(Photo by author, Luke Ramirez)
Now in the final month of the college baseball regular season, a trio of teams from the Pac-12 reside in the top 10 of many national rankings. The UCLA Bruins have been one of the hottest teams in the country after winning their last seven games, propelling them into the regional host conversation with Stanford and Oregon State.
The conference is renowned for sending multiple teams to the playoffs and has had a College World Series participant in eight of the last 10 years with two national titles (Arizona 2012, UCLA 2013). 2018 is developing as another year of prominence for the Pac-12, so let’s breakdown three teams with a strong chance as regional hosts.
Stanford (33-6, 14-4 Pac-12)
The Cardinal has been a lock at the top of nearly every top 25, mostly thanks in part to their weekend rotation adorned with two first round talents and a 2.30 ERA.
Friday nights have been nightmares for opposing teams trying to produce offense against Tristan Beck. With fastball velocity ranging in the low to mid-90s and a sharp breaking curveball to back up the heat, the stuff is there and Beck has been revered as “MLB ready” by some scouts. Beck missed the entire 2017 season due to a stress fracture in his back that didn’t allow him to backup a stellar freshman year (6-5, 2.48 ERA) but has returned to his old self leading the Cardinal on the bump.
Stanford follows up Beck with no slouch of a Saturday starter in Kris Bubic. He’s a perfect 6-0 this season while racking up 65 strikeouts over 59 innings. The left-hander’s bread and butter is a changeup registering in the low 80s that he can generate both weak contact and the swing and miss with. Stanford has won the last 18 games that Bubic has started dating to April 17, 2017 proving that this man finds a way to keep the club in games night in and night out.
The offense is highlighted by junior Nico Hoerner who’s 48 hits in 38 games leads the team. Freshman Tim Tawa has been a welcomed newcomer batting .306 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs. Andrew Daschbach is slugging .604 with 12 home runs and provides the power in the heart of the lineup.
Stanford is looking for redemption after being bounced from its own regional by Cal State Fullerton last year. Ranked as the No. 2 team in the country by many, the Cardinal is primed to defend the Sunken Diamond this year and return to an NCAA Super Regional for the first time since 2014.
Oregon State (32-7, 12-6 Pac-12)
After a dominant season in 2017, Oregon State’s national championship run was cut short in Omaha. The Beavers return a solid core of veterans that know what it’s like to win and are setting the tone for this exciting club.
In the middle of it all is junior infielder Nick Madrigal, who’s laundry list of accolades earned as a sophomore have touted him as one of the top college hitting prospects for the 2018 draft. The reigning Pac-12 player of the year had a slight hiccup when he fractured his hand sliding into home plate on Feb. 25 and missed over seven weeks of action. Since returning on April 19, Madrigal is hitting .315, but more importantly, the Beavers are 6-1 with him back on the field.
Oregon State has a team average of .312 which is good for first in the conference along with slugging (.481) and on-base percentage (.408).
On the mound, staff ace Luke Heimlich has backed up his conference player of the year season in 2017. Sporting a 10-1 record with a 3.05 ERA, the senior left-hander is poised to get his team back to Omaha.
UCLA (30-10, 14-4 Pac-12)
As of May 1, UCLA has won its last eight ball games and making them one of the hottest teams in the country. The recent surge has thrust them into the top-10 of several national rankings and now into serious candidates to host a regional and possible super regional. Last season, the Bruins were unable to survive a tough Long Beach regional that included Texas, San Diego State and Long Beach State. But head coach John Savage has a plethora of talent at his disposal this year making up a serious postseason threat.
The batting order is stocked top to bottom with tough outs with savvy offensive tools that can really put pressure on opposing pitchers. Sophomore Chase Strumpf is the team’s leading hitter with a ridiculous .380/.508/.680 slash line and nine home runs so far in 2018. Fellow sophomore Michael Toglia is another impressive bat that can change the course of a game at any moment when up to bat. He’s got a smooth swings from both sides of the dish and is tied with Strumpf in long balls.
The “X-factor” for this Bruins ball club is the pitching staff. They’ve found a clear-cut Friday night starter in Jake Bird (5-2, 1.83 ERA) and a solid following act with freshman Zach Pettway (7-1, 2.96). The two have been reliable on the bump, however on of the Bruins’ top arms is still making his way back to top form after a set-back earlier this season. Junior Jon Olsen came into 2018 ready to earn the ace role, but was struck in the face with a line drive at the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic March 11. Olsen has since recovered and will look to become a third starter to finish out the season.
There is a lot of baseball to be played before the committee’s selection Sunday at the end of this month. However, with the strength of the Pac-12’s top three teams, it is hard to ignore the presence these three teams will have in the Regionals and beyond this summer.