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Cal Baseball 2020 season: First Impressions

Golden Bears started the season 1-3 on the road in opening weekend

Even without Andrew Vaughn, Cal Bears scored 16 runs in their first 4 games
Cal Baseball Twitter

Conventional wisdom from MLB is that pitching is ahead of hitting early in the season. Batters don’t get their timing right until a month or two into the season, when coincidentally the weather also becomes warmer and the balls start to fly farther.

Okay, that has not been true in recent years, particularly with the 2020 regular season ball, as the homerun records in Major League Baseball has been rewritten.

Nonetheless, the early impression of the Cal Baseball 2020 season from reading way too much into just 4 games is that the Cal offense should be okay, even without two 2019 MLB Draft first round picks in Andrew Vaughn and Korey Lee, but head coach Mike Neu will again be on the lookout for enough trusted arms. It’s arguably a very similar situation as the 2019 season.

Results First Weekend

Cal Bears opened the 2020 season at Long Beach State Dirtbags, a traditional college baseball powerhouse that had a down 2019 season and is starting a new head coaching era.

Cal 2, Long Beach State 3 (13 innings)

It was a pitchers’ duel between Cal sophomore ace Sam Stoutenborough and Long Beach State’s Adam Seminaris. Seminaris was dominant against the Cal lineup by getting 11 K’s in 6 innings of work. Stoutenborough was able to match with 6 scoreless innings of his own, although his 3 K to 4 BB ratio leaves more to be desired.

Long Beach State broke through against the Cal pen with a run in B7, taking advantage of some Cal defensive miscues. Darren Baker tied the game in T8 with a two-out triple.

Both team traded getting out of a bases loaded, no out situations without giving up a run: T10 for the Bears and B11 for the Dirtbags when they could have won the game with just a run.

Bears actually went ahead in T13 thanks to a pass ball that allowed Darren Baker (who reached on a fielding error) to score.

Unfortunately, Cal could not close the door in B13. Long Beach State’s Estrada hit a game tying two-out double down the line to tie the game. He scored the winning run on a hard hit line drive that was just fair by the third base bag to send whatever was left of the home crowd home happy in this 4:45 thriller.

Cal 0, Long Beach State 4

Cal went with another experienced sophomore in Grant Holman, a two-way player who played 1st base in game 1, as the starter for game 2. Holman had a quality start of 6 IP with 3 runs (2 earned) allowed. Two runs were scored in Holman’s last inning of work.

Long Beach State’s Alfredo Ruiz was completely dominant on Saturday, allowing only two hits in 7 innings of work while striking out 10. I am pretty sure that Cal Bears did not have any guy reach 3rd in this game.

Cal 7, Long Beach State 5

Golden Bears salvaged a win in the finale of the opening weekend series. Just like in the 2019 season, Mike Neu opted to use an opener again. Ian Villers tossed a solid first inning and that’s it in this bullpen game.

A slightly altered Cal lineup scored early and often in a back-and-forth offensive game. Cal had 14 hits to Long Beach State’s 13 hits. The big difference was the 3 errors committed by the Dirtbags.

After Long Beach State took a 5-4 lead in B7, freshman Nathan Martorella hit a go-ahead two-run double. Selma added another RBI for the final margin. The freshman Martorella moved up from the 6th spot to the 3rd spot and responded with a 3 for 4 game with 2 doubles. Mitchell Scott pitched the 9th for his first save, but I’m not sure he’s the designated closer this year yet.

Cal 7, UC Santa Barbara 17

Cal made a stop in Santa Barbara on President’s Day on Monday to help bring in a new era in Gauchos baseball - their historic first home night game at the Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Just when it looked like that Quentin Selma had put the Bears ahead for good with a two-out, three-run double the other way in T4, Cal just lacked the pitching depth to hold on to the lead nor stop the bleeding.

Freshman Vaughn Mauterer, who blew the B13 lead in the first game, had another poor outing in relief of Jake Delmore as the two combined to allow 8 runs in B5 to break a 5-all tie.

Cal had 11 hits but the Gauchos answered with 16 hits. No homerun was hit, despite 24 runs scored in this game.

Cal Offense

The typical Cal lineup this first four games see a lot of experiences at the top of the lineup. A now healthy Brandon McIlwain leads off for the Cal Bears follow by Darren Baker, Max Flower, Quentin Selma, and Grant Holman - the top 4 returning hitters by average (they were 4th - 7th in 2019 behind the since drafted and turned pro Vaughn, Cameron Eden, and Lee).

True freshman Nathan Martorella is in the 6th hole. Previous part time players inn Connor Mack, Cole Elvis, and Hance Smith rounds out the lineup.

The same exact lineup was used for games 1 and 2 before head coach Mike Neu tweaked the lineup. Martorella got moved up to the 3-hole in the Sunday and Monday games while Max Flower was dropped to lower in the order.

Quentin Selma leads the team with 7 RBI hitting in the 3rd/4th spot in the lineup. His batting average of 0.333 is just behind Grant Holman’s 0.357.

Brandon McIlwain does have 3 steals in 3 tries but needs to improve that 0.222 batting average.

As a team, Cal has struck out 49 times in the first games which is simply too much. For reference, Andrew Vaughn only struck out 33 times in all of 2019 and just 18 times in his Golden Spikes winning 2018 season.

Despite all the hits and runs scored, Bears did not hit any homer. Maybe there is some truth to that idea that batters need time to find their timing. Cal Bears may also just hit a lot less homers this year without Andrew Vaughn and Korey Lee (both hit 15 last years).

Cal Pitching

You can almost count the number of trusted pitchers in the 2019 season with just one hand. Behind ace Jared Horn (drafted and turned pro), Cal also used reliever Arman Sabouri (also drafted) as both the opener and closer. After some tough patches to start the season, Sam Stoutenborough became a reliable “bulk guy” who pitches several inning after the opener Sabouri (and turned out to the be team leader in innings pitched). Sean Sullivan also had a bad season ERA but was the co-leader in saves. Rogelio Reyes (also drafted and graduated) became a reliable pitcher just in time for his senior season after inconsistency in his previous 3 years, pitching primarily in midweek games. Finally Grant Holman got a lot of work in his freshman year, but had mixed result.

So far in 2020 after one weekend, both Stoutenborough and Holman appeared to have taken a huge step forward to become the two reliable weekend starters. Sullivan is the only other guy that’s left, but did not get into any games this first weekend.

After some really tough outings in 2019, Ian Villers (3 appearances, including as an opener) who had a 8.50 ERA and Nick Proctor (2 scoreless appearances) who had a 6.92 ERA also appeared to made the leap into the “reliable” category (yes, it’s way too early to make this call).

Of course, the Bears also had some issues closing the game in B13 in game 1 and on Monday night. Just how many Cal pitchers will enter that “circle of trust” by the end of the season (or let’s say conference play) remains to be seen. The improvement between the beginning and end of the season last year or between seasons show that the experiences like the one on Monday, when Neu allowed Delmore and Vaughn Mauterer to struggle out there may eventually pay dividend. Time will only tell, but the Bears certainly need more reliable guys to go along with Stoutenborough, Holman, Villers, etc.

We shall see what other pitchers will step up this weekend when the Golden Bears make their home debut at Evans Diamond on Friday-Sunday against St. John’s.