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This Week In Cal Baseball: Bears Get Swept, So Let's Talk About Tony Renda

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Another week in the books, and the schizophrenic life of Cal fandom marches on. Three weeks ago we bemoaned what looked to be a lost season and one week ago a win streak prompted giddy glances at the RPI standings. I suppose by that logic this is a week to overreact and declare that the season is over and that all hope is gone. Frankly, it’s tempting to do so because every time I go too far in the direction of either optimism or pessimism, the Bears respond by making me look dumb.

So: Cal headed to Oregon and got swept. It’s both bad and understandable. Bad because any sweep is damaging to Cal’s post-season chances. Understandable because Oregon is really good and playing at home. But no less frustrating.

It was a frustrating series because the box score doesn’t suggest that Oregon outplayed Cal as badly as the scores indicate. The Ducks only got 2 more hits than the Bears all weekend long. But Cal again committed 4 errors that led to unearned runs in every game of the series. Oregon happens to be perhaps the best defensive team in the conference and committed zero errors, and that was the difference between a sweep and a split series.

What is there to add? At this point, we know what kind of team the Bears are. If they play clean defense they have juuuust enough pitching and offense to squeak out a win or two against teams as good as Oregon. If they don’t get that clean defense it makes for a long, frustrating game.

Which is why it's been something of a long, frustrating season. But if you're a Cal fan feeling sorry for yourself, remind yourself that you get to watch a pretty special 2nd baseman:

On Tony Renda

It’s not much fun to dwell on Cal getting swept in painful fashion, so let’s focus on the positive. Not surprisingly, the positive is defending Pac-12 player of the year Tony Renda. And it’s particularly worth paying attention to his exploits because I’d wager that this is his final season in a Cal uniform.

Various websites list Renda as a likely early round draft choice, from anywhere between the 2nd and 4th round. His limited power potential likely will keep him from being a first round prospect but he’s such a polished, consistent hitter as a 2nd baseman that he will be an attractive pick for many teams.

After collecting the most hits in the conference as a sophomore, Renda has responded by upping his triple slash from .332/.366/.434 to .371/.442/.515. That’s a pretty massive improvement fueled in part by greater patience and power at the plate. Renda has already drawn almost exactly as many non-intentional walks this year as he did in the entirety 2011. It says something special about a player when they can win a player of the year award and then come back the year after and noticeably improve multiple aspects of their performance.

That improvement means he should again be a candidate for player of the year, but he’ll get stiff competition from UCLA’s Jeff Gelalich and Arizona’s Robert Refsnyder, amongst a number of other position players putting up impressive numbers. It’s worth noting that the Pac-12 is seeing a significantly stronger year on offense after the conference lost an absurd number of elite pitchers to the MLB draft.

Next Week

Cal faces WashingtonState, a team in a similar situation playoff-wise. Carrying a similar RPI and conference record, Wazzu is also likely on the outside looking in, with the opportunity to play themselves into the field. In that sense this week could end up being something of an elimination series. The winner moves forward with a chance to earn their way in, the loser finishes with their playoff chances on life support.

The Cougars are an offensive team all the way. They actually have a similar offensive profile to Cal in terms of power and batting average, but Wazzu takes the nod with superior plate discipline (it’s worth noting that Cal is at the bottom of the conference in walks). But Cougar pitching would be worst in the conference had Utah not been added this season. Unfortunately, superior defense means that WSU has only allowed 6 more runs than Cal despite an ERA nearly a run higher.

Key to the series: Don’t make errors, win the series. The correlation between Ws and zero errors has been uncanny.