Sun Devils face stiff competition with UCLA this weekend

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Last weekend in Berkeley, Calif., was one to forget for the Arizona State baseball team. They won the series opener on Friday night, and then proceeded to drop the last two in pretty sickening fashion – giving up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday, then they allowed the Golden Bears to shoot past them with a four-run eighth, in route to an 8-6 victory.

“It was tough. I think that’s the second series we’ve lost all year,” pitcher Brett Lilek said. “We lost the two games at the end. We should’ve came away with three wins, but it’s baseball; anything happens. We just gotta take the positives away from it, and not dwell on the negatives, and move forward, and take those positives and make them even better this weekend.”

The Sun Devils will need to summon all those positives, because the Pac-12 leaders – the UCLA Bruins – are coming to Phoenix Municipal Stadium this weekend, and they’re intent on burying Arizona State.

As it stands, the Bruins have a two-game lead over the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 standings, so it’s critical that Arizona State comes with their A+++ game in this three-game set if they expect to stay close to – or overtake – UCLA when the dust settles on Sunday evening.

It’s not going to be an easy undertaking for the Sun Devils. They’ll be facing the best pitching staff in the conference. UCLA has a team ERA of 2.20. The Bruins lead the Pac-12 in opposing batting average (.220), batters struck out (404), batters struck out looking (112), wins (34), runners picked off (18), runs allowed (139), earned runs allowed (100) and walks allowed (102).

The reason why the Bruins pitching staff is so difficult to deal with – according to left fielder Jake Peevyhouse – is because they love to frustrate hitters, and take them out of their rhythm when they’re at the plate.

“That’s how their ERA is so low,” Peevyhouse said. “It’s just (about) staying with your approach and not letting them control the pace, and that’s how you go about a team like that.”

There are very few weaknesses with this Bruins squad. In addition to their excellent staff of arms, their hitting is top notch (fourth in the Pac-12 in batting average at .292), and they’re one of the best fielding teams in the conference as well (second fewest errors in the Pac-12 with 43).

All those numbers are impressive no doubt, but Peevyhouse says if Arizona State plays UCLA the way they’re capable of playing, they should be in good shape.

“That’s how you beat a good team, is you don’t beat yourself,” Peevyhouse said. “They pitch, and they play defense, and they do little things. We play our game and we do that as well, then I’m really confident.”

Head coach Tracy Smith is going with the familiar pitching rotation of Seth Martinez, Ryan Kellogg and Lilek over the weekend. Martinez last pitched in the opener against the Golden Bears and was touched for 10 hits. He only lasted 4.2 innings before getting pulled.

Smith can’t put his finger on why the starting pitching has been short with their outings lately. It’s something Smith knows they’re going to have to rectify in the next few days leading up to the Bruins’ arrival.

“We gotta get back to that, ‘Just find ways to win’ mentality,” Smith said. “We’ve got confidence in those guys. We do have enough depth in the bullpen that if they can give us four or five (innings), we still feel like we can win the game.”

“We know we’ve got a great challenge, because of the way they (UCLA) pitch the baseball, and we haven’t played our best baseball (over) the last couple of weeks, but baseball’s a funny sport because you can do that for a period of time, and then all of a sudden everything starts clicking,” Smith said. “We’re looking forward to it, guys get through the finals and I’ve heard more than one say, ‘Now we get to just concentrate on baseball.’”

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