Defense has been a glaring weakness for the Cal baseball team in the first 15 games of the season. The Bears have committed a staggering 25 errors, the most in the Pac-12.
The good news: Oregon State — which rolls into Evans Diamond for a three-game series starting with a doubleheader at noon on Saturday — is also struggling with its gloves. The Beavers (11-5) have committed just one fewer error than Cal.
The bad news: The Bears (11-4) have been largely confined to batting cages with the rain this week, giving them fewer opportunities to work on fielding.
“We’d probably be out on the field taking ground balls or taking BP, doing like a pitcher’s defense or bunt coverage or stuff like that (if it weren’t raining),” said second baseman Tony Renda.
“We prepare as best we can, and even if it’s just cage work, we’re still getting work in. (The rain) might be holding us back getting better defensively, but I think we’ll be just fine.”
Renda believes the defensive miscues will work themselves out as the season goes on and players get more experience at their positions. In the short term, however, the errors are proving costly, setting up 11 unearned runs thus far.
According to reserve infielder Paul Toboni, the Bears need more than just the repetition of practice to improve their fielding.
“It’s not just that we’re physically making mistakes,” Toboni said. “There have been a couple times where on cutoffs we’ve been high instead of keeping it low. There’s just a couple mental things that we can take care of in addition to plays we can make.”
The heart of Oregon State’s lineup will likely test Cal’s defense most. The 3-4-5 hitters are all riding hitting streaks, including a 10-game stretch by three-hitter Michael Conforto. The freshman leads the squad with a .447 batting average and sits at fourth in the Pac-12 with 19 RBIs. Clean-up hitter Dylan Davis caught fire last Sunday, tallying a home run and two doubles in the Beavers’ 11-7 comeback win over Oklahoma.
While Cal has struggled defensively, the offense has gotten into more of a rhythm of late. The Bears boast the third-best hitting lineup in the conference, averaging .320 to the Beavers’ .287 team mark. Renda leads the way with 25 hits, good enough for a fourth-place tie in the league.
There’s one fatal flaw in these statistics: They come from all nonconference matchups. This weekend marks the beginning of the notoriously rigorous Pac-12 season.
The NCAA ranks six Pac-12 clubs in the top-25, including the Bears at No. 25, while Oregon State sits just on the outside. The Baseball America poll also has six Pac-12 squads ranked; but it places the Beavers at the No. 25 slot, while the Bears are not ranked.
“You take it to a new level when you come into the Pac-12,” Toboni said. “You have to be on your game, and starting off right is really important.”