If you've watched more than just MSU's games in Omaha you've probably seen what UCLA has to offer: pitching and defense. They play a brand of baseball very similar to what the Bulldogs did in 2012. Pitch really well, defend, and when you get on base make sure you manufacture that run. The biggest difference between this UCLA team and that MSU team is, obviously, they are much better at it than we were.
I asked Ryan Rosenblatt (yes, his last name is Rosenblatt, which is very appropriate here) of Bruins Nation to describe this UCLA team..
You may have heard, but UCLA doesn't have a particularly explosive offense. In fact, it's downright bad, as everyone and their mother have pointed out since the minute the Bruins touched down in Omaha, but despite that, here UCLA stands in the Championship Series. The offense hasn't improved either. Really, the College World Series has just been the nation's chance to see how the Bruins made it to Omaha to begin with -- daring teams to be perfect.
UCLA can pitch with anyone in the country and they back it up with some of the best defense around. Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson combined to allow just two runs in their three College World Series starts and James Kaprielian, who is in the bullpen, has the best stuff on the team. And then there is David Berg, the Pac-12 Pitch of the Year, as the closer.
With runs so tough to come across against the Bruins, it doesn't take much offense for UCLA to get by and more often than not, they wait for the other team to give them a chance to score. They bunt, they run and they take pitches, putting pressure on teams constantly. If the other team plays flawless baseball, the Bruins may very well be shutout, but how many teams in college baseball play flawless?
Quite simply, most teams' best beats UCLA's best, but the Bruins are at their best a lot more than their opponents. If you think the margin of error is slim for UCLA, where one run often makes the difference, imagine what it's like playing them, where one error makes the difference.
They've had three very good starts in Omaha from Adam Plutko (9-3, 2.29), Nick Vander Tuig (13-4, 2.34) and the lefty, Grant Watson (9-3, 3.01). These three will make up the starting rotation for the championship series and will all be on full rest.
The Bruins bullpen is very good. They aren't called on for the amount of innings MSU's bullpen is (just like every other team) but the guys they use are very solid. The two good set-up men are James Kaprielian (0-0, 1.59 in 39.2 IP) and Zach Weiss (2-1, 2.27 in 39.2 IP). Their side-arming closer, David Berg (7-0, 0.96 in 75.1 IP), is the best in the country - he has 23 saves.
UCLA's offense is known for capitalizing on mistakes rather than creating their own offense by putting base hits together. Their top hitter, Pat Gallagher, is only hitting .283 for the year. The Bruins .182 average in Omaha is the worst among the eight teams. They have no power to speak of with only 19 team home runs on the year, Pat Valaika leads the way with just five.
The Bruins have a bunch of left handed hitters in their lineup. While Fitts will start Game 1, I look for Girodo to get the call after just one trip through their order (unless Trevor is just mowing down people). For Game 2, I would expect to see Pollorena or Lindgren get the call as they are LHP. Luis has been experiencing some arm soreness so that is the only reason I say Lindgren. Saving Graveman for a potential Game 3 and on full rest seems like a good idea to me.
Maybe the toughest decision for Cohen will be whether he should start hot-hitting Trey Porter at DH in Game 1 & 2, or go with Sam Frost at 3B for his superior range over Detz. I'd be tempted to go with Porter in Game 1 and see how it goes, but I want his bat in there. If State can get a half-way decent lead it will be tough for them to overcome it. On the other hand, if Detz' range is a problem as it was in a couple of plays in the Oregon State game, that could give the UCLA offense an opening to score.
This ought to be a great series. Two teams that are pretty evenly matched with some similarities and some differences too. Both of these teams were expected to be among the first teams ousted in Omaha, but that's not the case. This is for all the marbles - the national championship. Whoever wins, it will be their program's first.