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Several Cal Baseball alumni in MLB playoff pennant race

A few Golden Bears are hoping to be playing baseball in October

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
Who should play Mark Canha and Marcus Semien in Moneyball 2?
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With just 6 weeks left in the marathon that is the 162-game MLB regular season, let’s take a look at how the Cal Baseball alumni are faring in the 2018 season.

All stats and team records are at the end of August 19th, 2018. I am also using the fWAR from FanGraphs. For batters, I am including the slash lines of batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage for batters.

Very much in contention

Oakland A’s (74-50, currently in position for the 2nd Wild Card, 1 GB in AL West)

The Oakland Athletics had the chance to take 1st place in the AL West over the defending World Series champs Houston Astros on Sunday if they were able to sweep the 3 game series; alas, they instead have to settle for just winning the series. Defying the preseason (lack of) expectation, the A’s are in a deep battle with the Astros (arguably the 2nd best team this year by run differential) for the division title.

The Oakland A’s roster is a fine example of productive collaborations between Cal and Stanford alumni as there are two of each on the active roster. Marcus Semien and Mark Canha are the Cal alum while Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty went to that other school. Of course, Cal fans can legitimately claim the larger share of the team’s success by pointing to how manager Bob Melvin, when not sitting on the sidelines of Cal Basketball games at Haas Pavilion, is a proud Cal alum.

Both Semien and Canha have had some key hits for the A’s this season. Semien has slugged 10 homers while Canha has 14 dingers. Semien has more value to the team thanks to his defensive effort as the starting short stop.

SS Marcus Semien, (263/.322/.386, 2.8 fWAR)

1B/OF Mark Canha, (.247/.321/.434, 1.4 fWAR)

Manager Bob Melvin, on his way to a 3rd Manager of the Year honor?

Chicago Cubs (71-52, 1st place in NL Central, 3.5 Games up on the Brewers)

It is a very tight 7 team race for the 5 playoffs spots in the NL. Currently leading the pack is the Chicago Cubs. In the offseason, the 2016 World Series champs signed Cal alum Brandon Morrow as their new closer to a 2 year, $21 million deal, after Morrow had a great postseason run with the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series last year - tying the MLB record of pitchers who have appeared in all 7 games of a World Series.

The only reason that Morrow did not get more money on a longer contract on the free agent market is due to his injury history. Unfortunately, Morrow is yet again hurt currently with biceps problem. He has started to throw again with an eye of coming back in September and being a major contributor to the Cubs’ postseason run. Before he got hurt, Morrow was quite solid as the closer, even if he has gotten a bit lucky when comparing his Field Independent Pitching with his actual Earned Run Average.

RHP Brandon Morrow** (1.47 ERA/2.97 FIP/3.19 xFIP, 22 saves, 0.6 fWAR)

**Currently on the disabled list

Philadelphia Phillies (68-56, 0.5 GB in NL East, virtual tie for the Wild Card spot with Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers)

With the Phillies’ trade just before the July 31st trade deadline for All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, Andrew Knapp just got sent down to AAA this past Wednesday when Ramos was finally healthy enough to play. Knapp opened the year as the Phillies’ 2nd catcher and became one of the more reliable pinch hitter for a surprising Phillies squad. Down in AAA, Knapp will be asked to play some 1st base, outfield, and even 3rd base to add to his versatility. Nonetheless, Knapp will be one of the September call-up, assuming that the often injured Wilson Ramos doesn’t hurt himself somehow first.

C Andrew Knapp*, (.217/.310/.354, 0.4 fWAR)

With the Phillies playing in the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport on Sunday night, they were allowed to have a 26th men. They called Knapp up so he can sport his neat Players’ Weekend jersey (worn across MLB next weekend, but also for the special Little League Classic yesterday).

*Currently on the minor league roster

Boston Red Sox (88-37, 9.5 games up in AL East)

Boston Red Sox are threatening to break the MLB record for wins in a regular season, which is 116 games. A favorite for the 2018 World Series, if the Sox do find a way to win this year, then Cal alum Tony Renda will be getting a World Series ring for his brief call up to the Big League.

Renda got some national attention for being the game winning run on Sunday Night Baseball for the Red Sox against their rival the New York Yankees. Red Sox has health issue at 2nd base this year with Ian Kinsler (traded from the Angels) hurt and their original starter with Dustin Pedroia out. Renda was called up briefly but he is behind the packing order behind Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez.

This is Renda’s first MLB action since making his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2016. Renda has been traded twice in the minor leagues after being drafted by the Washington Nationals. He was traded to the Reds by the New York Yankees for flamethrower Aroldis Chapman.

INF Tony Renda*, (1 GP, 1 Run scored as a pinch runner)

*Currently on the minor league roster

In the Wild Card hunt

With the addition of the 2nd Wild Card in the 2012 season, more teams are in the hunt for that

San Diego Padres St. Louis Cardinals (68-57, 4 GB in NL Central, 0.5 GB in Wild Card)

Recovering from yet another arm injury, the oldest Cal alum in MLB, Tyson Ross, had a bounce back year for the San Diego Padres. While rumored to be traded at the July trade deadline, Ross was not dealt. Instead, the Padres allowed Ross to join the pennant chase by allowing the August claim by the St. Louis Cardinals to go through. Tyson Ross was a starter for the Padres and had a great start for the Cardinals. However, he has since been moved to the bullpen where he had two solid 3 innings relief efforts already for the Red Birds.

RHP Tyson Ross, (4.18 ERA/4.48 FIP/4.30 xFIP, 7-9, 0.9 fWAR)

Out of contention but may help with your fantasy team

Minnesota Twins (59-64, 12 GB in AL Central)

While HIldenberger was one of few Cal alum to make the playoffs in 2017, he and his Minnesota Twins will be fishing comes October. Hildenberger made a late impact in the Twins’ 2017 playoff push. Counted on as one of their main setup pitcher for 2018, Trevor has struggled a bit initially before pitching better during the summer.

Thanks to the Oakland A’s trading for former Twins closer Fernando Rodney to boost their bullpen, Cal alum Trevor Hildenberger is now the de facto closer for the Twins. The righty sidearmer has picked up 3 saves so far.

RHP Trevor Hildenberger (4.48 ERA/4.52 FIP/3.79 xFIP, 3 saves, 3-3, 0.0 fWAR)


Bryan Price is out as the manager after a 3-15 start for the Cincinnati Reds. While arguably he does not have that much talent to work with, the Reds somewhat shockingly ended up with 3 NL All-Stars this year and have played better after interim manager Jim Riggleman has taken over.

This was the first managerial job for Bryan Price, long time pitching coach. Price is 279-387 for his MLB managing career (yes, he has managed exactly 666 games).

Traded as a minor league prospect

Before Andrew Vaughn winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year honor this past spring (along with other awards such as the Golden Spikes), Brett Cumberland was the last Pac-12 Player of the Year for the Bears back in 2016, also wining the award in his sophomore year. The switch hitting catcher was draft eligible (due to age) after his sophomore year and was selected in the first day by the Atlanta Braves.

Showing an uncanny ability to be HBP with that power, Cumberland has struggled a bit with his batting average while slowly adjusting to each level. His glovework as a catcher was also a work in progress. Nonetheless, Fangraphs considered Cumberland to be a good prospect (45 Future Value in a 60 scale) and he became the co-centerpiece in the midseason trade between the Braves an the Orioles for Kevin Gausman.

Cumberland has just been promoted to AA right before the trade. With an AL franchise, Cumberland may move up faster given the ability to DH and just be a sometimes catcher. He is projected to have enough hitting tools to make the Big League, even if he may not have a true position.

C Brett Cumberland (.236/.367/.407 in High A, 124 wRC+ is more telling of his hitting potential)

wRC+, Weighted Run Created Plus, is a rate stat that says how much one is better than the league average (100). So Cumberland is 24 percent better than league average in hitting.

Other Bears with MLB experiences

Here are other Golden Bears with MLB experiences that may somehow make their way to a Big League roster in 2018.

RHP Michael Brady, injured on the Milwaukee Brewers’ AAA team

Brady made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s last year (when the A’s briefly had 3 Cal alum on the field in addition to the 1 in the dugout). He is in the Brewers organization this year, but is currently hurt. Brady is 1-4 with a 6.91 ERA in AAA this year which is not good, even when you factor in how pitching at the Colorado Springs Sky Sox is similar to pitching at Coors Field.

RHP Erik Johnson on the San Diego Padres’ AAA team

Traded to the Padres from the White Sox as a part of that James Shields deal (Johnson was trade along side Fernando Tatis Jr...who may soon be the top prospect in all of baseball), Erik Johnson is another example of how hard it is to have a long MLB career as a pitcher. Johnson split time between AA and AAA and have pitched out of the pen. He is 0-2 with a 8.00 ERA in AAA.

1B Allen Craig on the San Diego Padres’ AAA team

The last Cal alum to win a World Series (2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals), Craig was traded from the Cardinals to the Red Sox and promptly banished to the minor leagues for the past few years. The former All-Star did make decent money, but also saw his hitting skill diminished by injury. Finally out of the Red Sox’s purgatory (Craig could have only gone to play for another organization had he forfeit his large contract), Craig is having a rebound year with the Padres’ AAA team in El Paso. Craig is hitting a healthy .298/.377/.498 with 13 homers for the Chihuahuas. The 34 years old may just get another shot in the Big League yet.