The Cal baseball team (10-9) is currently on a skid. After splitting the opening series against then-No. 18 Texas and sweeping two away tournaments in a row, the Bears have since lost seven of their last nine games.
After an 11-1 loss to Stanford and a mediocre performance in the Cal Baseball Classic, Cal was swept by the reigning College World Series champions, No. 18 UCLA, and in an embarrassing performance Tuesday lost to Fresno State 6-0.
Now, the biggest test of the season thus far will come when the Bears travel south to take on No. 7 Cal Poly (17-3) in a four-game series starting Friday night. The Mustangs are currently on a seven-game win streak and have won their last 17 games at home.
“We’re heading into a proverbial hornet’s nest,” said Cal head coach David Esquer.
Cal Poly has a very strong pitching rotation made up of junior lefty Matt Imhof (4-1), who has struck out 55 batters in five games and was named the Big West pitcher of the week and part of Collegiate Baseball’s national players of the week for the third time in five weeks. The rotation is rounded out by right-hand pitchers Justin Calomeni, a freshman, and Casey Bloomquist, a sophomore, who are a combined 8-0.
As such, the Bears have their work cut out for them, and Cal Poly’s good pitching will only make scoring runs more difficult. The Bears’ hitting has been dismal in the last few weeks, only managing to produce a few hits in the early innings and a failing to score any runs in the later innings when the Bears get behind.
Esquer has started moving around the lineup, hoping to generate some offensive production from the team. Redshirt senior Vince Bruno, who was one of the best hitters in the Pac-12 at the start of the year, is now batting just .263. Other hitters such as redshirt seniors Devon Rodriguez and Derek Campbell and sophomore Devin Pearson are all batting under .230.
“We’re just going to keep tinkering until we score,” Esquer said. “We’re just going to have to hit.”
The Bears also have to be solid on the other side of the ball, as the Mustangs have solid hitting from guys up and down the lineup that has led the team to top the Big West Conference in runs, doubles and RBIs.
The Bears’ pitching had been the strength of the team this season, but it hasn’t been as good of late. Freshman Daulton Jefferies (2-1), who is scheduled to pitch Friday, had one of the lowest ERAs in the Pac-12 in his first two starts, but his 3.86 ERA is no longer even the best among the starters on the team.
The other starts Saturday and Sunday will likely go to senior Kyle Porter (2-1, 1.78 ERA) and junior Michael Theofanopoulos (1-3, 3.80 ERA), respectively. Monday’s tentative starter, freshman Alex Martinez (0-2), has a 2.12 ERA but has had to be pulled early in both his starts due to high pitch counts.
Pitching from the bullpen has been strong, especially from sophomore Ryan Mason. Mason has been making more and more frequent appearances in games for relief, even though he was the No. 1 starter for the Bears as a freshman. It could be interesting to see whether he will appear back in that starting rotation as the season goes on.