The Cal baseball team and the Arizona baseball team have a lot in common. After advancing to the College World Series for the first time in 20 years in 2011, the Cal baseball team failed to make the postseason in 2012. The Wildcats have also fallen on hard times; after winning the 2012 National Championship last year, Arizona is unranked this year.
With both clubs enduring a down season, the Bears (16-13, 5-4) travel to Tucson, Ariz., this weekend to take on the Wildcats (18-11, 3-6) this weekend at Hi Corbett Field.
The Wildcats dropped consecutive series sweeps in their first two conference tests against No. 6 Oregon State and No. 11 Oregon. Arizona bounced back last weekend against Utah, sweeping the Utes at home.
Unlike Arizona, the Bears started conference play strong, sweeping the Utes in Salt Lake City to begin Pac-12 play. The Bears then won one of three games against No. 10 UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood before again taking one of three against USC last weekend at Evans Diamond.
The difficulty-level difference in the two teams’ schedule so far is striking. The Wildcats’ challenging schedule to start the season has them in ninth place in the Pac-12. The Bears took advantage of a relatively easy schedule to secure fourth place in the conference a quarter of the way through their conference schedule.
“Oregon and Oregon State are two of the better teams in the Pac-12,” said Cal infielder Chris Paul. “But every team in our conference is a good team, and you have to play a good game or you’re going to get beat.”
The Bears’ success this season has been largely due to a strong offense behind Paul. The sophomore is leading the Bears in both home runs (5) and RBIs (25) after a two-home run, seven-RBI performance against the Trojans last Saturday. He has hit three home runs in his last two games.
But the offensive star for Cal this season has undoubtedly been junior Andrew Knapp. The catcher is batting a team-leading .358 and leads the team with a .550 slugging percentage.
But starting pitching has been Cal’s downfall this season. The pitching woes continued against the Trojans last weekend. After freshman Ryan Mason allowed only three runs in seven innings in the series-opener, the Bears’ starting pitchers struggled in the final two games.
On Friday against USC, left-hander Justin Jones gave up six runs in only 4.1 innings of work. The Trojans’ lineup took advantage of right-hander Keaton Siomkin on Saturday, riding him for four runs in the first four innings.
A strong series this weekend would provide the Bears with much needed momentum moving into the hardest part of their conference schedule.
“We need to just play how we play,” Paul said. “Throw strikes and get hits when we need them with guys on base. Execute everything, and I think we have a good chance to come out of the series with some wins.”
Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]