Four games into the 2016 season and the Cal baseball team is already feeling the pressure of the competition.
Sloppy moments from the Bears’ pitching staff in the Duke series last weekend prevented the team from possibly sweeping its first series of the season. San Francisco was 180 feet away from tying Tuesday night’s game against Cal in the ninth. The offense has not been able to create enough separation from the opposition and the pitching has been faltering in close matchups.
Coincidentally, it will take strong performances against the Boilermakers to relieve pressure for the Bears (2-2) and to start playing to the tune of what was expected of them in the preseason. No. 12 Cal will be playing a weekend series at home against Purdue (1-2), where the offense should be able to create a big enough lead for the pitching staff to finally relax a bit.
The Purdue starting rotation has struggled early in the season, throwing a combined 5.27 ERA in its first three games. While their starters have been roughed up, the Boilermakers have shown at least some resilience, with starters Nick Dalesandro and Gavin Downs being able to pitch five innings each in their first starts of the season.
Cal’s offense will have to get to Purdue’s starters early, as its relievers have been doing their best to give their batters a chance to make comebacks late into games. The Boilermaker bullpen has thrown an excellent combined ERA of 1.59, with Tanner Schumacher’s scoreless four innings in Sunday’s game at Georgia State highlighting its potency.
The Bears’ offense will need to come to life this series to improve upon their roster’s below-average numbers. Though the team’s clutch hitting has already scored 19 runs in its first four games, the lineup as a whole is batting at a line of .246/.340/.366. And while those numbers are not an immediate cause for concern, they are being inflated by the production of first baseman Brenden Farney (.462/.588/.769) and outfielder Nick Halamandaris (.353/.353/.588).
Without Farney and Halamandaris, the lineup is batting an anemic .206. With the two solidifying the middle of the lineup as its number four and six hitters, the rest of the Cal offense has to find a way to get on base in front of them to benefit the most from their hot starts.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting quality at bats,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “We want to put a little more pressure on them or we’re going to have to pull some strings offensively. Maybe on the bench with pinch hitting or calling some plays, maybe calling in a squeeze every or or then.”
A boosted offense would do wonders for the Bears, who will bring out their weekend rotation of Daulton Jefferies, Ryan Mason and Matt Ladrech. Jefferies threw six innings and gave up only two runs in his last trip out to the mound, while Mason and Ladrech — who got knocked around in their first starts of the season — look to re-establish themselves as the dominant pitchers they were last season. With solidified pitching outings for Cal and a revamped offense, the Bears could return back to last season’s form as early as this series.