When Tyler Garewal launched a home run off of Dixon Anderson to end Cal's season in the bottom of the 9th it concluded a dismal end to a season that seemed much more promising in April. The Bears justified the critics who claimed that they had not earned a spot in the post-season, let alone a two seed. It was nice to see the Bears courageously fight back from two different late-game deficits, but ultimately the elite power of the Oral Roberts lineup was too much.
That Cal's season ended in the regionals isn't a shock. Oklahoma was the clear favorite of the four teams in Norman even if the Bears came in playing their best baseball. That Cal came in struggling only increased the feeling of inevitability about the weekend. Still, the hope was that Cal could at least keep games close and extend their season until Sunday or beyond. Was the regional performance the difference between a successful or unsuccessful year? As it turns out that's a very difficult question to answer.
As soon as the game ended I couldn't decide how I felt about this team. I watched live as the Bears put together impressive over Arizona and Oregon St. - two games that were parts of impressive sweeps of teams still alive in the playoffs. But there were also times when this team could be incredibly frustrating - incredibly untimely errors and miscues that turned important wins into painful losses, and a shallow pitching staff that seemed very tired by the end of the year. Am I happy that Cal was competitive in the deepest conference in the nation, and that they successfully made the postseason for only the third time since 1995? Or am I disappointed in how things ended?
First of all, what exactly were the expectations for 2010? Cal finished 2009 in 9th in the Pac-10 and they lost three of their four best hitters off of that team. They were pegged for a 7th place finish in the Pac-10 coaches poll prior to the season. Their recruiting class was ranked 24th by at least one publication (in depth information on college baseball recruiting is difficult to come by), below Stanford and Arizona St. and more or less on par with the talent brought in by the Oregon schools and UCLA. Solid, but one solid class of freshmen can't be expected to turn a program around in one year.
So it's pretty clear that Cal outperformed preseason expectations. Ending the season tied for fifth (and just two games out of third) certainly constitutes a solid step forward for a program that seemed to be trending in the wrong direction in 2009. Still, it's difficult to not wonder what could have been when you consider that on May 4th Cal sat at 18th in the nation and 2nd place in the Pac-10 after sweeping Oregon St.
The inevitable qualifier is that Cal was extremely young this year, perhaps a likely explanation for how the pitching staff seemed to tire so badly the last month of the year. There were only four seniors on the entire roster, and only three of them played. Eddie Hsieh was the back-up catcher and he contributed 31 plate appearances, 8 hits and one homer. Chris Petrini (8 starts) and Dan Wolford pitched a combined 72 2/3 innings with a collective ERA of 5.70. If Cal can avoid early entries to the MLB draft they will bring back the vast, vast majority of their production and talent.
Justin Jones, Mark Canha, Chadd Krist, Erik Johnson and Tony Renda all are likely to be drafted, amongst other potential draftees. Cal's success in 2011 will be very dependent on the decisions those players make regarding their future baseball careers. Jones and Renda have already been drafted (Justin spurned the White Sox, and Tony wisely rejected the Dodgers) and I've seen numerous projections with Mark Canha going in the early rounds. Jones for one seems dedicated to the college lifestyle, and his return is absolutely critical.
Edit: Astute readers have pointed out that freshmen and true sophomores are not eligible for the draft, meaning that Tony Renda, Justin Jones, Chadd Krist and Erik Johnson should all be back. Needless to say, this bodes very well for Cal's chances in 2011!
If they all come back Cal is poised for a special season, especially if they add enough pitching depth. If not, it could just be another mediocre, borderline playoff team. Here's hoping for the former!
So with the season at an end, here are a few comment starters:
-Who was your MVP on the year. Best batter? Best pitcher?
-Were you happy with the season as a whole?
-What do you think the Bears are capable of in 2011?