College baseball is a marathon — a 54-game gauntlet that, with consistency and persistence, will lead a worthy team into a postseason berth. Unfortunately for the Cal baseball team (23-28), a playoff run doesn’t seem likely to happen for the second straight season.
While a poor second half was the culprit of last year’s Bears failing to make the NCAA regionals, this year’s Cal squad’s inexperience was the straw that ultimately broke the camel’s back.
After dropping its last two series to cement a sub-.500 season, the Bears look to finish strong against No. 15 Arizona.
That, of course, will be no easy task. Cal only recently celebrated a victory against a ranked opponent last Saturday against No. 7 Texas Christian University, giving them a 1-10 record against teams within the top-25 so far this year.
But if any sub-.500 team is going to defeat a ranked opponent, Cal definitely has the manpower to do it.
The Bears are closing out their season with hot bats up and down the lineup. Of all qualified hitters, only one is failing to slug over .400. In the Pac-12, Cal falls in the top-three in batting average (T-3rd), hits (2nd), doubles (T-3rd) and home runs (2nd). Not too bad for such a young team.
The bad news is that Cal’s opponent this weekend ranks first in many of these same statistics. The Wildcats lead the conference in batting average (.309), hits (569) and runs (420) with a very prominent cushion between themselves and second place. If Cal were in the world of Scooby Doo, they’d say “ruh-roh” to having to face JJ Matijevic. The junior is hitting a monstrous .400/.447/.665 with 10 dongs and 61 RBI. Head coach David Esquer and company will be in the metaphorical Mystery Machine trying to figure out how to get Matijevic out.
This weekend’s season finale should be one to keep an eye on, however, as both pitching staffs have failed to impress.
Arizona and Cal’s pitching staffs both fall in the lower half of the Pac-12 in ERA, and the Wildcats have given up the third-most hits in the conference with 486. With two underperforming staffs pitting against two of the top offenses on the West Coast, fans should not be surprised to see some high-scoring affairs.
Leading that charge for the Bears will be first baseman freshman Andrew Vaughn, who will look to end his year with a bang. Entering the final week of the regular season, the freshman leads the Pac-12 in home runs (12) and is in the top-10 in batting average (.341), slugging percentage (.556), hits (70) and RBI (48).
While his work on the mound could use some improvement to solidify himself as a two-way player — he owns a 7.56 ERA over 8.1 IP — Vaughn has no doubt been the Bears’ MVP on offense.
It’s been apparent the entire season that Cal has all the pieces to create a championship contending team. While that championship won’t be coming this season, how they finish their last series of the year might turn some heads and get some people talking heading into 2018.
Chris Tril covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].