As the California Golden Bears continue to build its resume playing in a rather tough Pac-12 conference in 2019 (we can debate in the comment section below if Pac-12 has surpassed SEC in toughness this year), this weekend (or more specifically Thursday to Saturday prior to Easter Sunday) sees that Cal Bears, whose recent 8 game winning streak was snapped in the Sunday finale at Arizona, take on the top ranked UCLA Bruins, who are in the middle of a 7 game winning streak.
College baseball fans should also be treated to the matchup of the best hitter in college baseball - Cal’s 1st baseman Andrew Vaughn, the reigning Golden Spikes winner and a repeat semifinalist, against arguably the best pitching staff in the country, led by repeat Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week in Ryan Garcia (schedule to start game 2 on Friday night).
The No. 1 team is back in action. ☝️@UCLABaseball will host @CalBaseball for a three-game series in Westwood. Watch this matchup all weekend long on us starting tomorrow at 7 PT/ 8 MT. pic.twitter.com/uDON5a1Mas— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 18, 2019
It should be a fun one, but let’s dive into the numbers a bit.
Andrew Vaughn continues to smash
Here is Andrew Vaughn’s slash line right now: batting average 0.364, on-base percentage 0.541, slugging percentage 0.701. For the counting stats, Vaughn has a team best 10 homers, tie for the team lead for RBI with 32, and a team best 37 walks to just 23 strikeouts.
Can't stop, won't stop. @CalBaseball's Andrew Vaughn isn't slowing down anytime soon. He's already had homers this season.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 18, 2019
The Golden Bears face UCLA tomorrow at 7 PT/8 MT on us: https://t.co/aRFKGEdCkm pic.twitter.com/V3iQOZPfRZ
Okay, so Vaughn’s is no longer striking out less than hitting homers - his 2018 season where he hit 23 homers while striking out just 18 times remains one of the most impressive feat by Vaughn in his Golden Spikes winning season. Nonetheless, Andrew Vaughn is still doing Andrew Vaughn-esque things, such as getting on base at way more than half of his ABs (OBP of 0.541) from the 2-hole in the lineup. Vaughn’s slugging percentage of 0.701 is a top 20 best in the country. His OPS of 1.242 is 13th best in the country and 3rd in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State’s Hunter Bishop (17 homers, 0.394 batting average) and potential 2019 MLB Draft top overall pick in Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman (12 homers, 0.413 batting average). Then again, Vaughn has that track record (the entire 2018 season) to improve his level back to slashing at that insane 0.400/0.600/0.800 level for weeks.
This week’s @USAGoldenSpikes Spotlight checks in with reigning GSA winner Andrew Vaughn of @CalBaseball. He continues to perform at an incredible level, and is in the discussion among the greatest hitters in college baseball history:https://t.co/fFw2FwtrlA— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) April 10, 2019
A Twitter user posed an interesting question last week: Is Andrew Vaughn the best college hitter ever? Considering all the great bats that have passed through college baseball over the decades, it’s impossible to put that label on any single player, past or present. But the fact that Vaughn is right there in the discussion with any of the all-time greats is telling.
There are still plenty of the season left, especially if the Golden Bears as a team can reach the postseason - something that is currently looking plausible. There is no better way for Andrew Vaughn to cement his legacy as one of the best hitter ever in college baseball history than to showcase his hitting skills in the postseason and hopefully in Omaha, Nebraska at the College World Series.
Other Golden Bears are also hitting well
The Cal lineup is not just Andrew Vaughn. Just like last year when Vaughn got a lot of help from Jonah Davis (now mashing in the Pittsburgh Pirates system) and clutch RBI from Tanner Dodson (now a two-way prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system), the 2019 Cal lineup has Cameron Eden and Korey Lee hitting both in front and behind Andrew Vaughn.
Cameron Eden has emerged as the leadoff guy for the Golden Bears. The CF/SS is batting 0.345 with an on-base percentage of 0.421. Eden has a team best 14 steals in 17 chances. Eden also has some pop with 6 homers and 3 doubles on the year.
Almost hitting in the same stratosphere as Andrew Vaughn is Cal catcher Korey Lee. Lee is slashing 0.328/0.418/0.586 to be the co-RBI leader with Vaughn. Lee has 6 homers and 3 doubles on the year. His 16 walks are 2nd on the team behind Vaughn.
While the batting average is not there, Cal infielder Sam Wezniak is a 4th guy with 6 (or more) homers in the lineup.
Also solid contributors on the Cal lineups are catcher Max Flower (0.323/0.380/0.433) and Darren (son of Dusty) Baker (0.289/0.348/0.297 but 10 for 10 in steals). The two-way prospect for the Bears in 2019 is Grant Holman who is hitting just 0.236/0.344/0.400 but has had better luck on the mound (more on this later).
There are some uncertainties in the bottom of the Cal lineup as of late - Quentin Selma has started as the 3rd baseman while Connor Mack has started as the left fielder although Cal head coach Mike Neu has listed RHP Jared Horn (the lone traditional starter for the Bears) as the starting 3B and LF in the initial lineup to confuse the oppositions this past weekend down in Arizona (this was a very common “strategy” for former Stanford head coach Mark Marquess).
Overall, the Golden Bears are hitting 0.285/0.375/0.462 and scoring 6.32 runs per game. Those are numbers that matches (and are slightly better) than that of the top ranked UCLA Bruins. Bears’ power number of 42 homers is 2nd in the Pac.
The pleasant surprise that is Cal pitching
Pitching was a huge question mark coming into the 2019 season with only reliever Arman Sabouri, starter Jared Horn, and midweek starter Rogelio Reyes with experiences - and one can say that only Sabouri has had success at the college level prior to this season.
Neu has opt to use Arman Sabouri as the Friday opener since the first game and Sabouri has kept the opponents’ top of the lineup in check; the lefty often makes a second appearance on the weekend to get key outs on the 3rd game of the series. Arman Sabouri has an ERA of 2.56, WHIP of 1.12, with 40 K’s in 31.2 IP. Sabouri has yet to allow a long ball in 2019. Sabouri has a team high 11 starts but also 2nd on the team with 2 saves.
The “bulk pitcher” after Sabouri on most game 1 of the series has become freshman Sam Stoutenborough. Stoutenborough (the highest selected Cal commit last summer in the MLB Draft who still came to college) has posted an ERA of 2.85 with a WHIP 1.17 with 33 K in team high 47.1 IP.
After missing the first month of the season due to an emergency appendectomy, junior Jared Horn has finally started to show his lofty potential this year. Horn, who could have turned pro directly out of high school and had the distinction of being the highest drafted player out of college to go to school from the 2018 MLB Draft, has finally found mound success this year with an ERA of 2.03 and team best WHIP of 0.87. Horn has just 19 K in 31 IP but batters are just hitting 0.213 against him. Horn is used as a regular starter and pencilled into the starting lineup for game 2.
Also having much more success this year is Rogelio Reyes with 35 K in 38.1 IP and an ERA of 2.82. Reyes has been used for multiple innings outings out of the pen in 2019.
Grant Holman is arguably having more success as a pitcher than hitter. Holman is pitching 3.70 ERA with a WHIP of 1.37 - solid, if not spectacular numbers, but he has had some several key, bullpen saving outings on the year.
Sean Sullivan is probably the guy who gets the title of “closer” on the team right now, although outside his 3 saves, his numbers are not so great overall. Sullivan has an ERA of 4.60 with an ugly WHIP of 1.51 but does has 17 K in 15 IP to be one of the few Cal bullpen pitchers who can potentially escape a situation via strikeouts.
Other Cal freshman who has had about 10 IP of experience but poor results (overall so far) includes Ian Villers, Jack Delmore, Nick Proctor, Lucas Gather, and Mitchell Scott. Bears still need one or two out of this group to emerge as reliable bullpen options.
As a squad, Cal pitchers have an ERA of 3.93 with 210 K in 267.2 IP. That ERA is 4th best in the Pac-12.
Cal Baseball’s postseason outlook
With a record of 19-12, Cal Bears currently sit at No.60 via the RPI. While a total of 64 teams make the postseason field, Bears as an at-large bid would need to improve that RPI by about 20 spots by the end of the season. Fortunately for the Bears, the very tough Pac-12 conference will provide ample opportunities between now and the end of the regular season. Cal just needs to avoid being swept; Bears did get 1 out 3 games against the 2nd ranked Oregon State earlier this year.
Outside of the 3 games against the top ranked UCLA this weekend, Bears have yet to face Stanford (RPI of 12), Oregon (RPI of 29), and Arizona State (RPI of 35). There are also series of Utah (RPI of around 100) and Washington (RPI of 60 like the Bears).
In short, Cal Bears do control their own destiny in their pursuit of the return to the postseason.
The challenge that will be the UCLA Bruins
UCLA just swept 8th ranked Eastern Carolina this past weekend, winning games both via dominant pitching or by out-slugging the opponent.
As a team, the Bruins are batting 0.279/0.375/0.433 for 6.26 runs per game. For comparison, the Bears are batting 0.285/0.375/0.462 and scoring 6.32 runs per game.
Michael Toglia is the top homerun leader for the Bruins with just 6. Jack Stronach has the best slashing line of 0.369/0.467/0.512.
What makes the Bruins elite, however is their pitching. The Bruins pitchers have a collective ERA of 2.62 with a WHIP of 1.07. They strike out 355 guys in 305 IP.
Zach Pettway, their “Friday” starter who will start on Thursday this weekend has arguably the most mediocre stats. The sophomore RHP has a highish ERA of 3.81 but also strikes out 57 in 59 IP.
Their Sunday pitcher Jack Ralston has an ERA of 3.20 but a highish WHIP of 1.31. Ralston does benefit from UCLA beating up on other team’s Sunday starters to have a 5-0 win-loss record.
In the past couple of weeks, junior RHP has really make a strong claim of a starting spot. Garcia struck out 14 and 13 against top 10 ranked Stanford and East Carolina teams in his last two outings.
California Golden Bears Baseball (19-12, 7-5 in Pac-12)
UCLA Bruins (28-6, 9-3 in Pac-12)
Where: Jackie Robinson Stadium (Los Angeles, CA)
Game 1 - Thursday at 7pm PT
Cal: LHP Arman Sabouri (2-2, 2.56)
UCLA: RHP Zach Pettway (2-2, 3.81)
Game 2 - Friday at 7pm PT
Cal: RHP Jared Horn (2-1, 2.03 )
UCLA: RHP Ryan Garcia (4-0, 1.32)
Game 3 - Saturday at 2pm PT
UCLA: RHP Jack Ralston (5-0, 3.20)
TV: Pac-12 Networks