Cal isn’t going to make the playoffs. That leaves us in a weird spot. We can't really talk about title races and playoff chances, but it’s a little too soon for end of season recaps and analysis. All that’s left is to play out the string.
For Cal fans, that means playing the bitter role of spoiler. But if ever there were two teams to spoil, it would be UCLA and Stanford. The Bruins come to Evans Diamond while Stanford will host the Bears at Sunken Diamond. It would probably be fair to describe the Bruins and Cardinals as the two most talented teams in the Pac-12, which means taking a game or two will be exceedingly difficult. But weirder things have happened, and it would be pretty sweet if Cal could deny UCLA a Pac-12 championship or cost Stanford a national seed.
And hey, if the Bears go 6-0 maybe we can talk about playoff chances again!
Cal did at least snap a 3 game losing streak in their strange conference non-conference, Monday afternoon match up of fading Pac-12 squads. Washington State had just been swept at Stanford, and rather than retreating home to the Palouse they had to come to Evans Diamond.
The highlight of the week it probably Chris Muse-Fischer's 6 inning, 2 run performance starting against Washington State. As discussed last week, the Cougars have one of the best offenses in the conference, so it's encouraging to see a true freshman with six solid innings. Perhaps most impressively, he didn't issue a single walk. As we turn an eye towards the 2013 season, performances like that are encouraging. With Matt Flemer and (likely) Justin Jones gone players like Muse-Fisher will need to step up and Monday's start indicates he could very well be up to the task.
Unfortunately, Muse-Fisher's start and Cal's late offensive explosion against Wazzu were the only highlights of the week. After powering the two wins in Pullman the week before, Cal's offense managed just 6 runs and 14 hits against the Wildcats. It's easy to point the finger at Cal's mediocre ERA as the culprit for this disappointing season, but considering injuries, depth and inexperience Cal's struggles to score runs more perplexing. The Bears are 7th in the conference in runs scored, and with a veteran lineup with multiple dangerous hitters. If you're looking for a smoking gun, try this: the Bears are 2nd to last in the conference in walks, only ahead of last place Utah.
The Bruins stand just a game back of Oregon in the loss column of the Pac-12 and are universally projected to receive a national seed in the playoffs. UCLA doesn't particularly excel in any one phase of the game but they're well above average in every way. If UCLA has a weakness it's a general lack of power up and down the lineup. But they more than compensate for that with plate discipline - the Bruins lead the conference in on base percentage. So yeah, I'm not especially optimistic.
UCLA's starters aren't nearly as spectacular as they were last year (apparently losing the 1st and 3rd overall draft picks can be problematic) but they make up for it with perhaps the best bullpen in the conference. If the Bears fall behind early they're in bigger trouble than usual.
But hey, the pressure is off. Nothing turns a frown upside down faster than wins over intra-state rivals.