The Arizona Wildcats fell 3-1 at the UCLA Bruins on Sunday afternoon, finishing off a sweep by the top-ranked college baseball team in the country.
Being able to beat the No. 1 team is difficult, but there are lessons Arizona can learn if it wants to avoid be swept on upcoming road trips against ASU, Stanford or Oregon State.
The offense needs to return to form
Arizona came into the weekend with a .327 team batting average, which ranked fourth in the county. Infielder Cameron Cannon was 30th nationally at .417, while the 161 runs the Wildcats had scored ranked third overall. Simply put, this team has one of the top offenses in the country.
The Wildcats managed 18 runs against UCLA, 10 of which came Saturday, but that was more than two per game below their average. UCLA’s pitchers are good, as the Bruins’ team ERA was second-best in the country, but Saturday’s 10 runs shows that even the best pitching can be hit against.
Arizona failed to record double-digit hits in any game in Los Angeles.It did not have a player with multiple hits in more than one game of the series. On Sunday, just three players got hits, and only one came from a regular starter, Austin Wells.
As the first 23 games have shown, when the Wildcats hit, they usually win, or at least remain in the game. Because the pitching has been spotty, Arizona’s hitting is the biggest key to its success on any given night.
Losing Matt Fraizer hurts
Center fielder Matt Fraizer may be Arizona’s best overall player, but now his .412 average is on the shelf after he suffered a broken bone in his hand. While Cannon had been the team’s best hitter before entering the series against UCLA, his propensity to commit errors gives the overall edge to Fraizer.
Coach Jay Johnson chose regular left fielder Donta Williams to move to center in place of Fraizer as he is the next most-experienced outfielder on the team. Williams was already a starter, so his bat was already in the lineup, and Johnson also needs to decide if Williams is the best long-term replacement in center or if another player would be a better fit.
The struggling offense this weekend highlighted Fraizer’s absence, and an error by Williams in center would have likely been avoided.
Relief pitching needs work
Arizona’s starting pitching has been a major problem at times all season. In most of the Wildcats’ games where their offense did not hit them to a win, starters allow a big inning and the relievers attempt to clean up the damage. Despite the bad pitching and high-powered offense, Arizona has not been in many close games this season. This weekend was different when, in the latter two games of the series, the score was tied entering the eighth inning, and both times Arizona’s relievers blew it.
Winning against the best requires holding the opposing offenses late in the game, something Arizona did not do against UCLA. On Saturday, with the score tied at 10 in the eighth, Gil Luna threw a wild pitch, allowing the go-ahead runner to score from third.
On Sunday, with the score tied at 1 in the eighth, Zach Sherman allowed a two-run home run to give UCLA the 3-1 edge it won by
Arizona’s bullpen has not been good this year. Only two relievers have an earned run average less than four: Jonathan Guardado and Vance Vannelle. Five Arizona pitchers have ERA’s higher than six and Luna has the worst ERA at 10.50.
Arizona’s bullpen isn’t used to being in close games at the end, but the road to the postseason is littered with such situations. Arizona’s bullpen needs to learn how to do its job or games against other formidable Pac-12 opponents will be long and hard.
The Wildcats will look to fix some of these issues when they play Monday night at San Diego State, followed by a weekend trip to ASU.