin in the first game to save Rajcic for a potential game against Oregon State, but that just delays the issue. Rajcic will only be able to pitch once in the first four days, and with the Bruins likely to face both the Beavers and the Huskies at least once, the blue and gold won’t find itself in the championship game.

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Jared Tay | Sports senior staff
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the men's basketball beat. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the men's basketball beat. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Joseph Crosby | Assistant Sports editor
Crosby is a 2022-2023 assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a third-year statistics student.
Crosby is a 2022-2023 assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a third-year statistics student.
Jay Fenn | Sports staff
Fenn is currently a Sports staffer on the baseball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat and a contributor on the beach volleyball and men's and women's golf beats.
Fenn is currently a Sports staffer on the baseball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat and a contributor on the beach volleyball and men's and women's golf beats.
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