Another day, another elimination game. I'm feeling a bit blasé about it, honestly. We've already had four so far, so why not a few more?
OK, that's not entirely true. This game might be a bit more worrisome than Cal's four previous do-or-die games in Houston. Previous the Bears matched up against Alcorn St., Rice's 3rd starter, Baylor's 3rd starter and Baylor's 4th starter. Against Texas A&M they'll face Michael Wacha, arguably the Aggie's best (healthy) pitcher. Here's what I wrote about Wacha last week:
Wacha is a fastball-slider-change up pitcher and his fastball sits in the low 90s. He combines that good velocity with excellent control (23 walks in 115 2/3 innings), making him a pitcher that could easily go in the first round of next year's draft.
While searching for more in-depth scouting reports on Wacha I found accounts that described games where he dominated mostly with fastballs and changeups, but I've also read a few reports that talked about how he liked to use breaking pitches to steal strikes early in the count. From the sounds of it Wacha has enough pitches that he can approach a game with a few different strategies depending on the opponent and which pitches are working best that day. Hopefully for our sake he's off his game tomorrow.
The other big question: Who pitches for the Bears? We all know who we'd like to see on the mound. Justin Jones might have even started on Sunday were he healthy enough to do so. But because of his bicep injury sustained against Dallas Baptist his status is questionable, as is the identity of the man who will take the mound tomorrow. Coach Esquer didn't provide any information after yesterday's game, so we're left to speculate.
My personal opinion? Jones is the ideal choice, and if not Jones then I'd like to see Kyle Porter. Three of Texas A&M's best hitters are lefties, most critically leadoff hitter and team leader Tyler Naquin. Naquin only reached base once against South Carolina, on an error in the first inning - the only inning A&M scored. OK, fine, that's a gross, gross oversimplification of things, but the basic point stands: keeping Naquin off the bases is a great way to severely limit A&M's typically potent offense. I think Jones or Porter are the best men for that job.
Because the College World Series has off-days as part of the schedule Cal's bullpen should be in pretty good shape. Logan Scott did have to pitch a number of high stress innings, but it's not unusual for him to go that long. I'd imagine he'll be available, though perhaps not for another three inning outing. Kevin Miller and Matt Flemer should be more than ready to go as well.
Keys to the game
1. Keep Naquin off the basepaths: See above.
2. Get Wacha out of the ball game early: Like, say, after five innings. The Bears did pretty well to get Danny Hultzen removed after six and third innings, but we can't settle for a moral victory. This time we need actual runs against the opposition's starting pitcher. And if they can chase Wacha then A&M's iffy bullpen will have to come up big. A&M relievers have already been beaten up twice in the playoffs, including an epic 23-9 loss to Florida St. As soon as starter Josh Stilson left yesterday's game after 8 innings the Aggies were unable to record another out before USC walked off with the win.
3. More great defense: Cal was only in the game with Virginia for so long because of defense - two great double plays, a heads-up throw home by Devon Rodriguez, a sliding catch by Austin Booker to save a run and rob extra bases, amongst other solid plays. The Bears will likely have to be just as good, if not better against the Aggies. Texas A&M is also a team that likes to try to steal bases, so there will be lots of pressure on Cal's battery to curtail the running game.