As the euphoria (very) slowly wears off from Cal's miraculous Houston Regional championship, we must finally turn our attention to the next opponent. And Cal will find somebody with a similar story. Dallas Baptist was not supposed to advance to the second round of the NCAA playoffs. They're a lightly regarded school with just 5,000 students and no conference affiliation. In fact, their baseball program is the only program in the athletic department to compete at a Division 1 level! But that didn't stop them from knocking off favorites TCU and Oklahoma in back-to-back games by identical 3-2 margins, then outlasting Oral Roberts.
And despite their school's humble background, Dallas Baptists has some heft to their baseball history, particularly over the last few years. Major leaguers Ben Zobrist and Freddy Sanchez both were Patriots, and the team previously qualified for an NCAA regional as a 2 seed in 2008. Prior to their ascension to Division 1 Dallas Baptist was a perennial power in the NAIA. So this is a program accustomed to winning, regardless of the level.
As an independent team Dallas Baptist has an expectedly strange looking schedule. Their best wins in the regular season include victories over Texas A&M, Rice and TCU (twice) along with a combined 3-2 road record against Pac-10 foes Washington and Washington St. Sure, their schedule is filled with lots of no-name programs (Binghampton? Indiana St.? Northwood University?!?) But ultimately Dallas Baptist has proven multiple times that they can compete with NCAA playoff level competition.
By far the strength of the team. The headliner is outfielder Jason Krizan, a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes award (recently won by Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey - you may have heard of them). He recently broke the all time NCAA record for most doubles in a season and had a 39 game hit streak broken in mid-May. He hit .419 in a year marked by dominant pitching. He's good.
But it's not just Krizan. As a team Dallas Baptist hit .311 with a .415 on base percentage and averaged more than 8 runs a game. Granted, they put together lots of big numbers against the inferior teams on their schedule, but underestimate them at your own risk. 2B Tyler Robbins is the other major threat - he has 10 home runs but leads the team in on base percentage in part due to 56 walks.
This would be the weak link. Dallas Baptist has two very reliable starters in Jared Stafford and, and both pitched brilliantly in their first two regional wins in Forth Worth. But after that? The Patriots gave up seven runs in a loss to Oral Roberts in game 3 and nine runs in a game 4 win. Only their stellar offense allowed them to survive. So what this tells you is that they would love to sweep Cal away with their two main guys on the mound, but they would be very nervous about a game 3.
Stafford and Williamson have both been iron men, with over 100 innings pitched each. Neither has stellar strikeout stuff - both have K/9 of a bit over 5 (compared to Erik Johnson, Kyle Porter and Kevin Miller, who all have K/9 of around 9). So both rely on their defense to make plays behind them.
Beyond Stafford and Williamson you'll see Chris Haney out of the bullpen. Dallas Baptist's closer is their only reliever with an ERA below 4.5, which gives you an idea of how shallow the Patriot pitching staff is.
Questions For The Bears
Do you make any changes to the usual starting rotation? Cal has a luxury that few teams enjoy - four starting pitchers that the coaching staff trusts to send out to the mound. Erik Johnson has been Cal's ace all season, but stumbled twice against Baylor. KALX's Danny Freisinger speculated that Baylor was simply a bad matchup for Johnson, but is it also possible that Johnson is simply tiring after a long season? I have no clue, but I do think that Johnson has earned the right to start game 1. And luckily Cal's superior pitching depth means that if he struggles again, Coach Esquer doesn't need to hesitate making a change on the mound.
Beyond that? We know Justin Jones will start one of the first two games. Who throws in a hypothetical game 3? Kevin Miller has been great all season, but Kyle Porter was a revelation in Houston. And Dixon Anderson pitched well, throwing errors aside. It's a good problem to have.
There aren't any questions about Cal's lineup. After slumping against some truly superlative Pac-10 pitching down the stretch, Cal's offense rediscovered its mojo in Houston and averaged more than seven runs a game over their five game run. Other than switching around the designated hitter based on pitching match-ups, you'll see much the same lineup that should be overflowing with confidence after pulling off three epic comebacks last week.
There's no way I'm picking a winner - that's inviting all kinds of bad luck. The one easy prediction? Drama.