Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
After a solid week of practice, the No. 7 UCLA baseball team is set for a pivotal Pac-12 road trip to take on Arizona State in Tempe. The Bruins (17-4, 5-1) are fresh off a series victory over Cal that kept them on par with first place, while the Sun Devils (13-7-1, 2-4) have dropped four of their last five games.
Arizona State began the season ranked and was thought to be a conference title contender, but a successful 12-2-1 start was muddied at the start of Pac-12 play. The Sun Devils were caught sleeping versus Washington State, as the Cougs claimed two wins in the desert. And then a trip to Corvallis to battle No. 3 Oregon State went bad with the Beavers taking two as well.
As the calendar approaches April, ASU has slipped to sixth in the Pac-12 standings, and is no longer listed in any of the national media polls. The Sun Devils are still looking for their first conference series victory, and they would love to get it at home over a national power like UCLA. For obvious reasons, the sense of urgency will be elevated for the Devils this weekend.
Historically, Arizona State has been a force in the college baseball world, and the Bruins have been less than beastly. So it’s not too surprising that the Devils own a 110-67 lead in the all-time series. But UCLA is slowly chipping away at the deficit, winning the last two series between the teams, including taking 2-of-3 in Tempe back in 2011.
The story of the season for the Sun Devils has been pitching, as the starting rotation ranks seventh in the country in hits allowed per nine innings (6.63). The leader of the group is Ryan Kellogg, an outstanding freshman from Ontario who boasts a 0.71 ERA to go with his 5-0 record. Kellogg was a 12th-round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft (Toronto), and so far this season has shown his pro potential.
Both of ASU’s Pac-12 wins came with Kellogg starting, thanks in part to his impressive command on the hill. The 6’5″, 220-pound southpaw hasn’t allowed an earned run in 24 consecutive innings, and hasn’t given up a hit in 13 straight. If Kellogg can continue to perform at this level, Arizona State should be able to count on at least one win each week. Unfortunately for head coach Tim Esmay, not much else been a sure bet for the Sun Devils. This week, Kellogg and the rest will be put to the test with UCLA on the slate.
The series opener, which is typically on Friday, is actually pushed up a day this week. The Bruins and Sun Devils will begin play from Packard Stadium at 6:30 p.m. PT on Thursday, followed by the same time on Friday and a 12:30 p.m. start on Saturday. Each of the three games will featured a live audio broadcast, which can be accessed on UCLABruins.com.