The San Diego State baseball team is on a hot streak after winning the Mountain West conference tournament by defeating top-seeded New Mexico in consecutive games. Winning the conference tournament was the only way that San Diego State was going to make it to the NCAA tournament, they finished with a pedestrian 31-29 record.
San Diego State heads to the Los Angeles regional as the take on No. 1 seed UCLA Friday night, and to get to know the Bruins better we reached out to Bruins Nation to know what the Aztecs are up against.
1. UCLA has displayed dominant pitching this year, with so many good players like Nick Vander Tuig (10-4, 2,30) and Adam Plutko (7-3, 2.60) who is expected to get the start. Also, how do you think they will fare against a San Diego State team who has six players who hit right at .300 and above?
I'm not especially concerned about Plutko on Friday. He's been a great pitcher for the Bruins since his freshman year and has been incredible in the last two postseasons, going 4-0 with 27 strikeouts and a 0.89 ERA. The Aztecs have a good offense, but I doubt the Bruins have any concerns with Plutko on the mound.
On the back end, David Berg is sensational and can work multiple innings so UCLA has him to turn to at the end of games. The question is what the Bruins will do if to bridge the gap from Plutko to Berg if need be. That could be the issue.
2. What dangers do you feel that San Diego State possess since they are on such a hot streak during the MWC tournament where they defeated a very good New Mexico team twice.
Frankly, the Aztecs won't concern the Bruins too much. That's not to disparage SDSU because they are hot, but UCLA has played a slew of good teams this season and the Aztecs aren't a better pitching team than Oregon St., a better hitting team that Arizona St. or a better fielding team than Oregon. UCLA has played a ton of good teams and there isn't anything about San Diego St. that is truly elite so it's more of the same for them -- expect to get good pitching and hope the offense does enough to get by.
3. Who are the key offensive players that the San Diego State pitching staff will have to go up against.
It's tough to pinpoint anyone in particular because, to be honest, the UCLA offense isn't very good. Nobody hit .300, nobody hit more than five home runs and they only were thrown out on 39% of their stolen base attempts.
Kevin Kramer led the team with a .290 batting average and he is probably the bet hitter on the team. He has a really great swing and some intriguing power potential, but for whatever reason he has had an up-and-down season. Brian Carroll has a .375 OBP and stole 29 bases so he's the ideal leadoff man, at least by UCLA standards, and Pat Valaika had five home runs.
4. UCLA's offense has not been elite this season, so will they be able to take an advantage against a so-so San Diego State pitching staff.
How effective UCLA is probably depends on what they get from Eric Filia and Cody Regis. Both have the potential to have produce and experience, but they haven't put it together this season. They had their moments, but they were few and far between. With the Bruins lacking any elite hitters, they need to be a deep lineup and that means Filia and Regis need to be good.
So will UCLA be able to get to the SDSU pitchers? It depends on whether Filia and Regis can.
5. What are the main reason(s) that UCLA will win, and also what would be a reason to how they could come up short against San Diego State.
As much attention as the UCLA pitching staff gets, and they deserve it all, their defense is just as good. They cover a lot of ground and can really pick it, taking away runs from teams that have enough of a challenge with the UCLA pitchers. That defense can be the difference for the Bruins, especially late in close games.
If things go south for the Bruins, you can bet it will be because their offense goes MIA. It's happened too often this season and it wouldn't shock anyone if it happened again in the postseason.
6. What is your prediction for this game?
Plutko is 4-0 in the postseason for a reason and I think he makes it 5-0 on Friday. He'll pitch deep enough into the game that he can hand the ball to Berg, who wraps things up in a 5-1 UCLA win.
7. Also, Is it a matter of assumption that UCLA will make it out of the regional round?
Not in the slightest. Two years ago the Bruins had a team similar to this one, with Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer leading a dominant pitching staff, but a really questionable offense and thin bullpen bit them in the Regionals. Despite being the hosts and No. 1 seed, they lost their opener and didn't make it out of the first weekend. UCLA may be the favorites this weekend, but we saw two years ago what could happen to a similarly profiled team.
San Diego State did barely sneak into the tournament, so it comes as no surprise that UCLA should be confident in this game. The Bruins pitching is good and can probably slow down or even shutdown the Aztecs offense.
Pitching for San Diego State could be the key for them to steal this game. UCLA's offense is not that good and as mentioned they do not show up all the time, so there is some hope for an upset. However, San Diego State will have a tough time getting runs past UCLA's starter, so the Aztecs will need to play a great game.