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Cal Baseball Weekly Watch: Close But No Cigar Against #3 Oregon State

How do you react to a solid but ultimately unrewarding road trip?  Cal managed to take one game from their toughest series of the year in Corvallis against Oregon State.  Hardly a disaster.  There’s no shame in getting shut down by Sam Gaviglio, and Cal actually outhit OSU 9 to 2 in that game.  The Bears were just one big hit or a few less walks away from stealing game three on Sunday.  And Saturday’s 6-2 win was a solid, convincing victory.

Yet despite holding their own with one of the nation’s elite teams, it feels like an opportunity lost.  One or two more hits with runners in scoring position or a few less walks and the Bears might have come home with an incredibly valuable home sweep that could have vaulted them into position for a run at a Pac-10 title.

Instead Cal sits in 4th, 3.5 games back of the Beavers.  That’s nothing to cough at – the Pac-10 is deep and talented.  But I’d wager that this team has higher expectations.

Unsurprisingly, scoring runs was again a challenge, but not for lack of baserunners.  Cal was criminally wasteful of scoring opportunities during game one, leaving 12 men on base.  On Sunday the challenge was getting on base period.  More on how Coach Esquer has tried to find the right pitching rotation and a winning lineup after the jump!

A change to the weekend rotation?

One of the interesting decisions over the weekend was moving Kevin Miller into the weekend rotation in place of Dixon Anderson.  Anderson has had an ERA over 6.00 in Pac-10 play after a hot start and Miller has been solid in every role he has been used in, so perhaps the change shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

 Unfortunately the move didn’t pay immediate dividends as Miller struggled with control while allowing two runs over two innings.  It’s possible that the wet weather impacted his performance, so I wouldn’t expect to see Coach Esquer go back to Anderson on Sundays after just one start for Miller.

Trying to find the hot hand

For a long stretch of the season David Esquer kept a nearly identical lineup game after game.  But as Cal’s offense continues to struggle he’s been forced to try some different permutations in an effort to shake things up.  Only Tony Renda, Chadd Krist and Austin Booker batted in the same spot in the lineup in all three games against Oregon St., and Renda and Krist were recently moved up in the lineup after hitting 3rd and 4th respectively for much of the season.

Most of the year has been spent searching for a regular right fielder, center fielder and designated hitter.  Danny Oh started the year in right but lost his spot to Vince Bruno.  Oh has since been getting an occasional start, but right field might be manned by Chad Bunting, who recently returned from a thumb injury and played twice in right against the Beavers.

Darrell Matthews has been roaming centerfield since Bunting’s injury, but was replaced by freshman Louis Lechich against Oregon State.  It remains to be seen how Esquer will decide how to split two outfield spots between Bruno, Bunting, Lechich, Matthews and Oh, though Chad Bunting is likely to fill one of those spots regularly.

The designated hitter spot has been a revolving door all season, and after going through some box scores I’ve seen at least six different players that have started games at that position, including three different players in three games against Oregon State.  I suppose it’s a nice indication that Cal’s players are well rounded, in that there isn’t an obvious player on the roster that is ‘all bat, no glove.’  Yet I can’t help but think that not having a regular DH is a bit unusual.  We’ll see who gets the unenviable task of facing UCLA’s elite starting pitching in a week and a half.


Next Week

Cal gets to enjoy the luxury of more than a week off, which I could see helping out down the stretch.  It seemed like the entire team was worn down towards the playoffs last year, and Cal has leaned heavily on Erik Johnson, Justin Jones, Kevin Miller and Dixon Anderson, as well as just a few arms in the bullpen.  Perhaps they won’t feel like they are getting much rest as the team takes finals all week, but at least they won’t be throwing baseballs at 90 miles an hour.

There are only 8 games left in the season, with two Pac-10 series left.  First the Bears will travel south to face UCLA before returning home to take on Stanford to end the regular season.  A 2-2 week caused Cal to fall out of most national rankings, but they’ll have the chance to play themselves back into the top 25.