While the Golden Bears may still be digesting the pies from Pi Day (3/14), both Cal Baseball and Softball will open Pac-12 play for the 2019 season on Friday, March the 15th.
Let’s dive into how the two diamond sports have performed in non-conference play (even though both teams will have some more non-conference matchups during Pac-12 play).
Cal Baseball (8-6), RPI of 50
With essentially a completely new pitching staff, Cal head coach Mike Neu, a former MLB pitcher, is earning that pitching guru reputation in his 2nd season at the helm of Cal Baseball. While junior 1st baseball Andrew Vaughn continues to put up insane numbers (we will get to those in a bit), Cal pitching as a staff has managed a respectable 3.72 ERA with 96 K but 40 walks in 118.2 innings. Cal pitchers have allowed just 117 hits which prevents them to thrive despite thus far despite the high walk rate.
Bears have managed to put up these numbers despite only using two experienced pitchers in Arman Sabouri (former reliever turned effective “opener”) and Rogelio Reyes (former midweek starter turned reliable “long reliever” who goes a turn through the order after the opener). Sabouri is coming off his strongest start against LSU this past weekend; the senior lefty tossed 5 quick innings to confuse the LSU baseball broadcasters as to why he left the game at that point (it was the longest outing by far of this season for him). Sabouri has a 2.45 ERA with 1.06 WHIP - 15 K to just 3 BB in 14.2 innings. He has “started” 5 games.
Rogelio Reyes has 0 starts in 2019 but has gone 3+ innings per outing while posting an ERA of 2.03 (he gave up his first earned runs this past weekend at LSU). The sophomore RHP has given up some hits (WHIP of 1.45) but made the meaningful pitches when it matters. So far on the season, he has avoided the huge innings that has plagued him in the past - when he was a traditional starter, trying to get through 5 innings.
A 3rd returning pitcher on the team is Junior RHP Jared Horn, the highest drafted player in the 2016 MLB draft to not sign. However, Horn had missed most of this season due to an appendectomy right at the beginning of the season. He made his season debut pitching two scoreless innings on Tuesday. While Horn has yet to find success in college, he is still one of the few pitcher with the highest ceiling on the team. He is also an easy guy to pull for after what he has to endured, particularly after losing 4 family members in a car accident before his sophomore year due to a drunk driver - Jared, the driver, was the lone survivor of his vehicle; few weeks ago, that drunk driver has been sentenced to 4 life sentences.
According to @MikeNeuCal, Jared Horn should be available to pitch 2-3 innings this weekend vs. USC.— Sam Weismann (@SamWeisSports) March 15, 2019
"His velocity is on the way back, but it's not quite where we know it can be...for us to be successful this year, we'll need [Horn] to have an impact on our conference season." https://t.co/SSA0XqrWJ8
The rest of the Cal staff consists of freshmen, three have really stood out in the non-conference play.
Grant Holman, who is a two-way player, has solidified a spot as the traditional Sunday starter. The RHP has started 3 games and go about 5 innings per game. He has an ERA of 3.20 while posting 11 K in 19.2 IP (a team high) - his 6 BB is also a team high on the squad.
Also showing great promise is RHP Sam Stoutenborough (a really late pick in the 2018 MLB Draft who did not sign). Stoutenborough is 2nd on the team in innings pitched at 18.2 while being used as one of the first guy to come in after Sabouri on Fridays. Sam has an ERA of 3.86 with 12 K in 18.2 IP.
Sean Sullivan is the ace closer (but pitching more than just the 9th inning) on the team, with a team best 3 saves. The RHP Sullivan has an ERA of 1.13 with 10 K in 8 innings (good K ratio for someone who closes).
The 5 effective pitchers mentioned have got the Bears that 8-6 record, including last weekend’s one win in three chances at LSU, who were ranked 9th in the country. Sadly, the Bears actually have a shot at all 3 games, but could not hold on to the lead on Friday nor Saturday’s game 2. Stoutenborough could not close out Friday’s game partly due to a big 3rd strike that got away which allowed the LSU Tigers to prolong the game. A jammed single found the grass to give LSU a walkoff 4-3 win. Bears probably did luck out in that they played a double header of 2 7-inning games on Saturday due to the bad weather forecast for Sunday. The shorter game 1 of the doubleheader allowed the Bears to use only Grant Holman (for 6 innings) and Sean Sullivan in a 5-2 win. Game 3 saw the LSU Tigers slowly claw their way back into the game with 3 runs in 3 innings against Reyes, they scored 2 runs to go ahead in B6 against Cal freshman Jack Delmore, who had not allowed a run in his first 3 outings before that game.
Backing the solid pitching is a potent Cal offense led by the 2018 Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn. Vaughn only managed just one hit in 3 games down at LSU but still puts up an insane 0.426 (20 for 47) batting average with an on-base percentage of 0.603 and a slugging of 0.894 (finally below 1.000 after a bad series). Vaughn also has a team high 7 homers and 20 RBI out of the 2-hole in the lineup.
The Cal lineup around Vaughn has been pretty solid too. 6 Bears are currently hitting above 0.300. As a team, the Bears slash 0.284/0.386/0.426. The rest of the team has hit as many homers as Vaughn himself.
LF (former infielder) Cameron Eden and his 0.333 BA and 0.435 OBP is the current occupier of the leadoff spot for the Bears. Eden also leads the team with 4 SB in 5 attempts.
Batting behind Vaughn is catcher Korey Lee. Lee has been quite clutch (I don’t have his RISP numbers). He is also getting on base at a 0.406 clip. Showing some gap power, Lee leads the team with 4 doubles.
CF Brandon McIlwain has been great getting on base (0.324 batting average) before causing havoc with his speed (kind of like Deion Sanders, another two-sports guy) even if it does not show up on the box score (just 1 SB).
The sophomore campaign of Cal 2B Darren Baker has improved from a tough start at the top of the lineup. Baker is now hitting 0.305 with an OBP of 0.369. The speedster does have 3 SBs as well.
Batting in the cleanup spot for the Bears is RF Max Flower. Flower is the last of the 0.300 club member on the team (so far), batting 0.304 with a healthy 0.384 OBP. He is 2nd on the team with 10 RBI.
When he is not pitching, Grant Holman is getting on base at a 0.410 clip. His 3 HBP and 10 BB mask a mediocre 0.250 batting average. Holman also hit the first homer of the season for the Bears (so far, his only long ball).
Bears are still waiting for more batting production from SS Sam Wezniak (0.218 BA) and Hance Smith (0.120 BA).
Non-conference Grade: B+
No grade inflation here in Berkeley. Had the Bears won another game or swept the LSU series, we’re looking at an A- or possibly an A grade. Given how the Bears would need to be about 0.500 or better in conference play again, I think things are looking plausible for a return to postseason, a very fitting way to end the Andrew Vaughn era (yes, he’s got another year of eligibility but I doubt anyone will turn down a top 10 overall MLB pick money) of Cal Baseball.
After opening the year with 3 losses, Bears have gone 8-3 since then while getting more stability from the young pitching staff.
Pac-12 once again has some really tough teams, but Golden Bears have demonstrated the ability to compete against anyone (unless LSU’s high ranking right now is a complete mirage...which is plausible).
Conference play starts against the USC Trojans from Evans Diamond tonight. USC currently has a 5-10 record with a RPI of 140. Yet, that program always have talent (alum includes Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, and Barry Zito), so they should not be overlooked either.
Cal Softball (18-7), Receiving votes in the top 25 poll (no RPI info yet)
Almost rivaling Andrew Vaughn’s insane number (although these kind of numbers are much more common in softball) is Cal senior SS Lindsay Rood. The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week has a 0.500 batting average (44 for 88), 0.541 on-base percentage, and 0.841 slugging percentage with a surprising 4 homer power thus far.
As a team, and greatly inflated by last week’s 5 game power surge, Bears are hitting 0.329/0.400/0.500 as a team.
RF Mikayla Coehlo is not slowing down in her sophomore campaign, hitting 0.394/0.545/0.727 with a team leading 6 homers.
Lauren Espalin (0.369), Jordan Fines (0.366), as well as freshmen Makena Smith (0.342) and Amani Bradley (0.341) are also batting well right now.
Inside the circle, the Bears have both consistency from veteran pitchers Zoe Conley (who threw her first no-no against St. Bonaventure in a 5 inning run-rule win) and Kamalani Dung. Conley and Dung have ERAs of 3.57 and 1.82, respectively. Dung, in particularly, has upped her strikeout rate to 80K in 65.1 innings. Freshman Alex Perez has also shown promise in 5 great starts (against questionable quality opponents though).
Bears have done a decent job beating the teams that they are supposed to beat (for the most part, they did drop one against New Mexico State). Questions still remain, however, about how the Bears’ pitching will fare against the elite teams in the country though - like what they will face for the most part in Pac-12 play. Against Texas, Bears were run-ruled in a 10-0 loss earlier this season. Bears also could not take a game at the tough environment that was Louisiana-Lafayette (who hosted a regional last year) in two tries.
Non-conference Grade: B
I am only tough on the Bears out of love. While the 18-7 record looks nice, Bears have mostly played a pedestrian schedule outside the tough 2nd weekend when they only won two games in five tries.
Still, the Bears are on a roll with 5 straight run-rule wins in Hawaii before starting conference play. It would be nice to finally see the Bears with a 0.500 record or better in Pac-12 play, but I’m not convinced that this team is any better than the past few years when they could not make it out of the NCAA Regional as the 2nd best team there.
Golden Bears will test the elevation with 3 games from Salt Lake City against the Utes starting tonight. A resurgent Stanford team will visit Berkeley next weekend for the first home Pac-12 series for the Bears.