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Cal Baseball falls to TCU in Cheez-It Bowl rematch/Fayetteville Regional, 13–2

2nd seed Cal Bears will have to go through 2018 NCAA runner-up and the top LHP SP in TCU’s Nick Lodolo

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Louisville vs TCU
Cal likely will have to solve TCU’s Nick Lodolo in game 1 tonight
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Cal Baseball is back in a NCAA postseason.

If you have been on CGB (California Golden Blogs) for several years, you may remember Cal Baseball in the Texas A&M Regional in 2015, with Mitchell “El Gaucho” Kranson hitting that dramatic homerun (see below), or the special 2011 Cal Baseball miracle College World Series run when the program was facing elimination. We are planning to have gamethreads for every Cal Baseball game this weekend to let you break down the game or just vent. Check back later for those gamethreads.

There are plenty of secrecy surrounding the strategies for this NCAA Baseball Regional. Will Cal head coach Mike Neu uses an opener for game 1 on Friday and save his best starter (Jared Horn) for Saturday or Sunday (against the best team in the Regional)? Will TCU use their ace against the Cal Bears on Friday night? We probably won’t know about the lineup and rotation plans until just hours before the games.

California Golden Bears:

32-18, 17-11 in Pac-12; RPI of 30

Cal Bears are back in their first postseason appearance since 2015, the first one under head coach Mike Neu, who only took over the program in 2018. Given their strong lineup (headlined by the 2018 Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn) and regular season wins over top 10 ranked LSU, Oregon State, Stanford, and UCLA (top overall seed in the NCAA tournament), Cal is a darkhorse team that has a realistic chance of pulling off a major surprise to win this regional.

TCU Horned Frogs:

32-26, 11-13 in Big 12; RPI of 59

TCU Horned Frogs is known for their strong pitching staff this year, headlined by LHP Nick Lodolo. More on TCU in the next section.

Arkansas Razorbacks:

41-17, 18-12 in SEC; RPI of 6

The host Hogs are the 5th overall seed and the favorites to advance out of this regional. They are also the NCAA runner-ups last year, losing in the College World Series championship series to Oregon State. Despite losing 10 guys to the draft, they are still a very solid teams in 2018 to finish in a tie with Mississippi State atop the SEC regular season.

Central Connecticut State Blue Devils:

30-21, 16-8 in Northeast; RPI of 183

CCSU won the Northeast (nope, I don’t know who else is in that conference) for the 2nd time in 3 years. Yes, they have not been really challenged judging from their low RPI, but the game of baseball is a great equalizer so I would not completely count them out.

The winner of the Fayetteville Regional will take on the winner of the Oxford (Mississippi) Regional in the Super Regional round (best of 3 series). Ole Miss is the 12th seed in the nation as the host of that regional, with Illinois, Clemson, and Jacksonville State also in contention.

Cal Game 1 Preview:

Most likely, Cal Bears will face TCU ace in Nick Lodolo. Like Cal’s Andrew Vaughn, Lodolo is expected to hear his name amongst the first 10 picks of the 2019 MLB Draft next week. Lodolo is considered the best left handed pitcher in the draft. Always having great stuff, Lodolo finally put everything together in this junior season to put up a regulars season with 2.18 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 113 strikeouts in 91 innings, against just 19 walks. Scouting articles on Lodolo claims that he has a mid-90 mph fastball (like most pitching prospects now) along with a good change-up and breaking ball.

Nick Lodolo actually faced the Bears (including Andrew Vaughn) in 2017 when then No.7 TCU visited Berkeley. On the May 18th, 2017 game, Lodolo tossed 3 scoreless innings in relief while striking out 3 to help TCU to a 3-0 win.

On the mound for the Golden Bears may be ace RHP in junior Jared Horn although I can also see Arman Sabouri with Sam Stoutenborough behind him. Horn actually faced TCU in 2017 as well, allowing 2 ER in 5 IP while striking out 4 (but also allowing 4 walks). Of course, Horn has really broke out this season to fulfill his lofty potential when he signed with the Bears.

Pitching is the calling card for this TCU Horned Frogs, but that should not scare the Golden Bears who have solved strong pitching teams like UCLA and Stanford (winning a game off each while losing very competitive games as well) during the regular season.

The TCU lineup as a whole slashed 0.295 (batting average), 0.391 (on-base percentage), and 0.455 (slugging percentage) for the season to score 6.47 runs per game. Josh Watson and Johnny Rizer has 10 homers apiece to lead them; both guys also bat above 0.300. Jake Guenther is their best on-base guy with a 0.466 OBP to go with 9 homers.

Bears to know:

Andrew Vaughn - Cal junior 1st baseman

Vaughn is one of the best, if not the best, hitter in college baseball for the past two years. He will be a top 5 (if not 3) pick in the 2019 MLB Draft next week despite how professional baseball despises a right handed 1st baseman; Vaughn’s bat is just so good.

For 2019, Vaughn did not quite duplicate his >0.400 batting average, >0.500 on base percentage, >0.800 slugging percentage of 2018 (0.402/0.531/0.819 with 23 homers) but still had a really really impressive 0.387/0.549/0.728 regular season with 15 homers, numbers that only paled compared to his unbelievable 2018. While I don’t think Vaughn will repeat as Golden Spikes winner for 2019 (no one has won multiple Golden Spikes), Vaughn is already named one of the 4 finalist for the 2019 prize.

Jared Horn - Cal junior RHP

The only true starter on the Cal roster, Jared Horn was a highly touted prospect who finally fulfilled his potential in this junior season despite a slow start to the year due to an appendectomy at the start of the season (he missed the first month).

For the season, Horn went 6-1 with 1.82 ERA and 0.96 WHIP to go with 56 K to just 18 BB in 69.1 IP.

Korey Lee - junior catcher

Hitting behind Andrew Vaughn all season long, Korey Lee put up tremendous numbers that would easily be the best on any other team. Lee has hit 14 homers on the year while slashing a 0.340/0.422/0.619 line. His 56 RBI is a team high, and he’s also quite solid behind the plate.

Quintin Selma - sophomore infielder

3rd of 4 Bears to have double digit homers is sophomore 3rd baseman Quentin Selma. Selma has ascended to the top of the Cal lineup as the No.2 hitter, feasting on fastballs with pitchers not willing to walk him in front of Vaughn. As the result, Selma is slashing 0.322/0.380/0.612 line with 10 homers.

Cameron Eden - junior centerfielder

Eden is the sparkplug of the impressive Cal lineup as the leadoff guy. The former infielder also plays a great outfield defensively. Eden is 2nd on the team in batting average with 0.365, 2nd in on-base percentage with 0.434, and also has a decent slugging percentage with 0.563 due to his 8 homers. On the basepath, Eden is 19 for 23 in steal attempts.

Arman Sabouri - junior LHP

The most reliable returning pitcher, Sabouri was used as an opener at the start of the season but has since been stretched out to pitch 5-6 innings if necessary. By limiting Sabouri to just 1 or 2 innings, Neu can also use him in later games this Regional as the closer as Arman is first on the team with 4 saves. For the season, Sabouri has appeared in a team high 25 games (1/2 of all Cal games) with an ERA of 2.80 and WHIP of 1.11. He struck out 66 guys (team high) to go with just 17 walks in 54.2 IP.

Darren Baker - sophomore 2nd baseman

The son of Dusty is a Pac-12 All Defensive team, first team selection thanks to his great glove work at 2nd. Baker was tried at the top of the Cal lineup but has thrived more toward the bottom of the order. A perfect 19 for 19 on the basepath, Baker is hitting 0.299/0.359/0.323 on the year.

Sam Stoutenborough - freshman RHP

When you use an opener, you need to have a guy who follows that can pitch multiple inning. Sam Stoutenborough is that bulk guy or follower (I don’t think there is a set terminology for this role yet). The freshman was drafted out of high school late in last year’s draft but opted to come to Cal. He has emerged as a reliable starter by the end of the season being given a few Sunday starts. Still, I think he will be a follower of Sabouri in this postseason.

While his overall numbers were hurt by a few bad outings, Stoutenborough posted 4.23 ERA with 1.36 WHIP to go with 47 K and 25 BB (clearly something that needs to go down) in 76.2 IP (he has pitched the most innings on the team).

Sean Sullivan - freshman RHP

When Sabouri is not closing, Mike Neu calls on Sean Sullivan instead. Sullivan has the ability to strike guys out (29 K in 26 IP) but also has control issues (16 walks). His ERA of 5.88 and WHIP of 1.69 are not good, but he is 2nd on the team with 3 saves and has pitched better as the season progressed.

Max Flower - junior rightfielder

Robbing homers in right field for the Bears is Pac-12 All Defensive team, honorable mention, Max Flower. Flower is also quite solid with the bat while hitting 0.290/0.352/0.420 with 5 homers at the plate. Flower typically hit behind Korey Lee in the lineup.

Sam Wezniak - sophomore infielder

The last of the Cal’s double digit homer four-some is Sam Wezniak and his 10 homers. The shortstop is batting 0.265/0.350/0.470 on the year, but has hit better toward the second half of the season, where he provided some heroics with his dingers.

Rogelio Reyes - junior RHP

The former midweek starter for the Bear, Rogelio Reyes has done well in relief for the Bears this season. He has an ERA of 3.10 but a highish WHIP of 1.34 to go with 57 K in 61 IP, as well as 24 walks. Reyes (and some other Cal pitchers not listed here) will be counted on to provide some important innings this weekend, if the Bears want to make a run toward a super regional berth.

2019 NCAA Fayetteville Regional Schedule

Friday, May 31

Game 1 – No. 1 Arkansas vs. No. 4 Central Connecticut, 11 a.m. PT (ESPN3)

Game 2 – No. 2 California vs. No. 3 TCU, 4 p.m. PT (ESPN3)

Saturday, June 1

Game 3 – Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 10 a.m. (ESPN3)

Game 4 – Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4 p.m. (ESPN3)

Sunday, June 2

Game 5 – Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 12 p.m. (ESPN3)

Game 6 – Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 4, 6 p.m. (ESPN3)

Monday, June 3

Game 7 – Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 (if necessary), 4 p.m. (ESPN3)