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Golden Diamonds: Streaking Cal Baseball & Softball to open Pac-12 play vs. Oregon State (ranked No.1 in baseball)

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It will be the Golden Bears vs. the Beavers from the diamonds of Berkeley and Corvallis this weekend.

Freshman Darren Baker (son of Dusty) was the hitting hero for the Golden Bears on Saturday with the game tying infield hit in the 9th and the game winning homer in the 12th.

From this past weekend:

Cal Softball (23-3) are coming off a perfect 5 win weekend from Fresno.

After a 4 game sweep of Brown last weekend, Cal Baseball (12-4) had an additional Tuesday game at USF where they won 5-4 for their 6th straight victory, 4th consecutive game where the Golden Bears won via one run.

At the eve of Pac-12 play for both squads, let’s look at the strengths and weakness of both teams in the first third (since both teams are on pace to make the postseason) of the 2018 campaigns.


Cal Baseball (12-4) are a perfect 9-0 at Evans Diamond

If you follow yours truly on Twitter or just the CGB account, you might have noticed that I spent a lot of time at Evans Diamond this past weekend (my official cover story reason back to Bear Territory was a weekend Cal Alumni Association conference at the nearby Alumni House). I was able to see the splendid results of the California Golden Bears fighting even when down to their last out/strike to win games.

Cal 11, Brown 6

This was game 1 of a doubleheader. Cal started ace Jared Horn and gave him an early 6-1 lead. Unfortunately, Horn struggled to get out of a 6th inning jam. 4 two-out hits by Brown tied the game at 6-6, the last hit came off reliever Zayne Patino. The Golden Bears bat answered right away in the bottom of the inning with the top of the lineup delivering. Darren Baker had the go ahead RBI ahead of Andrew Vaughn’s 3-run homerun. Patino pitched the remaining 3 innings.

Cal 10, Brown 9

Golden Bears had another early lead by scoring 6 runs in T1. Typical weekday starter Rogelio Reyes could not hold on to the lead though. With the Bears ahead 8-4, Reyes could not make it out of T4. Cal head coach Mike Neu opted to bring in Joey Matulovich, who had started some games for the Bears this year, in relief. Matulovich allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score with help from a problematic Cal defense - the go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch.

The Golden Bears will not quit though. Andrew Vaughn hit his 2nd homer of the day to tie the game in the 6th. Korey Lee hit a go-ahead homer in the 7th for the final margin. Tanner Dodson was very good for the final two innings (4K, just 1 hit and 1 HBP allowed) to earn his 2nd save of the season.

Cal 4, Brown 3

Promoted to be a starter, Aaron Shortridge had a quality start (3 Earned Runs in 6 IP with 9 K’s) but left with the Bears trailing 3-1. Golden Bears will continue to battle though with Darren Baker driving in a run in the 7th and then up as the final out with a runner on 3rd. Down to his final out, Baker legged out an infield hit to tie the game. In the bottom of the 12th, Baker hit his 1st college homer to send everyone home. Arman Sabouri pitched 5 innings in relief and was rewarded with the win.

Cal 7, Brown 6

Brown out hit Cal 10 to 4 in this one but the Golden Bears drew 9 walks. Matt Ladrech struggled early but still managed to go 7 innings, allowing 5 runs, 4 earned. After Cal tie the game up in the 7th, senior Erik Martinez had another roughish outing in allowing Brown to go ahead in T8. Zayne Patino was brought in for the final out and he earned a vulture win when Tyrus Greene hit a two-run homer in B8 to give the Bears the lead. Tanner Dodson cemented his new role as the Cal closer with a scoreless 9th. Dodson’s first batter did reach via a dropped 3rd strike, but Dodson struck out two more Brown Bears and sent them back to Providence, RI winless on the weekend.

Cal 5, USF 4

Just when it looks like it will be another easy Cal win, the Bears could not hold on to an early 3-0 lead (it could have been more if not for an untimely GIDP). Bears did keep on scoring runs to stay ahead, but Neu’s plan to give some work to lesser relievers (still struggling Erik Martinez and collegiate debut to Reuben Drogin) nearly backfired. Arman Sabouri tossed two scoreless inning in the end for the official save although one could argue for Tanner Dodson getting a save for his bullet throw from CF to get the potential tying run to end B8.

Bears lost LF Jonah Davis early in this one after he hurt his shoulder while trying to steal 2nd base (Davis actually got there safely but did not call timeout before leaving the base in pain). While the extent of this injury could be just popping that shoulder back, Davis has been one of the top hitter for the Bears early this year.

Scouting the 2018 Golden Bears

Strength - One of the best offense in the country

Golden Bears are one of the best offensive team in the country right now. As a team, Cal is 8th in the country in team batting average (0.325), 6th in slugging percentage (0.517), 7th in runs/game (8.9), and 9th in homers per game (1.50).

Leading the Cal Bears offensive attack is their sophomore emerging superstar in first baseman Andrew Vaughn, the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season. Vaughn slashes an insane line of 0.472/0.627/1.113 to lead the team in all three categories.

Vaughn hit his 10th homeruns on Tuesday. I don’t think the homerun rate across college has gone up this year like it has in MLB last year, but let me remind you that Vaughn’s 12 homers (tie with former teammate Denis Karas who was drafted and turned pro) was the league high last year.

I saw Vaughn hit two dingers this past weekend, one each on both games of the Friday doubleheader. They were a big reason behind Vaughn being named Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Bears got a diamond gem in recruiting Vaughn, whose power surge in college was somewhat unexpected by the coaching staff, which included then Cal pitching coach and current head coach Mike Neu. Vaughn is not a big guy, and consequently has been compared to former Cal Bears Tony Renda (who recently made the MLB roster as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in 2016).

Prospecting for Golden nuggets is an inexact science. Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good. The Bears got really lucky with Andrew Vaughn.

LF Jonah Davis, the Pac-12 Player of the Week from the weekend 4 game sweep of CSU Bakersfield, injured his left shoulder while trying to steal a base on Tuesday (he also reached via a HBP). He was replaced in the game right after that. Otherwise, Davis is 2nd on the team with 4 homeruns and hit a very solid 0.375/0.471/0.750. Both Davis and Vaughn have 26 RBI’s for the team lead.

Catcher Tyrus Greene is such a good hitter that he is hitting lead off despite not having the best speed. Greene is hitting 0.456/0.568 (2nd best on the team behind Vaughn)/0.544. It is good to see Neu embrace Sabremetrics and hit lead off such an on base machine as Greene.

Adequate - Friday starter Jared Horn, Closer Tanner Dodson, few of the relievers

The list of Cal pitchers that I trust right now is pretty short: Friday starter Jared Horn, closer Tanner Dodson, starter/reliever Joey Matulovich (got the job done on Tuesday but didn’t get it done last Friday night), RHP reliever Andrew Buckley, LHP Arman Sabouri (who is not as trusted as Patino), and the recently promoted Saturday starter Aaron Shortridge.

Although sophomore Jared Horn has a high ERA right now, he is by far the most talented pitcher on the team. Having the talent to be an early draft pick out of high school (he was not selected until later due to his strong commitment to come to Cal), Horn is still learning to how pitch more effectively. Interestingly, he has struggled more in the two home starts (arguably against lesser teams) than the two road starts. Jared has got to learn to decrease his walks and throw fewer pitches to go deeper in the games. Nevertheless, Horn is the safest bet for a Cal pitcher to throw a quality start (6 innings with 3 runs or less allowed).

Unfortunately, you can’t mention Horn in 2018 without talking about that tragic car accident last fall. Jared Horn was the driver and the lone survivor in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Horn’s father, younger brother, uncle, and a young nephew all passed away in the accident.

Back to baseball, we see right away that Mike Neu likes to have his relievers go one turn through the opposing lineup if possible and pitch multiple innings. Having all the pitchers ready to go long allowed the swap last weekend between Matulovich and Shortridge (who was coming off a dominant 3 inning outing in the Frisco Classic vs. Baylor).

Aaron Shortridge is featured in Ryan Gorcey’s latest Cal Baseball article. Shortridge actually leads the staff in strikeout (one over Horn) right now. We shall see if he can maintain his effectively as a starter that may have to go through the opposing lineup twice.

CF/Closer Tanner Dodson is the other preseason watch list member on the team along side Andrew Vaughn. In the early part of 2018, Dodson is earning raves from scouts for his pitching. Dodson, hitting clean up for the Bears, is also considered one of the most clutch hitter on the team.

Despite clearly having an electric arm, Dodson has had mixed results earlier in his Cal career being used both as a starter and a reliever. It’s good to see him seemingly figured things out this year.

Weakness - Rest of the pitching staff including lefty reliever Zayne Patino, Defense

Matt Ladrech has struggled as the Sunday starter for the Bears thus far. Since the same can be said about Cal’s midweek starter Rogelio Reyes, they are probably guaranteed their starter roles in the short term.

Lefty Zayne Patino may have a good ERA of 2.57 to go with a 2-0 record. He is allowing a batting average of 0.323 against, which is not so great for someone who is often coming into the game with opposing runners in scoring positions.

Cal senior Erik Martinez is just completely lost in 2018. Having been a successful closer for the Bears in the past, Martinez is struggling both with his control and with his pitches being hit hard. In these early part of the year, you see Neu still giving E-Mar some chances, but Martinez may be best suited right now for only mop up duties. Martinez is currently tied for the team lead with 6 appearances.

Worst of all, 10 of the 80 runs scored against the Bears have been unearned. This is not including some of the preventable wild pitches that have allowed runs to score. Bears certainly need to clean this up to consistently beat other teams.

Strength - Intangibles

Closing on a high note, there is something to be said about the Golden Bears winning 4 straight games by one run. So far this year, the Bears have found a way to come from behind to win. Since a few of these wins have come from hitting long balls, I don’t think one can attribute the close wins to the strategy of Mike Neu (as tempting as it is to compare to his predecessor Esquer). Nonetheless, you can tell that the team has so much faith in its offense that the Bears will never quit despite any sized deficit.

Conclusions: This could be a very exciting (not necessarily in a good way) Pac-12 season for the Golden Bears. With No.1 Oregon, No.3 Stanford (coached by our old friend David Esquer), and No.17 UCLA also in the mix, the Bears will have plenty of opportunity to test themselves against the best in the country (not to mention boost their strength of schedule for the RPI calculations). Bears are good enough to beat anyone in the country on any given day (which is also the nature of baseball). This should be a playoff bound team that finishes in the top half of the Pac (which has 11 teams for baseball - everyone other than Colorado).

ON DECK

Cal Baseball (12-4) hosts No.1 Oregon State (15-1) this weekend.

Game 1: Friday at 7:05 PM PT

Cal: RHP Jared Horn 3-0, 5.23 ERA vs. Oregon State: LHP Luke Heimlich 3-0, 2.08 ERA

Heimlich is the Beavers’ controversial ace who pleaded guilty to a child molestation charge as a juvenile but now is no longer a registered sex offender as of last August. [UPDATED AFTER RECEIVING AN EMAIL FROM AN OSU FAN.]

Game 2: Saturday at 3:05 PM PT

Cal: RHP Aaron Shortridge 1-0, 2.00 ERA vs. Oregon State: RHP Bryce Fehmel 3-0, 3.21 ERA

Game 3: Sunday at 1:05 PM PT

About Oregon State from Cal Bears dot com:

Though OSU will be without the services of infielder Nick Madrigal, who is out due to injury, the Beavers still feature plenty of pop in the lineup they bring to Berkeley. Trevor Larnach is among the Pac-12 leaders in several statistical categories and he brings a .362 average, six doubles, six home runs and 25 RBIs to town. Catcher Adley Rutschman has aso been a standout with a .408 average, 16 RBIs and six extra-base hits.

On the mound, Oregon State has compiled a 2.69 team ERA. Left-hander Luke Heimlich returns as the Beavers’ Friday starter and carries a 3-0 record and 2.08 ERA into this week’s series. Jake Mulholland is OSU’s top option at the back of the bullpen and he enters with a 1.23 ERA and six saves in eight appearances.

Madrigal is considered one of the top player in the country. He is expected to be out for another month or so.

This could be a great series. Unfortunately, there is no TV coverage this weekend. KALX should have coverage of these games, however.


Cal Softball opens Pac-12 play at Oregon State

From the softball diamonds, the 9 Pac-12 teams went 45-1 last weekend, with the lone loss coming from Oregon State. Golden Bears (23-3) will start Pac-12 play this weekend against those Beavers (17-9). While the 16th ranked Bears have clearly the better record, Oregon State compiled their winning record against a much tougher pre-conference schedule.

More about Oregon State from Cal Bears dot com:

While OSU sits at the bottom of the conference, it has played a very tough schedule that’s pitted the Beavers against 10 ranked opponents. The Beavers pulled a pair of upsets over the Oklahoma State Cowgirls, who were ranked as high as 16th during their matchups and also beat a then 22nd-ranked Brigham Young.

The Beavers are led at the plate by freshman utility player Missy Nunes with a .333 batting average. She’s recorded 17 runs, a team high, 24 hits and 11 RBIs. As a unit, the Beavers are batting .276, just ahead of their opponent’s .239. They have also outscored their foes 113-75.

In the circle, the load has been shared by junior Meehra Nelson (9-4) and freshman Mariah Mazon (7-5). Nelson is throwing a 1.58 ERA while Mazon totals a 2.34 clip. They’ve combined for 136 strikeouts while giving up 59 walks.

Friday: 3 PM PT

Saturday: Noon PT

Sunday: Noon PT

All three games this weekend will be on the Pac-12 Networks (probably just regional action). Nonetheless, this would be the first time this year that I get to watch the Bears play (sorry, I didn’t pay to watch the Cal games on FloSoftball in some of these road tournaments so far). I hope to provide more insights about the Bears in the coming weeks.

Golden Bears have all the ingredients for success this year. They have potentially dominant pitching in the circle with two co-aces in Zoe Conley (last year’s ace after transferring into Cal from CSUN) and Kamalani Dung (transfer from Fresno State in her first Cal campaign).

Bears have also show both power (which was lacking last year) to go with that recent trademarked speed in offense. Freshman Mikayla Coelho leads the team with 5 homers and 25 RBI. USA National Team member senior Jazmyn Jackson has started to hit after a slowish start, although I am somewhat concerned by her move from 3B to SS this year defensively. Jackson, Lindsay Rood (18 for 18 in SB chances), and Kobie Pettis (finally drops below 0.500 in OBP) are all getting on base at a much better than 0.400 rate.

Bears have played mostly on neutral fields early this year where they are 18-1, having just one midweek home game so far. Given the number of freshman hitters in the lineup, the hope is that they got enough fall games to be used to hitting at Levine-Fricke Field.

More about the Pac:

The two remaining undefeated teams in the country right now are No.1 Washington (27-0) and No.3 UCLA (24-0). No.5 Oregon and No.9 Arizona are the other two expected Pac-12 title contenders. Including Cal, the rest of the Pac appeared to have improved quite a bit to allow the Pac-12 to challenge the SEC as the top softball conference.

http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/22732917/pac-12-softball-emerges-sec-shadow-practically-perfect-week

Cal’s Zoe Conley and Kamalani Dung allowed just 20 hits and one earned run in 30 innings pitched this week. As recently as 2015, Cal had fallen off the national radar because of a 3.95 ERA. Behind Conley and Dung, both transfers, the team ERA is 1.42 entering conference play.

We shall see how the Bears’ pitching can matchup against the tough Pac-12 competitions. The hope is that the Bears can maintain the current top 20 ranking and win a majority of their conference games and be considered a potential host comes Regional time.

GO BEARS!