UCLA sits two wins away from a national championship and all of the credit goes to the pitching staff.
The only thing standing in the way of the Bruins and the trophy are the Bulldogs of Mississippi State, which the staff will attempt to take down twice in three games.
The offense has been poor all season and has been even worse throughout the College World Series. Through 64 games, the offense is only hitting .248, which is not even close to one of the best in the country. In Omaha, the team’s batting average is .182.
With that being said, it’s incredible that UCLA hasn’t lost a game all postseason.
UCLA wouldn’t be in Omaha without its pitching staff and certainly wouldn’t have made it to the Championship Series without it either.
UCLA’s starting pitchers have led the team all year. The combination of Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson were remarkable throughout the regular season and have yet to be beaten this postseason, literally.
The three starters are a combined 7-0 in the NCAA tournament and the College World Series.
Plutko will look to give the Bruins a 1-0 Championship Series lead when he takes the mound against Mississippi State Monday night. He’s only made one start in Omaha, but he made it count. Plutko tossed about as good of a game against No. 4 LSU as anyone could’ve expected. He only allowed one run in seven innings, as UCLA won, 2-1.
Vander Tuig was on the mound for UCLA’s second game at the College World Series and matched his teammate’s performance. He allowed four hits and one earned run to NC State, striking out six without walking a batter in another 2-1 win for the Bruins. He’ll likely get the Game 2 nod.
Watson got the start for the bracket final against No. 1 UNC even though UCLA could’ve started Plutko. He didn’t disappoint. Watson didn’t allow a run in six innings of work, allowing four hits while striking out three and walking one.
You guessed it; UCLA advanced to the Championship Series with a victory. Watson should get the start in Game 3, if necessary.
The trio of starters has yet to look uncomfortable against some of the top teams in the country. UCLA didn’t enter the College World Series as the team to beat, but the combination of Plutko, Vander Tuig and Watson has made the Bruins the favorites to win this year’s title.
The best part about the three starters is that they’re well aware that they only need to throw six or seven solid innings in order to get a win. Once the ball is handed over to the bullpen, the game is pretty much over for the opposition. UCLA has three outstanding relievers and each is great at holding a lead.
Zack Weiss and James Kaprielian are the seventh and eighth inning guys.
Weiss has terrific command and has only walked 12 batters this season, which is the second fewest on the team for pitchers with at least 30 innings.
Kaprielian has struck out more than one batter per inning and opponents are only hitting .143 off of him.
Then there’s David Berg, who’s the best reliever in college baseball.
While Berg has been tested at times throughout the College World Series, he’s been extremely effective all year. The right-handed closer has thrown 75.1 innings and has the best command on the team. In 49 appearances, Berg has struck out 77 batters while walking just 11. Oh, and he has 23 saves and a phenomenal ERA.
As a staff, UCLA has been one of the best in the nation. Here’s a look at how it matches up against the other teams in the country in a variety of categories:
- 4th in WHIP—1.09
- 9th in ERA—2.69
- 12th in H/9—7.33
- 12th in K/BB—2.79
- 16th in W/L Pct.—.721
What more can head coach John Savage ask for?
UCLA is a team that’s built on pitching.
The only other time that UCLA made it to the Championship Series was in 2010. That year, the rotation featured Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole—both are in the majors—and Rob Rasmussen—who could make his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers any day. Dan Klein, a third-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles, had 10 saves and a 1.90 ERA as the closer.
This year’s staff is better.
In 2010, UCLA fell in the best-of-three. In 2013, the Bruins will make history, as they’ll go on to win the first baseball national championship in the school’s history. They’re too good on the mound to come up short again.
You know what they say: Pitching wins championships.