Cal Baseball Esquerpades: The Bad Kind of Streaking

Erik Johnson pitched well enough to win on Friday, but it wasn't to be. via www.dailycal.org

I initially thought that UCLA’s trip to Berkeley was good timing for Cal – the Bruins would present an opportunity for Cal to bounce back at home and impress the selection committee with wins over a top ten team.  As it turns out, UCLA travelled north at the worst time possible.  The Bruins came in playing some of their best baseball of the season, and Cal was playing some of their worst.  The result was a Bruin sweep that became more and more one-sided with each passing inning in each game.

The usual culprits contributed to the sweep.  Cal’s defense has been iffy all year, at least in terms of fielding percentage.  That weakness was compounded against UCLA by adding horrible timing to the mix.  Of the nine(!) errors committed this weekend, five were in the 8th and 9th innings of the first two games when Cal carried leads into the late innings.  The inability to turn batted balls into outs turned probable wins into painful losses.  And the blame cannot be placed with just one player - eight different Bears committed an error, and those Bears played seven different positions.  Only shortstop and right field escaped the cavalcade.

This much is clear:  The Cal pitching staff absolutely relies on their defense to make plays.  Cal pitchers are 9th in the Pac-10 in strikeouts.  When a couple men get on base most of the pitchers aren’t going to be able to get a strike out on a consistent basis.  Right now, those balls being put into play haven’t been converted into outs.  Cal is dead last in the Pac-10 in fielding percentage and they have more errors than every team except last place USC.  I’m willing to believe that Cal is capable of playing better defense – a sizable percentage of the errors have occurred in the last few weeks against Stanford, Washington St. and UCLA.  And I’m willing to recognize that the unusual youth of the team plays a role in the inconsistencies.  But none of those explanations will make anybody feel any better if Cal fails to make the post-season.

Despite all of the doom-and-gloom, I want to give some lip-service to optimism.  UCLA is a great team – if they close out their season strongly they will probably be given a Top 8 national seed and home field advantage in the playoffs until the College World Series.  A sweep is a poor result, but not a shocking, season destroying result.  If Cal can rebound and win three of four in the next week they will likely find themselves in the playoffs and perhaps this losing streak will be more or less forgotten.

Unfortunately, Cal lost a chance to end the losing streak when yesterday's game against Pacific was rained out.  The Tigers are a solid team that has beaten a few solid teams and is perhaps a longshot playoff candidate.  A cynic could argue that a rain-out prevented a potential loss, but I think the Bears need every opportunity to win right now.

That opportunity will come against Oregon.  The Ducks sit at 5th in the Pac-10 and just two games out of 3rd, and incredible result considering that Oregon wasn't even playing baseball two years ago.  Oregon's biggest strength is pitching - they have the 2nd lowest ERA in the conference and they allow very few walks - the least in the Pac-10 both cumulatively and on a per-inning basis.  Tyler Anderson is their biggest star - the sophomore lefty has a sparkling 2.55 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 88.1 innings.  Senior catcher Eddie Rodriguez is their most dangerous hitter with a .355 batting average and 6 home runs.

To put it simply, the Bears should be in desperation mode.  This series should be viewed as a playoff, at least according to Yahoo Rival's Kendall Rogers:

California is still in a regional this week..... winning two of three against Oregon definitely would put them safely in a regional. Losing two of three to the Ducks would put them in a precarious situation.

If Cal and Oregon both follow their usual starting pitching schedule (no guarantee, considering Cal's usage of Justin Jones last week) the matchups will be the following:

Friday:  Erik Johnson (3.52 ERA) vs. Tyler Anderson (2.55 ERA)
Saturday:  Justin Jones (3.96 ERA) vs. Justin LaTempa (3.10 ERA)
Sunday:  Dixon Anderson (5.07) vs. Zack Thorton (3.23 ERA)

So if you get the chance grab the KALX stream and join us as Cal fights to save their season.  Go Bears!

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