2011-2012 Storylines: How can Cal baseball follow up its Omaha run?

2012 is already a good year for the Cal baseball team. Because, win or lose, they’ll be on the field, playing.

Their happy existence aside, the standard of Omaha has been set. They’re no longer an underdog, and they won’t be skimming under the radar. With the spotlight on Berkeley, will the Bears have what it takes to return to Omaha next year?

From the outside, it looks like Cal loses big parts of its team. Shortstop Marcus Semien, catcher Chadd Krist, SP Erik Johnson and closer Matt Flemer are all likely gone to the Draft, but the Bears are lucky in that they can fill the voids.

For one, the starters on the mound look to be just as good as this year’s. Lefties Justin Jones and Kyle Porter — who came on incredibly strong the last month of the season — both return for the weekend rotation, where they’ll likely be joined by someone like righty Logan Scott. Scott had one of the quieter seasons for the Bears, but limited the opposition to 16 earned runs in 46 2/3 innings of mostly relief work.

The bullpen does present the biggest problem, however. Gone is perennial inning eater Kevin Miller. Probably gone is two-year closer Matt Flemer. Louie Lechich (OF/LHP) and Joey Donofrio are the only remaining consistent contributors, and even they saw limited action in 2011. That’s a spot where Cal’s later-than-everyone-else recruiting needs to pay dividends — they have to shore up the pen if they hope to stay competitive and fresh deep into conference play.

The lineup takes a hit losing Krist’s double-generating bat, but several new faces have already shown they can punch up the lineup. Andrew Knapp will almost certainly fill Krist’s role in the battery and, although he hit just .212 on the season, Knapp’s playing experience as a freshman should ease the transition for everyone.

Elsewhere in the bats department, there’s returning JC transfer Vince Bruno, who led the Bears in batting average for much of the first part of the season. Freshman Michael Theofanopoulos, who pinch hit like a champion on several occasions, probably brings the most pop and would be a good option at DH. Derek Campbell will most likely replace Semien at shortstop (which, by the way, is an upgrade — potential for better hitting and already proven as a fantastic infielder).

Plus, there’s Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, postseason hero Devon Rodriguez, third base stalwart Mitch Delfino and center fielder Darrel Matthews. That’s enough to make any coach smile.

So, will there be a return trip to Omaha? As usual, quote machine Tony Renda sums up the answer best:

“The sky’s the limit.”

Image source: Allyse Bacharach/Senior Staff