The weekend that has been circled on the Arizona State baseball team's calendar since the beginning of the season has finally arrived. The No. 2 UCLA Bruins are in town for a three-game series with the ninth ranked Sun Devils, and the Pac-12 title race should become much clearer after the weekend comes to an end.
The Bruins were largely considered to be the favorites to win the conference back in February, and nothing has changed with just three weeks of play remaining in the regular season. They currently hold a two-game lead over the maroon and gold, who find themselves in second place after dropping a pair of contests at California last week.
UCLA has lived up to the preseason hype (and then some), posting a 34-11 (16-5) record thus far. The team has not lost a series all season, but did drop all three games of the Dodgertown Classic back in early March against Vanderbilt, TCU, and USC.
They have got the job done with a trio of terrific arms on the mound. All three weekend starters have at least seven wins and ERAs under 3.00. The staff's combined ERA is the lowest in the conference and the second best in the entire country.
The Bruins are led at the plate by junior outfielder Ty Moore. He is one of four players batting at a .300 clip or higher and currently has a team high 44 RBI.
Part of the reason for their high national ranking is the challenging schedule that has been played, and dominated, so far. John Savage's club took two of three from No. 22 North Carolina in the second week of the season, and their best stretch came when they went 8-3 against Oregon State, USC, Cal State Fullerton, California, and UC Irvine to start the month of April.
It was the end of April that was unkind to Arizona State (29-15, 14-7). The Sun Devils have dropped four of their last six, and it's been the bullpen (or rather the lack thereof one) that has plagued the team. They have seen late leads disappear in three of those losses, and that trend is likely to continue unless head coach Tracy Smith can find one or two more relievers to rely on (besides Ryan Burr).
While hosting a regional may have seemed like a lock just three weeks ago, the maroon and gold now find themselves in a much murkier situation. Their RPI ranking is down to 26, a spot much lower than usual for a regional host.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but a chance to pick up quality wins against an elite team like UCLA cannot be squandered. With one of the nation's best offenses taking on a great pitching staff, the eyes of everyone, including the selection committee, will be on Phoenix Municipal Stadium this weekend.
The first two games of the series will start at 6:30 PM, and game three will begin in the heat of the day at 12:30 PM. Each game will be streamed live on Pac-12.com.