With the Tigers and Toads falling by the wayside, the championship series for college baseball is set. The South Carolina Gamecocks (52-16, 21-9 SEC) will take on the Univeristy of California, Los Angeles Bruins (51-15, 18-9 Pac) beginning Monday at 7:30pm. UCLA was last ranked #6 in the last NCAA RPI (May 30) while the Gamecocks came in at #17. Much like USC, the Bruins have never won a national title in baseball. However, unlike USC, the Bruins have won many titles in pretty much every other sport.
The Bruins are the early favorite due in large part to their incredibly deep pitching staff. On the offensive side of the ball, though, UCLA closely resembles the Gamecocks.
More after the jump.
The Bruins claim a staff ERA of just 3.01, among the lowest in the country. As of June 16 UCLA (2.97) ranked second, just behind first place Texas (2.45) and just in front of Arizona State (3.14) in the nation for earned run average. By comparison USC (3.61) came in at 9th, just behind Coastal Carolina (3.53) at 8th. Clemson, by the way, ranked 47th at 4.71. UCLA also edges the Gamecocks in the hits allowed per nine innings department. UCLA is second in the nation allowing 7.24 hits per game while the Gamecocks come in a fairly distant third at 7.65. For those of you who are curious, Texas once again owns the top position with 7.13 hits allowed per game. The Bruins also outpace USC in batting average against - their .217 to our .228. But perhaps UCLA's biggest advantage in the pitching department is their depth. The Bru Crew has 2 starting pitchers with ERAs less than 3 and another at 3.02 (Garrett Claypool - 2.29, Rob Rasmussen - 2.87, and Trevor Bauer - 3.02). Their closer, Dan Klein, carries a 1.85 ERA in 48.2 innings pitched. One has to give UCLA the edge here.
The Gamecocks fare better in the hitting department. UCLA owns a .308 team batting average which is just slightly higher than USC's .301 average. Collectively, the Bruins are slugging .464 as compared to the 'Cocks' .490. That's good enough to place South Carolina at 64th in the nation, well ahead of UCLA at 124. Part of that is due to the large home run differential between the two schools- South Carolina has knocked 97 whereas UCLA only has 65. The Gamecocks get on base at a .394 clip compared to the Bruins' .402.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. leads the SC battery with a solid .375 AVG, .603 SLG%, and a .482 OB%. The red-hot Evan Marzilli isn't far behind, though. He's hitting .378 with a .585 SLG% and a .514 OB%. The Bruins can counter our attack with a pair of studs of their own in Beau Amaral and Dean Espy. Amaral is hitting .360, slugging .467, and getting on base at a .450 clip. Espy's stat line is similar: .357 AVG, .595 SLG%, and a .404 OB%. Neither team is lighting up the scoreboard, exactly. The Gamecocks rank 102 nationally in runs scored per game (7.4) while UCLA is not terribly far behind at 132 (7.1). Even though UCLA may have a slightly higher batting average, I think USC gets the nod for the better offense - if only by a slim margine.
The Yardcocks edge the Bruins in fielding as well. UCLA's .970 fielding percentage in good enough for 55th in the nation, but Carolina's .975 mark moves them into 17th. UCLA also has comitted 73 errors on the sean compared to USC's 63.
The Bruins have been playing good baseball the entire year. They didn't lose their first game until April 2 - to scrappy Stanford team. Their early season wins included victories against Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, Long Beach State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M. They are a battle-tested team that's not afraid to take on tough opponents early and often. The Bruins did not lose their first series until the middle of April against Oregon. Their next, and only other, series loss came in the form of a sweep at the hands of Arizona State. So, yeah. UCLA is a good team.
Except for a slight adavantage in pitching, South Carolina matches pretty favorably with the Bruins. Much like the series with Coastal Carolina, I wouldn't be surprised if the difference in winning a national championship was an error here or there. The teams are close enough in talent and ability that I think either squad could come away with a series victory if the other doesn't bring its "A" game. Obviously, the fact that all of Carolina's likely starters will be pitching on three days' rest, some for the second straight start, doesn't help our cause.
However, it's not as if 20-something year old kids can't rebound quickly. A major factor in this series will be how USC's arms bounce back on short rest. Cooper and Dyson have done it once already, but a huge question mark remains around whom our second day starter will be. Roth might not be able to come off the first complete game of his life after only three days of rest. And even if he can, the pitching match-ups against Clemson that made him a great choice probably won't be present against UCLA. Personally, I think Jay Brown gets the nod for Tuesday, although I really have no evidence to back it up. Even though TCU helped us out by making the Bruins play one more game, they still have deeper staff than ours, so the story of this series will be told in the pitching matchups.
By now followers of this blog have probably realized that I don't like to give concrete score predictions. That's as true as it ever was, but I will once again say that I like the Gamecocks' chances this week. I truly feel that a miscue here or there by either team could be the difference in winning a national title. To this point USC has had it's share of clutch hitting, but it has also left its share of runners on base. They've played good defense, but they have also had bouts laziness as evidenced by Scott Wingo and Whit Merrifield's collision in right field on Saturday.
The bottom line is I believe in this team. They have all the tools to make a serious run at a national title for the first time since 2002. No, everything is not leaning in our favor. But a true champion is born as much out of triumph over adversity as the executiuon of talent. Don't count this team out.