For the last few weeks I’ve been bemoaning missed opportunities. After Cal rather convincingly took game one from UCLA last Friday, it seemed like the Bears might be poised to finally break through with a resume building series win. But once again Cal failed to capitalize on their chance and lost on Saturday and Sunday in Westwood.
I hope the NCAA selection committee takes into account margin of victory, because the Bears have arguably been rather unlucky, and just a few well timed hits away from a truly impressive Pac-10 record. Consider this collection of defeats at the hands of playoff quality opposition:
Arizona 10-8, 5-4
Arizona St. 6-4
Oregon St. 4-2, 3-0
UCLA 2-1, 5-2
Seven defeats, all by an average of just two runs. Even if you add the two games against Arizona St. that weren’t especially close (5-0 and 6-0 wins for the Sun Devils) Cal’s margin of defeat is still less than three runs per game. The gaping hole in Cal’s post-season resume is wins against the best teams on their schedule. Cal is a combined 10-2 against Pac-10 teams that won’t make the postseason, and a combined 3-9 against teams that will. But that 3-9 record is deceptive because the Bears have been consistently competitive against the best the Pac-10 has to offer.
But how much will Cal’s failings against elite competition hurt?
They are still generally considered locks to make the post-season, so it comes down to seeding. Will the Bears get sent 3,000 miles away to play a top 8 national seed, or will they stay on the western half of the country as a two seed and play a weaker, non-national seed in their pool? Right now we just don't know. Cal's RPI has held steady in the mid 30s, which is high enough to feel safe in a playoff bid but not high enough to expect any kind of protection from the selection committee. What do the professional bracketologists have to say?
Note: NCAA baseball playoffs begin with 16 pools of 4 teams each. Each pool has a 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed. Eight of the 1 seeds are designated as 'national seeds,' meaning they are the best eight teams in the country, at least according to the NCAA selection committee.
ESPN: Cal is a 3 seed in the Fayetteville regional against 1 seed Arkansas, 2 seed Kansas State and 4 seed Wichita State.
Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA: Cal is the 2 seed in the College Station regional against 1 seed Texas A&M, 3 seed LSU and 4 seed Illinois.
Southeastern Baseball: Cal is the 2 seed in the Nashville regional against 1 seed (and #5 national seed) Vanderbilt, 3 seed Troy and 4 seed Austin Peay
College Baseball Daily: Cal is the 2 seed in the Charlottesville regional against 1 seed (and #5 national seed) Virginia, 3 seed Alabama and 4 seed Navy
A solid consensus that Cal is a 2 seed, but there's a wide variety of outcomes for a 2 seed. In fact, ESPN's projection would probably be the 2nd most preferable scenario of the four listed above despite the fact that Cal would only earn a 3 seed. A regional in Arkansas against the non-national seeded Razorbacks would be tough but still preferable to having to travel to Tennessee or Virginia to take on a team with 40+ wins and single digit losses.
The 1,000,000 dollar question is: What does Cal need to do against Stanford to avoid the cross country trip? The answer? No idea. Cal could sweep the Cardinal and still get sent to SEC/ACC country. Unless you play well enough to earn a for-sure 1 seed your fate is in the hands of the selection committee.
But if Cal swept Stanford to finish the season 4th in the Pac-10 with a record of 33-18 (16-11 Pac-10) it would be much easier to get self-righteous towards an obviously biased NCAA, which is always fun. So here's to Cal doing what they've been so close to doing all season long: winning a series against a fellow playoff team. You couldn't pick a better time, and you couldn't pick a more deserving opponent.