Cal looks for first Pac-12 series win

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After four consecutive losses — each heart-wrenching in its own way — the Cal baseball team finds itself in the cellar of the Pac-12, a 2-7 conference record to its name.

If the Bears are to get back on track against Washington (17-13, 4-5 in the Pac-12) this weekend at Evans Diamond, they’ll have to turn things around quickly, as the meat of the Pac-12 schedule awaits.

“There is no soft spot in our schedule,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “There is no cupcake. There is no weak sister in the Pac-10. Everybody is capable.”
Cal (17-14) followed a trio of impressive victories last week against Texas and USC with four disappointing losses. After two one-run losses to USC last week, the Bears were blown out on Monday in a 19-6 loss to Stanford, and they followed up Wednesday with an 8-5 loss at Santa Clara.

Like Cal, Washington comes into the series looking to regain momentum after a disappointing skid. The Huskies have dropped three in a row and six of their last seven, but only two of their 13 losses have been by more than three runs.

“I know they’re much improved,” Esquer said. “They’re hungry.”

Though neither squad stands out on the mound or in the lineup, the defensive gap between the two teams is a more of a chasm: The Huskies have made just 23 errors all year, fewer than any other Pac-12 team. Cal, in contrast, ranks last with 61.

“We’ve got to go out and win the game,” Esquer said. “Play solid defense and pitch well, and then execute and get base hits in a timely fashion. That’s exactly what the opposition is trying to do.”

Each team boasts starters capable of dominating an opposing lineup. Washington’s Aaron West and Cal’s Matt Flemer rank ninth and tenth in the Pac-12 in ERA, respectively.

“Matt has just been unbelievable,” said Esquer. “We lean on him pretty heavy.”

Cal’s pitchers — who generally throw to contact — are most effective with a consistent defense behind them. Yet Cal’s defense has been anything but consistent. Flemer emphasized the importance of getting ahead in the count and keeping Washington’s hitters on edge.

“The more our defense is active, the less errors they’ve made,” Flemer said. “Just keep them active and throw strikes and let the hitters get themselves out.”

Michael Theofanopoulos and Justin Jones will also start for the Bears this weekend. Jones, a preseason All-American, has struggled to live up to expectations thus far, his 4.97 ERA among the highest on the team. But the lefty is coming off a superb performance at USC, where he gave up just two runs in seven innings.

If defense and pitching play up to expectations, the Bears have a chance to make up ground in the Pac-12.

“We can jump a couple guys in the standings this weekend, and we understand that,” Flemer said.

“It’s just time we take what we understand and put it out on the field.”