Ryan Rosenblatt was kind enough to exchange some questions with me regarding this weekend's huge series at UCLA. My answers to his questions will be up over at BruinsNation later today, (Ed Note: Here is their official preview) but here is what he had to say:
1. In terms of the postseason, who needs this series more, Purdue or UCLA?
I don't think there is any doubt that Purdue needs this one more. Playing in the Pac-12 and having racked up series wins over Baylor, Georgia, Arizona St. and Arizona already, UCLA already has a pretty strong resume and their RPI is up at four.
Purdue is hampered by being in the Big 10 and they pretty much need a series win this weekend to get a national seed. That isn't true of the Bruins, who could probably lose this weekend's series and still get a national seed if they win their three remaining series.
2. What value do you take from playing a marquee non-conference series in the middle of conference play?
I put a lot more into it than most, and certainly the selection committee does. To most, it will just go down on the resume as another series and the selection committee will either see it is as a series win or series loss for the teams (albeit a big series win for whoever does win it).
To me, i see it as a pretty true test of how good each team it. Teams are a little sloppy early in the year, but they have pulled it together by now so you get a higher, more postseason like quality of play. Especially Purdue, who hasn't had a slew of top opponents to test themselves against, this weekend will tell me a lot in terms of the "eye test".
3. How big of an edge is UCLA's stronger schedule in this series?
I think UCLA is looking at this like any other series. Yeah, it is big, but is it bigger than Arizona or Arizona St. or Baylor or Georgia? They've played series like this before and some of them were in Omaha two years ago for the College World Series. They have been there, done that, which allows them to keep their focus and not get too amped up, which helps.
Purdue does not have that luxury and may come out a little nervy on Friday night. Then if they get behind early they could start pressing and that will never go well for them. When UCLA has had very young teams and played those first big series or two of the year they have suffered from that so it wouldn't shock me if the same happened to Purdue, but I have also seen some young Bruin teams take those first big series like it is nothing so the Boilermakers might be just fine. The problem is that we won't find out until the game starts.
4. Purdue is 11-0 when Joe Haase pitches. As the first starter, what challenges does he face vs. UCLA in game 1?
I don't think Haase is going to be facing anything extraordinary that will really hurt him, at least not right away. The UCLA offense doesn't have a lot of power, but they are athletic, can put the ball in the gaps and wear pitchers down. Early on, the Bruin offense will probably be a lot like what Haase has already seen, but the second and third time through the lineup, when UCLA has really pushed his pitch count up, is when he could be vulnerable. This Bruin offense wears on you more than pounds you so the middle innings could be a struggle.
5. Does UCLA have the bullpen to match Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren, who have been lights out for Purdue out of the pen?
Amazingly, yes. What John Savage has done with the UCLA bullpen has been remarkable. Prior to the season, the relievers were supposed to be a weak spot for the Bruins, but they have been sensational. Scott Griggs can be shaky as the closer when he gets a bit wild, but his stuff is filthy and he has really improved as the year has gone on. Ryan Deeter has emerged as a good set up man, while David Berg looks nothing like a freshman, tossing up strike after strike and eating up innings in the sixth and seventh innings. Grant Watson, another freshman, has been steady as the bullpen's only left-hander and lately, Savage has turned to Zack Ortiz more and more and he's answered the bell. Somehow, Savage has turned a bullpen with a lot of talent and no experience to speak of into one of the most dependable parts of the team.