Catching Up With Cal Baseball: Will A Texas Trip Cure What Ails Bears?

We've reached the end of March, spring is in the air, and it's time to put our focus fully towards the action on the diamond. With no more Cal basketball demanding our attention, CGB will be doing our best to cover baseball and softball action. So if you haven't been able to closely follow the Bears now is the perfect time to catch up!

Or, at least it would be except the Bears are currently going through what I hope is the low point of the season. After a strong 9-2 start the Bears have slumped over their last 11 games, especially in Pac-12 play. Obviously it's still very early, but there's never a good time to be in last place in the conference. With a 1-5 record that's where the Bears find themselves. And there's one obvious number the Bears can point to as the culprit: 42. That's the number of errors Cal has committed in just 22 games. The Bears are committing nearly 2 errors per game after averaging just a hair over 1 per game last year with largely the same defensive personnel.

To make matters worse, the majority of the errors have come against the teams Cal can least afford to make mistakes against. In their five conference losses Cal has made 16 errors - three or more in each game. 25% of the runs scored by Cal's opponents (26 out of 105) have been unearned! Is it a coincidence that Cal's one conference win is the only game they didn't commit an error?

I'm at a loss to explain Cal's defensive challenges for obvious reasons. I haven't been able to watch any games, which tends to make analysis difficult. But beyond that, I bet even Coach Esquer is at a loss. The Bears were generally flashed the leather last year, and the 2012 Bears aren't vastly different. Certainly losing the steady services of shortstop Marcus Semien and missing Devon Rodriguez as he gradually comes back from injury has had an impact. But other than those changes Cal's lineup has essentially been identical. Hopefully it's just a bad run of luck.

Of course, it's not just fielding issues causing Cal's struggles. Justin Jones hasn't been at his best, Kyle Porter's still not at full speed coming back from an off-season injury, and the lineup has had trouble producing against the toughest teams on the schedule. But the good news is that the Bears have ample opportunity to get their season back on the right track against quality opposition, and it begins this weekend in Austin.

The Longhorns currently sit at what I would assume is a mildly disappointing (for them) record of 13-9. Texas is actually still ranked in every major poll likely in part due to reputation but also because they have a tough schedule. four of their losses are to Stanford on the road and Arkansas, two teams currently ranked in the top 5 in every poll. And perhaps unfortunately for the Bears, Texas comes in red hot, having won nine of ten. That includes a three game road sweep over previously ranked Oklahoma.

Texas is led by outfielder Johnathan Walsh and 3rd baseman Erich Weiss. Walsh is the best pure hitter (and currently sits at .390 on the year) but Weiss provides the power and the patience. In fact, Texas has patience up and down the lineup, particularly when compared to Cal's hitters. The pressure will be on Cal's pitching staff to force Longhorn batters to swing the bat because they're all very willing to take a walk.

If Texas lacks a pure ace, they make up for it with impressive depth. Four main pitchers have started games for the Longhorns and they all have ERAs between 3.28 and 3.82. And Cal would be well-advised to not fall behind, because Texas's closer is Corey Knebel and he's allowed just 3 runs in 22 innings with a 6.66 K/BB ratio.

This tough trip represents Cal's last full non-conference series of the season (they still have two mid-week games against Santa Clara left) which means that they will have more or less survived a strange, cobbled-together-at-the-last-minute schedule because this year maybe wasn't going to happen. A series win in Austin would certainly go a long way towards rebuilding momentum/confidence/a playoff resume after a rough two weeks. So boot up KALX this weekend and join in CGB's open threads as the Baseball Bears try to avenge us for that whole Holiday Bowl thingy.

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