Cal baseball prepares to host USC in three-game series

Jessica Gleason/File

Related Posts

Two more series. That’s all that remains for the No. 22 Cal baseball team in the 2015 campaign. Two more weeks to finalize a resume qualifying the Bears for the College World Series tournament, but nothing is set in stone.

This upcoming weekend provides the ideal opportunity for Cal to make a major statement to the selection committee. The Bears currently have an RPI of 40. USC, with an RPI of 25, travels into Berkeley this weekend to begin a three-game set against Cal (31-16, 15-9 in Pac-12).

Not only does the upcoming series have postseason implications, but it also has an important place in the Pac-12 title race. The Trojans, Bears and Arizona State sit in a three-way tie for second, three games behind conference leader UCLA.

This series is important, and both teams know it.

Cal is returning from its cross-country trip to face Campbell in North Carolina last weekend. After the Fighting Camels won the first game Friday night, 5-3, and after the teams had to wait to see if the rain would cancel their Saturday double header, the Bears were having regrets about the oddly timed nonconference series.

After a three-hour rain delay, the field crews finally removed the tarp, and Cal took the field, rearing to go. The Bears won both games of the series back to back, 4-0, in the afternoon and then, 9-4, in the nightcap.

The bats obviously made the airplane trip over, with third baseman Lucas Erceg and catcher Mitchell Kranson both putting runs on the board with the long ball. Their home runs were added to Cal’s impressive season total of 41 — 11 home runs better than the two next-best squads in the Pac-12, Oregon State and Washington, which both have 30.

Junior outfielder Brian Celsi also had strong performances against Campbell, going six for nine with three RBI in the two games Saturday. But the most impressive performance of the weekend was not at the plate but on the mound.

Starter Ryan Mason put together an absolute gem in the Saturday afternoon game, even after cooling down as the rain fell. The junior pitched a complete game shutout, something that USC has become all too familiar with in the past week.

The Trojans (34-16, 15-9 in Pac-12) have thrown only three complete game shutouts all year, but two came in their series last weekend against Stanford. While the Cardinal does sit in last place in the conference, the Bears lost the season series against their rivals, two games to three.

USC starter Kyle Davis shut out Stanford in nine complete innings Friday, willing his team to a 1-0 victory. Two days later, Mitch Hart did the same thing and shut out the Cardinal en route to a 2-0 victory. With the Trojans’ starting rotation looking as strong as it has all season, the Bears are right to be worried.

Offensively, the Trojans play a different style from that of the Bears. USC leads the conference in total hits with 508 over 50 games, averaging more than 10 hits a contest. The first and second batters in the order — Bobby Stahel and Garrett Stubbs, respectively — epitomize this small ball style.

Stahel has the second-best batting average in the conference, hitting .386. Stubbs is not one to overlook, either, as the senior sports a .340 average and leads the team in stolen bases with 18. Coincidentally, the pair has the same on-base percentage at .426, good enough for seventh in the conference.

Their ability to get on base helps power the potent USC attack that leads the conference in stolen bases and RBIs and trails only Arizona in runs scored. Whether the Cal pitching staff can prevent baserunners will be the story of this weekend. If it doesn’t, its RPI could be going in the wrong direction come Monday.

Austin Crochetiere covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].