Last week, I finally (and probably belatedly) gave up the ghost that Cal might have a shot at the playoffs. The numbers, negatively influenced by Cal’s weird post-elimination-no-just-foolin’-we’re-not-eliminated-will-you-still-play-us schedule, said that the Bears were toast. As a result, all I wanted was to annoy UCLA and Stanford.
I doubt Bruin fans are crying many tears, what with their inevitable home regional to look forward to. But Cal’s Sunday afternoon win did put a major dent in UCLA’s Pac-12 title chances, as they’re now two games back of Oregon with three to play rather than just one game back.
But the win went a bit beyond petty revenge. I’ve been on record as saying that Chadd Krist was just as important as Tony Renda last year, and then he went got drafted in the 13th round of the MLB draft and elected to come back anyway. If anybody deserved to be the player involved in every Cal rally, and to finish his home career with a home run, it was him.
Krist’s senior day was the most spectacular, but every graduate stepped up. Chad Bunting had a key RBI single in Cal’s game winning 8th inning rally. Danny Oh went 2-5. And Joey Donofrio worked around a few hits to pitch two innings and finish off the game with a strike out. Four of Cal’s six seniors (and every senior that participated in the game) had themselves a game.
It was a vintage 2011 game. Cal allowed base runners by the handful throughout but somehow getting key outs to escape jams and keep things close. And that set up the late inning heroics that somehow became a constant companion last year. A 4 run rally against the UCLA bullpen, including the key hits on their closer, is an impressive achievement.
Next up on the rivalry tour is Stanford. I’d hesitate to call Stanford’s season a disappointment since might still host a regional of their own, but considering that the Cardinal started the season in the top 3 of everybody’s poll, a non Pac-12 title season is a bit of a downer. Cal has a chance to make it an even bigger downer if they take the series this weekend. ESPN still lists Stanford as a regional host, but they look to be towards the lower end of the list. What would be sweeter than ending the season with a rivalry win and sending Stanford off to Houston or College Station as a result?
Stanford’s strength is power – they lead the conference in home runs and doubles. And it’s a teamwide strength. There isn’t one or two players from Palo Alto that sit atop the leaderboards. They get production up and down the lineup. 12 different players have hit a home run and six regulars have at least 10 doubles. There aren't any breaks, so Cal pitching will have to be consistently sharp.
Stanford’s pitching staff is led by Mark Appel, who happens to be this year’s Trevor Bauer/Gerritt Cole. He’s going to be a top 5 draft pick, maybe even #1 over all. Still, he’s only the 2nd most annoying Appel in Stanford history, so I guess he can’t have everything. His 2.45 ERA is impressive, but it’s the 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio that’s most scary. Stanford’s other starters all have ERAs under 4.00, but at least they aren’t Appel.
If Stanford has a weakness it’s their fielding. The Cardinal have the 2nd worst fielding percentage in the conference . . . which is still higher than Cal, but still. It could be an error fest at Sunken Diamond.
Cal hasn’t played well against Stanford since . . . I can’t really recall. The Bears have lost seven in a row to Stanford and they haven’t taken a series since 2009. Even then the final record vs. the Cardinal was only 2-2. This is intolerable. I believe the only appropriate response is to sweep them away and once again claim Palo Alto as Bear Territory. Simple enough, right?