Jeff Gelalich

Jeff Gelalich and UCLA are trying to slide into 1st place.
Photo by Crystal Ochoa/The Arizona Republic

Another home series, another challenger to the Arizona Wildcats’ perch atop the Pac-12 baseball standings.

The UA has lost three straight non-conference games (and four of five) but the Cats will be going for their fifth consecutive Pac-12 series win when they host UCLA at Hi Corbett Field starting tonight.

With the halfway point of the conference season drawing near it’s not too soon to take a look at the official NCAA college baseball RPI. Here is every team Arizona plays this year along with the Cats’ record in the head-to-head matchups:

Stanford 8 3-0
Rice 14 1-1
New Mex. St. 19 0-2
Oregon St. 32 2-1
Auburn 44 2-1
Wash. St. 67 2-1
N. Dakota St. 130 2-1
Utah Valley 135 1-1
UC Davis 158 2-0
E. Michigan 166 3-0
Utah 188 2-1
Harvard 194 3-0
Arizona St. 38
Washington 28
E. Tenn. St. 146
Oregon 21
Cal 66
USC 34

The UA took a sizable tumble from #6 last week after going 2-2 against triple-digit foes Utah Valley and Utah but the Wildcats have a chance to bounce right back with a single-digit squad coming to town.

Here are the updated national rankings:

Stanford 6 16 5 7 5 7.8
ARIZONA 4 8 12 6 12 8.4
UCLA 17 11 11 10 11 12.0
Oregon 16 10 16 18 17 15.4
ASU 21 24 21 22 22.8
OSU 22 23 24.6

BAS = Baseball America
COL = Collegiate Baseball
NAT = National Collegiate Baseball Writers
PER = Perfect Game
USA = USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll

Stanford reclaimed its status as the top ranked team in the Pac-12. The Cardinal is in 6th place in the conference but slotted as high as #5 in the nation. This week it’s Oregon State’s turn to dangle from the bottom of the polls.

The top four teams in the rankings are paired up and This Week in the Pac-12 (TWIT-Pac) has the schedule:

#12.0 UCLA (22-7 / 8-4) at #8.4 ARIZONA (23-9 / 9-3)
A few light bulbs on the marquee went out when the UA and UCLA combined to go 3-4 last week but the Pac-12 standings tell the story. The winner of this series leaves town in 1st place.

#15.4 Oregon (22-9 / 8-4) at #7.8 Stanford (21-7 / 4-5)
Another benefit of the Wildcats already owning a sweep of Stanford is the UA can gain ground every time the Cardinal beats another contender. Cat fans wouldn’t mind at all if Stanford played like a top-10 team this week.

USC (19-11 / 5-6) at #22.8 ASU (20-13 / 6-6)
Arizona State had a strong sweep of OSU last weekend then split a midweek series with New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment is 3-1 this year against the Grand Canyon State.

Washington (17-13 / 4-5) at Cal (17-14 / 2-7)
Cal could not build on its series win against Texas as the Bears are 1-4 since returning to California.

Utah (8-23 / 4-8) at WSU (16-13 / 3-5)
After winning their first home game of the year against Arizona the Utes hit the road again where they are 3-3 in Pac-12 play.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-25) at #24.6 OSU (20-11 / 6-6)
The Beavers were starved for wins last week but are looking to feast on some Pine (Bluff) nuts.

* * *

The Bruins were supposed to take a step back this year after losing 2/3 of their starting rotation (who just happened to be 2/3 of the top three picks in MLB draft). UCLA is getting it done at the plate with a conference-best .401 on-base percentage. Junior catcher Tyler Heineman is 2nd in the Pac-12 with a .412 batting average (after hitting .241 his first two seasons) and junior outfielder Jeff Gelalich is a Player of the Year candidate who is among the league leaders in home runs (4th), slugging percentage (5th), batting average (6th) and on-base percentage (6th).

The only Pac-12 team hitting better than UCLA is Arizona (who just happens to be the best hitting team in the nation). The Cats are led by Alex Mejia (.380), Robert Refsnyder (.376) and Seth Mejias-Brean (.368), all among the top eight in the conference.

Both teams are in the middle of the Pac in team ERA but while Arizona relies on its three starting pitchers, UCLA’s biggest advantage is its bullpen. Freshman David Berg, sophomore Ryan Deeter and junior Scott Griggs are all right-handers among the top four in relief appearances and each has a sub-2 ERA. Berg is 4-0 out of the bullpen and Griggs leads the Pac-12 with eight saves.

The Bruins lead the conference in opposing batting average but they have issued a Pac-12-high 125 walks. This is a series where Arizona needs to be patient at the plate, score some early runs and play from in front.

Do that and the Wildcats will have a chance to stay in front of the rest of conference.

The series starts at 6 p.m. tonight with another game at 6 tomorrow and the finale at noon on Sunday. Just another high-stakes showdown for the 2012 BatCats.

– – – – –

Scott Terrell likes 1st place. Claim the top spot on Twitter and Facebook.