This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing the Baylor Bears take on the UCLA Bruins live and in-person. I missed the Saturday game, but I came away from Friday and Sunday's contests with some important observations.
I've talked before about the Bears losing three really good pitchers from last year's team, but the Bruins lost two first-round draft picks when Garrett Cole and Trevor Bauer were both taken in the top six picks overall. Even after losing those two, UCLA is still ranked #22 in College Baseball. In a down year (by their standards), they're still a great team.
Game One was all Baylor on a cold, foggy LA night. I came away from the game incredibly impressed with our offense. Up and down the lineup, our hitters showed patience, worked the count, and swung when they got their pitches. Several times Baylor players fought back from 0-2 counts to take a walk. It was almost as if Steve Smith watched "Moneyball" and decided it seemed like a pretty good idea. So much more after the jump...
UCLA's Adam Plutko is considered a stud college pitching prospect, but we absolutely killed him with our patient approach. Plutko's first 2012 Start against Maryland? 7 Innings, 0 Earned Runs, 10 Ks. His second 2012 Start against Baylor? 3.1 Innings, 5 Earned Runs, and 4 Walks with only 3 Ks.
The real turning point of the game was the third inning. Plutko started to get wild, and our hitters pounced on it. Orf took a bad curveball off the top of his helmet, Towey worked the count in his favor before Plutko drilled him in the hands, and Muncy worked his way back from an 0-2 count to take a 3-2 walk, loading the bases. Josh Ludy came up next and took pitches all the way, eventually forcing in the game's first run with an RBI walk.
Plutko tried to right the ship and get ahead of Logan Vick, but Vick was ready for him. He ripped a double past the UCLA right fielder to score two. As I said, it was an incredibly impressive offensive performance against a highly touted pitcher... Death by patience. From that point on, the game was a laugher. The Bears piled on in almost every inning, including an eight run seventh. Check out this stat: Every Bears starter got on base at least twice.
On the pitching side, the combination of Josh Turley and Trent Blank threw a really nice game. I noticed some UCLA assistants charting pitches with a radar gun, so I chatted them up between innings to check on Turley's velocity. They confirmed that he was sitting in the mid-eighties and touching 87 with his fastball. That lack of velocity lead to some hard hit balls, but he mixed in a change-up and curve effectively and kept the UCLA hitters off balance during his four innings of work.
In the fifth inning, shortstop Jake Miller misplayed a ball hit right at him, which led to Turley being pulled. The runner eventually scored. I'll get into our defense below, but what impressed me most about Turley is that he does the little things well. He mixes his pitches, stays off the middle of the plate, and he plays really good defense for a pitcher. He made a really athletic play on a bunt down the third base line to throw the runner out.
Player(s) of the Game: Logan Vick. He was a one man wrecking crew, going 4-5 with 3 Doubles, 2 RBI, and 3 Runs. He also made a really nice grab on a line-drive that went all the way to the fence in left-center. He can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Nathan Orf deserves Honorable Mention for his 4-5 night with 2 Doubles, and his ability to take a curveball to the head and stay in the game.
Game Three on Sunday was a heartbreaker. The Bears were up two going into the eighth and seemed poised to make a statement on the road against a tough team. So how did they lose? Defense. Defensive misplays cost them this game.
In the fourth inning, with two outs, UCLA's Pat Valaika popped it up down the right field line. It was a long run for Adam Toth to get there, but the ball was in the air for a long time. Toth seemed to lose it in the sun momentarily, and when he recovered, he had to dive for the ball, missing by a few inches. It was a tough play, but one that should have been made. It would have ended the inning and saved two runs for Brad Kuntz, who had pitched a good game to that point.
*As a side note on Kuntz, I talked to a Baylor Assistant who said he was sitting in the high eighties with his fastball and reaching back for a little more when he needed it. From a pure spectator stand point, the guy looks like he throws gas and has a pretty good breaking ball at times. I'm pretty high on him.
In the fateful eighth inning, more defensive misplays cost us. Shortstop Jake Miller, who is a converted third baseman, just doesn't seem to have a ton of range at the position. He's also a big guy for a shortstop and seems to have trouble getting down on the ball sometimes. He couldn't get to a ground ball up the middle that should have stayed in the infield. That was followed quickly by a liner up the middle that bounced off the glove of a diving Lawton Langford. Dillon Newman was charged with four runs in the inning, but he was pitching well and deserved a better result.
On the offensive side, it was another impressive game for the Bears. Remember when I questioned where the power would come from? Today, Max Muncy and Logan Vick answered. Muncy went 2-4 with 3 Runs, 3 RBI, a walk and 2 HOME RUNS. His second homer was an absolute bomb to right center that easily went 400 feet. Just one batter later, Logan Vick smacked his first tater of the year with a shot to right center that traveled almost as far as Muncy's. Good things.
I was once again impressed with the Bears' ability to get on base. The team works counts well and sees a lot of pitches. As I mentioned before, I'm not concerned about our offense, especially with Vick rounding into form and the youngsters (Langford, Toth, and Howard) contributing really solid at-bats. However, I am still concerned about our pitching, and our defense's inability to help our pitchers out. An elite team needs to win games when their offense scores six runs.
Player(s) of the Game: Max Muncy. The dude hit 800 feet worth of home runs today, and he now owns an eight game hitting streak. Done.