The No. 6/12 UCLA Bruins baseball team got an extended break following a 2-1 series victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers last week, thanks to the unusually harsh Southern California winter.
The Bruins were originally scheduled to hit the road to Santa Barbara on Tuesday for a single-game showdown with UCSB, but rain in the forecast forced a postponement. And while the inclement weather did strike Westwood (all .18 inches of it), the Gauchos’ campus up the coast was dry as a bone. The UCSB game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 2 PM PST.
So instead of a midweek contest, UCLA was gifted a full week off, and the Bruins took advantage by resting up and preparing for their weekend opponent, the Baylor Bears.
Head coach John Savage’s squad will look to keep the good times rolling away from home, playing their first road games of the season at Baylor Ballpark in Waco, Texas.
The Bears began the season ranked No. 23 in the NCBWA poll, but fell fast out of fortune because of a season-opening sweep versus the UC-Irvine Anteaters.
UCI reaped the benefits of its dominant showing against Baylor, jumping up to the No. 27 spot in the NCBWA poll (which strangely ranks 30 teams, unlike the more common 25-team model). Irvine also snuck into the Baseball America Top 25, claiming the No. 25 spot in the rankings.
UCLA has a home-and-home series with the Anteaters this season, and that pair of games looks significantly more challenging than previously thought. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, as the Bears should be the Bruins’ sole focus at this point.
Baylor (1-3) rebounded from its rough start this week, getting on track for the first time in 2013 on Tuesday night versus Texas State. The Bears held off the Bobcats, 6-3, in their home opener, but to say that was a major accomplishment would be a stretch.
Texas State-San Marcos entered the matchup in Waco with a 1-2 record following home losses to Missouri State and Sam Houston State in the Bobcat Invitational. So while Baylor certainly gained some confidence from its first win of the season, the Bears have hardly lived up to their preseason billing.
After being outscored 26-7 in the series versus UCI, the Bears survived a horrific fielding performance against the Bobcats (five errors), thanks mostly to a four-run second inning that put them on top for good.
Baylor head coach Steve Smith expressed the importance of playing through the adversity, and hopes it could serve as a building block for his developing pitching staff. Smith was quoted saying the following on BaylorBears.com:
Given how the game was played with the errors and the number of walks, I think it is a pretty amazing win. I think it is a hard way to win a game when they get as many base runners as they did. I think we made a lot of pitches and moved the runners out there and got some outs. I was really pleasantly surprised to see how [sophomore RHP] Sean Spicer handled the start.
You have to respect Coach Smith for looking on the bright side of his team’s struggles out the gate, but something tells me the Bears will keep sliding if they continue their sloppy play when UCLA visits this weekend.
After all, the Bruins are riding a two-game winning streak in which they outpaced the competition by a combined 28-1 score. The Baylor starters will need to be locked-in to keep it close, at least if UCLA remembers to bring its bats on the plane ride to Texas. The Bears will send right-handers Max Garner and Dillon Newman to the mound, two upperclassmen with a combined record of 0-1 so far this season. The starter for Sunday’s closer hasn’t been announced yet.
Garner took a 5-0 loss in his first start of the year, giving up three earned runs on six hits in Irvine. The senior was supported by just three hits from his offense, while the Baylor fielders committed two errors, stats that make any pitcher’s job a nightmare.
Newman started the third game against the Anteaters, but was stuck with a no decision after going 4.2 innings and giving up three runs on six hits. The Bears went on to lose the game, 15-3, despite collecting 12 hits along the way. Newman is an extremely talented prospect, as the junior from Belton, Texas was drafted by the New York Mets in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Unless Baylor can find some consistency on offense and limit the defensive miscues, Garner, Newman and the rest of the Bears’ pitching staff figure to be in big trouble this weekend. UCLA enters the series on fire with no intention of cooling down, especially with the top of the Bruins’ starting rotation set to take the field.
Make sure to follow Go Joe Bruin on Twitter (@GoJoeBruinUCLA) for information on the UCLA baseball team, including score and stat updates during the games this weekend.