College | Story | 4/17/2019

Scout Take: UC Irvine

Connor Spencer        
Photo: Brandon Lewis (UC Irvine Athletics)

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UC Irvine Anteaters

What Happened: The puzzle that was the Eaters’ weekend rotation was solved by UC Santa Barbara as UCI dropped all three games at UCSB in their biggest series of the year. Although Andre Pallante and Trenton Denholm provided quality starts, UCI’s bats fell flat and nearly every flaw for the Eaters was exposed by UCSB’s high-flying offense and consistent pitching staff. Game one saw a pitcher’s duel between Pallante and UCSB’s Ben Brecht. Brecht went a full 8 1/3 innings and senior Thomas Rowan was the difference maker hitting two home runs leading UCSB to a 4-1 win. Irvine’s frustrations reached a climax on Saturday as Tanner Brubaker struggled with command and nothing seemed to go right for the Eaters on either side of the ball, dropping game two 10-1. Then in what felt like a must-win game for UCI on Sunday, the Eaters fought hard behind Denholm’s quality start, but UCSB’s lineup proved to be too strong and the Gauchos power closer Chris Lincoln shut the door, thus completing the sweep of the Anteaters in a 3-2 victory.

Carrying Tool: Although their staff got hit around for the first time this season, Irvine’s pitching staff is still the key to this team’s postseason chances. Up until this point, Irvine’s weekend rotation had been dominant, as they had not lost a series on the season. It’s crazy to think that Preseason All-American Andre Pallante is arguably their weakest link right now in the weekend rotation. Coming into the series, Brubaker was 4-1 and Denholm was 6-0 while Pallnate sat at 5-2 with a higher ERA than both of them. Fact of the matter is, this is still one of the most well-rounded and potent rotations in the country. If one were to ask head coach Ben Orloff which weekend rotation he’d take with him into Omaha, it’s easy to think he’d choose this rotation every time. The fact that they got banged around like they did over the weekend is a testament to how lethal UCSB’s lineup really is.

Concerns: The bottom half of the order. UCI is starving for production at the bottom half of the order and Orloff simply isn’t finding it. Irvine’s lineup is highlighted at the top of the order by midseason Golden Spikes watch list member Brandon Lewis and sophomore outfielder Mike Peabody. Then there’s junior first baseman Adrian Damla, hitting a shade over .300, and leadoff hitter Jake Palmer, hitting .275. After that there’s a massive drop off in production. Those four players hit one, three, four and five in the Eaters’ lineup and UCI doesn’t have another everyday hitter in their lineup batting better than .241. Throughout the series, Orloff was constantly pinch hitting and swapping out players towards the bottom half of the order just to spark some sort of life down there. In Sunday’s crucial game three, Irvine had runners on second and third with one out, against Chris Lincoln, in the top of the ninth with the game on the line. The Eaters were at the bottom of the lineup and had a freshman at the plate with less than 20 at-bats on the season, in the biggest situation of the game, against a premier closer, in a situation he simply wasn’t ready for yet. He struck out looking.

Best Player on the Field: As of right now, Irvine’s best player is Brandon Lewis, although you could argue any one of their weekend starters. Lewis is a possible first day draft guy come this June, and although he only had two singles on the weekend, the tools and the plate maturity are there. He went hitless in Sunday’s series finale and that ended a massive 19-game hit streak.

Fearless Forecast: At-Large Regional bid with a chance at Supers. Yes, the NCAA committee is not going to love the fact that UCI failed their biggest test of the year, and yes, they struggle to produce at the bottom half of their order. However, they have a weak Big West schedule ahead of them as well as a weekend series with Iowa, a team that has a chance of being ranked by the time they meet. And what’s the old baseball saying? Offense and defense win games, but pitching wins championships? It’s hard to understate how good UCSB’s lineup really is, and if you don’t think that this already stellar pitching staff won’t come out stronger on the other side of this, you’re wrong. UCI bodes as a terrible matchup for just about any Regional host because of their weekend rotation. If the Eaters can find any sort of production throughout the entirety of their lineup they’ll be a sneaky host killer. Their biggest issue in making a deep run is their lack of consistency for a midweek starter, as a fourth arm that can give you a quality start becomes vital come playoff time.  

Players covered: Brandon Lewis, Mike Peabody, Andre Pallante, Tanner Brubaker, Christian Koss.

Brandon Lewis
Large-framed UCI third baseman Brandon Lewis is on every MLB organization’s watch list after being named to the midseason Golden Spikes Award watch list. Lewis looms large at the hot corner and he gives a Troy Glaus type of presence in his game. Desite his large, 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, Lewis has the ability to cover a lot of territory and showcases soft hands and a strong feel for the position. Lewis has a strong arm with good carry across the diamond, however, his arm action does feel lengthy for a third baseman and it may be something a big league organization tweaks at the next level.

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