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Cal Baseball Weekly Watch: Wild Walk-Off W's

There’s no better cure to a disheartening four game losing streak than a thrilling, walk-off victory.  So in the process of taking the series against Oregon, Cal decided that if one is good, two is even better.  On Friday pinch hitter Michael Theofanopoulos drove in the winning run with a double, and on Sunday Austin Booker singled home Marcus Semien to start Cal’s 2nd raucous celebration of the week.

To a certain extent the walk-off wins mask the fact that Cal’s lineup is still struggling to produce runs.  The Bears only managed 10 runs in three games against the Ducks, and a few of those runs were aided by defensive miscues.  But Cal will try to find confidence in the way they came back from a 4-0 deficit on Sunday by scoring a run in the 4th, two in the 7th, one in the 8th and one in the 9th.

Oregon isn’t as well rounded a team as Cal’s future Pac-10 opponents, but their pitching staff matches up very well with Oregon St. and UCLA.  In that context, the Bears managed a solid offensive attack and was just one big hit away from sweeping the series (Let’s not acknowledge just how close they were to being swept as well).  Will three or four runs be enough to win games going forward?  That’s a tall order, but Cal’s pitchers have the talent to make it happen.

It was a particularly resilient effort on the mound this week. Erik Johnson never blinked in his impressive duel with Tyler Anderson and finished the day with 11 strikeouts in 8 innings.  Justin Jones steadied himself after two rough innings and kept Cal close in an almost-comeback.  And Kevin Miller once again showed how valuable he is by coming in for Dixon Anderson and allowing zero runs when he had absolutely no margin for error.  Without his 6 2/3 shutout innings Cal isn't in a position to comeback at all.

It’s now close enough to the end of the regular season to start seriously thinking about the playoff picture.  For those unfamiliar with college baseball's playoff format:  The first round divides 64 teams into 16 pods of 4 teams each.  Every pod has a 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed.  Typically the 1 seed hosts the regional.  Eight of the 1 seeds are national seeds, ranked 1-8.

After years of defining the phrase ‘bubble team,’ Cal is generally considered a lock to make the field of 64.  What the next 9 conference games will likely decide is where the Bears get sent and who they will face.  Play well and Cal could find themselves a 2 seed matched up against a weaker 1 seed in the western half of the country.  Play poorly and Cal might be a 3 seed against a national seed 3000 miles from Berkeley.  Or, if it’s anything like basketball, Cal will play well and still get sent 3000 miles away.

That’s the long way of telling you that we really don’t know yet what might happen.  There’s enough baseball left to radically change a team’s resume, and there’s enough inherent randomness in the selection and seeding process to make predictions very difficult.  But that hasn’t stopped a few people from trying:

ESPN has Cal as a 2 seed (nice!) way out in Gainsville against the 6th national seed Florida (not so nice!).  In this projection, Cal would love to get sent to Fresno St. or Cal State Fullerton, and there are enough good teams left on the schedule to earn it.  At this point, that's exactly what the Bears are playing for:  Not getting shipped off to the East Coast.

Next Week

Cal will again be playing an Oregon school, but it will be the #3 ranked Beavers rather than the unranked Ducks.  And to make matters tougher, Cal will have to try to scratch out some victories in Corvallis, where Oregon St. has been spectacular.  Look for some preview material on Friday.  For now, all you need to know is that Oregon St. has very much earned their #3 ranking.