Back-to-back series losses put the Bears in last place in the Pac-12 standings as they look to turn the page and start fresh on the road in Los Angeles. Their Bruin counterparts have been shaky as of late as well, suffering seven losses in their last 10 games. With every conference matchup mattering more and more, who will crumble under the lights at Jackie Robinson Stadium?
To bookend the long road trip, Cal, 18-23, heads to face UCLA — who now sits in the middle of the pack in the conference rankings with a 24-16-1 record. This stocky matchup delineates a home-run hitting team in the Bears and a pitching-dominant team in the Bruins.
Up to this point in the season, Cal has clubbed 11 more homers than the UCLA offense and 15 more than its previous opponents, with help from team leaders Kade Kretzschmar (11), Caleb Lomavita (9) and Rodney Green Jr. (9). Kretzschmar is one long ball away from entering the top five in the Pac-12.
On the other hand, the Bruins’ commanding pitching rotation has two members in the top five of the conference for ERA in Kelly Austin with 2.34 and Alonzo Tredwell with 3.57. Additionally, UCLA team wins leader Jake Brooks is tied for second-most wins in the Pac-12, with five.
Both of these clubs’ strengths will be on display this weekend, with Cal needing to channel UCLA’s pitching prowess and limit the offensive damage done by opponents. The Bears have been outhit and outscored by opposing teams, relying heavily on the long ball to produce for their offense. Cal has allowed batting averages of .279 compared to its own .248, and 253 runs to its 242 on the season.
Since 1999, these two teams have competed in more than 70 games, having last seen each other in the Pac-12 tournament at season’s end last year. UCLA walked away with the 9-7 victory and eliminated Cal on day three, just before the semifinal round. The Bruins would then go on to lose to the Beavers.
Cal and UCLA have each won five games apiece in the two teams’ last 10 matchups, although the Bruins have been in command recently with four wins in the last six games. In the Bears’ history, they hold a 19-23 record when playing at Jackie Robinson Stadium; they aim to add to that win column this weekend.
The pitching matchup for the series opener is predicted to be Christian Becerra (1-3) going for Cal against UCLA’s Brooks (5-4). Both Becerra and Brooks started each of the last three series openers for their teams, earning a win, a no-decision and a loss, respectively.
UCLA seems to have the upper hand on the pitching side with its three-headed monster in Brooks, Austin and Tredwell, although Tredwell has not seen the mound since April 22 against USC. The Bears look to Becerra to jumpstart the series, with Brooks aiming to tie the conference lead in wins and put his team back on track.
The team would hope that April showers — of 12 losses in 20 games — brings May flowers and a fresh start for the Bears. This three-game set marks the beginning of the home stretch, with only 10 games remaining in the season. The Bears will aim to dig their way out of last place and claw back up the standings, but the talented Bruin pitching staff constitutes quite an obstacle at hand.
Cal and UCLA meet for the first game on Friday at 6 p.m. All eyes will be on these two teams to see if the Bears can get their bats going and if the Bruins can outslug their opposition.