Cal Baseball visits The Farm for Big Series
Golden Bears got work to do if they want to make the NCAA Tournament
With three weeks and two Pac-12 series left in the regular season, Cal Baseball (22-22, 11-13 in Pac-12) could use a Big weekend in the Big Series to vault themselves from a current RPI in the 80’s up to an NCAA bubble consideration. Stand in their way is a rather inconsistent Stanford Cardinal (26-14, 12-9 in Pac-12) team that is either over-ranked in the human polls at No.11 or way under-ranked in the computer polls at 33rd.
Nonetheless, this is a good time to do one more assessment of this uneven Cal Baseball season. After this weekend, Cal will host New Mexico in a non-conference series (thanks to there being only 11 teams in the Pac) before a potential important home series against Utah. Cal, currently 7th in the Pac with an 11-13 record, needs to remain in the top-8 to make the inaugural Pac-12 Baseball Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona (May 25-28).
Below are the current Pac-12 Baseball Standings (prior to the weekend of May 6th):
Just a spot behind the Cal Bears, Arizona State does have an extra Pac-12 series than the Bears. After the Sun Devils, both Washington State and Washington will have to play UCLA; Washington State’s other series is against ASU while Washington has the lowly USC.
While Cal probably cannot afford to go 0-6 in their final Pac-12 games, the Golden Bears are in a good position to stay in the top-8.
Of course, the ambition for this Cal Baseball squad has always been a return to the NCAA Tournament and its field of 64. Cal has certainly played like a borderline top-25 team at times but also has struggled at other times. Inconsistency in pitching has plagued the Bears all season long.
BIG SERIES PROBABLE PITCHERS
Friday: RHP Steven Zobac vs. RHP Alex Williams
Saturday: RHP Joseph King vs. LHP Drew Dowd
Sunday: TBA vs. TBA
After moving from the rotation back to the pen, Steven Zobac (2-2, 4.97 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) is now back to starting and will be the new Friday starter. Zobac has allowed just two runs in his last 17.1 IP (compiled over the past month). The only pitcher to start every week for the Bears, Joseph King (3-3, 3.88 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) will take the mound on Saturday for the 12th straight week. King is coming off two poor outings, against No.13 UCLA and No.25 Oregon, that have inflated his season numbers. Cal will probably use a bullpen game on Sunday.
The Friday night ace at the start of the season, Josh White (1-5, 5.73 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 74 K in 55 IP), has moved back to the bullpen and picked up two saves recently, in Cal’s last two Pac-12 wins, as the latest Cal “closer”. The first save over No.13 UCLA two weeks ago was non-conventional as White went 4-innings in relief of Zobac, who also pitched 4 innings after Ian May opened the game, to finish that 8-3 win. White was called upon to get the last out this past Sunday, walking the first batter and pitching around a big defensive miscue, as the Bears salvaged a 9-8 win at No.25 Oregon.
Cal head coach Mike Neu has shown the willingness to go with whoever can get the job done in any given game. One can also phrase it more negatively that no Cal pitcher, other than maybe Joseph King, has been consistent enough that they can be relied upon for an inning or two of work. As a whole, Cal Baseball collectively has an ERA of 5.74 with a high WHIP of 1.57. Every pitcher who has had moments of brilliance had also suffered some extremely poor outings, Sam Stoutenborough (4.89 ERA), Ian May (5.67 ERA), Connor Sullivan (7.27 ERA), Nick Proctor (4.09 ERA) are all better than those lofty ERAs would indicate. Only Christian Becerra has a nice-looking 2.63 ERA with 26 K in 24 IP, but he also has issued 12 BB and got by with a high 1.42 WHIP.
Making up for the mediocre pitching, the Cal offense has done plenty of damage to give the Bears postseason aspirations. Led by a projected first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft in RF Dylan Beavers, Cal has hit 0.280/0.371/0.465 as a team and averaged 6.61 runs per game.
Dylan Beavers (0.290/0.429/0.657) is currently leading the Pac with 15 homers (he hit 18 homers last year) but is also among the conference's best in runs scored (51, 2nd), bases on balls (41, 2nd), extra-base hits (29, T-2nd) and slugging percentage (.657, 3rd).
Also hitting well recently is 1st baseman Nathan Martorella. Martorella has batted 0.421 (31-for-72) with an OPS of 1.389, eight home runs, seven doubles, 21 runs scored and 24 RBI throughout the 17 games played in April. He's batting a team-leading .335 heading into the Stanford series and owns a nine-game hitting streak.
Although he committed an error (his view possibly shielded by the 2nd base umpire) that almost led to a miraculous Oregon comeback on Sunday, 2nd baseman Hance Smith got the Cal comeback started with a two-run single in the 7th. Smith is third on the team with 8 dingers. His double-play partner Keshawn Ogans has also made tremendous strides batting this year, slashing a 0.322/0.372/0.420 line. In recent weeks, Dom Souto (0.329/0.357/0.494) has replaced Carson Crawford (0.192/0.347/0.372) as the primary 3rd baseman.
Also having started every game for the Bears thus far are senior catcher Cole Elvis (0.254/0.332/0.358) and freshman DH/C Caleb Lomavita (0.272/0.349/0.429). The top half of the Cal lineup is quite good, the bottom half has been much more inconsistent.
Cal has recently concluded their midweek schedule with a 10-0 win over San Jose State on Tuesday. On the year, Cal is only 6-4 in those games due to some really poor pitching performances. Unfortunately, some of these “bad losses” have hurt Cal’s computer numbers.
Stanford is coming off a losing road series at Washington where they dropped the first and last game each by a run. The Cardinal are 14-5 at home this year.
Although Brock Jones was mentioned with Dylan Beavers as 1a/1b among the Pac-12 OF draft prospects before the season after both hitting 18 homers last year (Brock Jones had a lot more games due to Stanford’s College World Series run), Jones has only hit 9 homers while slashing a solid 0.309/0.453/0.604 after trading power for on-base. Beavers is currently projected to be drafted ahead of Jones. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel has Beavers 14th overall but Jones down at 50th.
Carter Graham leads the Cardinal with 14 homers on a 0.352/0.407/0.673 line. Freshman Braden Montgomery is just behind with 12 homers on a 0.294/0.348/0.622 line. As a team, Stanford has also scored 6.6 runs per game like Cal.
Where the Cardinal has a clearly done better than the Bears is in pitching. Stanford has a team ERA of 3.98 and has struck out 390 in 357 IP. Announced starters Alex Williams (5-1, 2.21 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) and Drew Dowd (5-0, 3.83 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) have both been weekend rotation mainstays for the entire season.
Can the Cal Bears start a late push for an NCAA at-large bid (rather than putting all their hope on winning the automatic bid in the Pac-12 tournament) this weekend? They are certainly capable of accomplishing that if playing at their best. Let’s hope that the Bears can somehow align their good plays into two wins even if a third game is a huge Cardinal blowout.
California Golden Bears (22-22, 11-13 Pac-12) at Stanford Cardinal (26-14, 12-9 Pac-12)
Location: Sunken Diamond | Stanford, California
First Pitch: Friday, 7 p.m. PT | Saturday, 6 p.m. PT | Sunday, 2 p.m. PT
Watch: Pac-12 Network Bay Area (PxP: Roxy Bernstein)
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Listen: KALX 90.7 FM