At some point, the Cal baseball team is going to have to cut its losses and move on.
Cal coach David Esquer and his Bears are going to have to give up on what this season could have been and look forward to next year. The Bears soon must stop believing that the big bats of Andrew Knapp and Devon Rodriguez could compensate for an inconsistent pitching staff. At some point this season, the Bears have to forget that senior pitcher Justin Jones was an All-American as a freshman and has fallen out of the starting rotation as a senior.
After being swept by No. 9 Oregon (27-8, 12-3 Pac-12) at home this weekend, that point seems to be rapidly approaching.
The Ducks beat the Bears, 5-4, on Sunday afternoon to hand Cal (16-19, 5-10 Pac-12) its seventh straight loss and its ninth in the last 10 games. Oregon got ahead early, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning off of Cal sophomore right-hander Dylan Nelson.
Nelson bounced back, holding the Ducks scoreless until the top of the sixth inning, when a home run knocked him out of the game.
In the bottom of the second inning, sophomore Chris Paul’s infield groundout to the pitcher provided a run for the Bears, but that was the only offensive support that Nelson received. Despite hitting the ball hard, Cal struggled to string together hits throughout the game.
The other offensive support came in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Knapp added a three-run home run to bring the score to 5-4. The Cal offense could not muster anything else, and the Ducks closed out the sweep as junior reliever Jimmy Sherfy shut down the Bears on his way to a five-out save.
Oregon jumped out to a quick start in the series, beating the Bears 3-2 on Friday night. In only the third game under the new Evans Diamond night lights, Cal freshman right-hander Ryan Mason provided a strong outing, allowing three runs and striking out two batters through five innings.
With the Bears trailing 3-1 after five innings, junior right-hander Trevor Hildenberger then put forth one of Cal’s best relief appearances of the season, striking out five batters in four perfect innings. But the Bears’ offense did not provide its pitching much support, scoring only one run each in the first and sixth innings.
On Saturday, the Ducks controlled the game from the start, winning 10-4 in decisive fashion. Oregon pounded Cal sophomore starter Keaton Siomkin for five runs in the first inning. The offensive onslaught continued throughout the afternoon, with the Ducks adding three more runs in the second inning and solo home runs in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Throughout the weekend, the Bears looked largely unable to compete with a powerhouse like Oregon. The schedule still has plenty of challenges for Cal, including series against No. 7 Oregon State, No. 17 Arizona State and No. 25 Stanford.
If the Bears cannot step up their game quickly and immensely in the coming weeks, there is little hope left that the season can be salvaged.
Warren Laufer covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].