No. 24 Cal baseball hopes to get back on track against Washington

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Throughout the season, the No. 24 Cal baseball team (23-14, 9-9 Pac-12) has had an identity crisis similar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At home, the Bears put on convincing performances of a powerhouse that rarely lets its adversaries mount a noteworthy offense. But on the road, they often look like a team with no hope of reaching the postseason, as they struggle to challenge their opposition and come up short.

During the weekend, the Bears’ away form reared its ugly head in their home series against Arizona. The Wildcats dominated and swept Cal. The signs can’t be ignored. The Bears are starting to slip, and they need to work on getting better results on the road more than ever.

But first they needed to reassert their dominance at home. Fortunately for Cal, it started the process with a scrappy 5-4 victory over Cal Poly on Tuesday.

“When wins are hard to come by, you can’t be too proud,” said Cal head coach David Esquer after the win against the Mustangs. “You win no matter how you do it. I think our guys appreciated winning.”

Esquer’s team will need to capitalize on that morale booster when it welcomes Washington (23-14, 9-6) for a three-game series this weekend. Coming out on top in at least two bouts against the Huskies will go a long way in mentally preparing the Bears for another long stretch of road games set to begin next week.

Washington, however, will not show Cal any mercy. The Huskies have won their last four games, and they will look to extend their winning streak by preying on the Bears’ latest troubles. More impressively, Washington hasn’t demonstrated significant moments of adversity this year, as it has come out on top in nine out of 10 series and has split two series. This will give the Huskies’ hitters, who have tallied a .281 average overall, an edge of confidence against a Cal team that has had difficulty putting on well-balanced offensive and defensive games as of late.

The Bears need a leader who can guide them out of tough situations and efficiently subdue Washington’s offense.

Luckily their wait may come to an end soon. Junior Daulton Jefferies, who has picked up six wins and a 1.29 ERA, will likely start on Saturday, after having been held back by lingering health issues.

Jeffries, however, may not be the only proven pitcher slated to play this weekend.  Senior Ryan Mason, who has a 2.91 ERA and has notched five wins, is scheduled to start Friday after missing last Friday’s start. His contributions on the mound may put a stop to Cal’s recent habit of falling behind early in the game.

There’s no telling how effective Jefferies and Mason will be this weekend, but their presence on the mound will provide some stability in Cal’s pitching. The team will also look to them to take pressure off Cal’s batters.

If the Bears’ pitching and defensive efforts sync together seamlessly, it’ll allow sophomore Brett Cumberland and the rest of the hitters to thrive and display Cal’s good side — or its Dr. Jekyll.

Manny Flores covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @manny_0.