It’s starting to seem like the Cal baseball team’s big dream of winning the Pac-12 is slowly slipping away — unless the team pulls together a second-half comeback of epic proportions. After getting off to a great start, the team has lost 10 of its last 14 and has struggled to put runs on the board in important Pac-12 games. Cal (14-15, 3-6 Pac-12) was swept by Washington State last weekend, the second time Cal has been swept by a conference team this year, moving the Bears toward the bottom of the Pac-12 leaderboard.
But the Bears’ losses to Washington were close, and Cal will look to build on that as it heads to Arizona to take on Arizona State (17-13, 7-5) in a three-game series. The Sun Devils, who recently slipped out of the top-25, have found a rhythm after getting off to a slow start — they’ve won six of their last nine games.
The Sun Devils aren’t especially known for their pitching — they rank toward the bottom of the Pac-12 with a combined team 4.37 ERA — so the Bears have an opportunity to capitalize. ASU’s tentative rotation is lefties Brett Lilek (3-2, 2.18 ERA), Ryan Kellogg (3-2, 4.56 ERA) and righty Darin Gillies (1-2, 5.30 ERA).
Still, the Bears seem to be suffering from the loss of Andrew Knapp, who was drafted in the second round of the MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. While several players have stepped up and lead in different respective categories, there hasn’t been one star who has made his case as the heir apparent to Knapp’s throne. Brenden Farney, Derek Campbell, Devon Rodriguez and Devin Pearson have all had flashes of greatness, but they haven’t been able to sustain their play.
Players like left fielder Vince Bruno and catcher Mitchell Kranson have had great games, but their hitting has been sporadic. As a result, the Bears have struggled to get runners on base and across the plate.
Cal’s pitchers will need sustainable hitting and run support from their teammates. Cal’s pitching has been solid — the team has a combined 3.63 ERA — but there have been some high-scoring innings over the course of the season during which it looked like the game slipped away from the Bears. So it will be up to the projected rotation of freshmen Daulton Jefferies (2-3, 3.18 ERA) and Ryan Mason (2-0, 3.15 ERA) and junior Kyle Porter (4-2, 2.72 ERA) to try and give the Bears an advantage.
But ASU’s top hitters — first baseman Nathaniel Causey (.385, 0 HR, 12 RBI), catcher RJ Ybarra (.330, 1 HR, 26 RBI) and third baseman Dalton Dinatale (.299, 2 HR, 26 RBI) — won’t make it easy for Cal’s pitchers. Ybarra, in particular, has been on a tear, a contender for last week’s Pac-12 player-of-the-week honors.
The Bears have had a tough schedule and have played good games against some top teams — they took two of four against then-No. 18 Texas — but the team seems to have lost some of its early-season magic. This weekend against the Sun Devils will be a good test of Cal’s mettle and a perfect opportunity for the Bears to try and turn the season around.