The Cal baseball team (25-18, 11-13 Pac-12) made national news last weekend, but not for reasons you might expect. Before Friday’s game against Stanford, a staff member tossed a pipe into the air, and as it fell, pitcher Ryan Mason threw a baseball right through it. Not just any pipe, though, but a baseball-sized pipe. Accelerating toward the Earth at 9.8 meters per second squared. The video quickly went viral, with major news sources from around the country taking time to appreciate Mason’s pinpoint accuracy. Pretty impressive stuff.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Mason’s trick shot going viral was the only thing that the team had to cheer for last weekend. Cal lost yet another series on the road, dropping two-of-three against Stanford, now losing 10 of its last 16. There is no way around it. Cal is just not playing good baseball.
The Bears play Northwestern (13-34, 5-16 Big 10) on the road this weekend in an attempt to salvage what has been a disappointing second half, to say the least. After finishing up its first two months of the season with a ridiculous .714 win percentage (15-6), Cal is barely managing to keep its head above water, going 10-12 since April 1. The Bears have no time to lose, as they attempt to make up lost ground against the Wildcats with NCAA Regionals just around the corner.
The Wildcats have had a disappointing season themselves, winning only 13 games while going 5-10 at home. Though Northwestern’s offense is not quite anemic (.263/.342/.343) and is averaging almost five runs per game (4.74), its pitching has been its continual downfall. Wildcat pitching enters this weekend’s series against the Bears with a combined 5.72 ERA, the worst mark in the Big 10. Fielding has also been a struggle for Northwestern, which has compiled 60 errors so far this season.
Cal has a great opportunity to use small ball to get back in the win column against the poor pitching and defense of Northwestern. Bear speedsters such as center fielder Aaron Knapp and second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz might end up forcing throwing errors on infield singles as 11 of the Wildcats’ 60 errors have come from shortstop Jack Dunn. Some of Cal’s bigger guys — such as Nick Halamandaris and Mitchell Kranson — might want to try bunting away from the shift and letting third baseman Connor Lind (.955 Fld%) try to make a play at first base.
On the pitching end, Mason — as his trick shot suggests — has been a godsend for Cal while pitcher Daulton Jefferies continues to nurse a shoulder injury. He has pitched exceptionally well since Jefferies has been out, owning a 2.87 ERA in his last five starts. Mason went undrafted during last year’s MLB Draft, but his results during these last few months should definitely put his name on the boards of a few MLB teams this summer.
Time is running out for the Bears. If the team does not make drastic changes to its game against a weaker, non-divisional opponent in Northwestern, then Cal’s season will end up like Mason’s trick shot video — a flash in the pan.