What can possibly be said about the Cal baseball team (30-20, 12-15 Pac-12) that hasn’t been already said during its almost two-month long skid?
We can talk about the team’s obvious struggles, dating back to pitcher Daulton Jefferies’ shoulder injury April 1. We can look at the overused bullpen and the team’s multiple late-inning collapses. Or, we can look back and see how opposing pitchers seem to freeze the Bears’ offense just when they were beginning to find some momentum.
But for second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz, Cal’s latest series loss — this time to Utah (23-26, 17-10) — could be summarized using only six words.
“This one just sucks. A lot.”
From being a Pac-12 juggernaut in the beginning of the season to losing two of three games to the Utes on senior weekend, the Bears are limping into their last series of the 2016 regular season. With their postseason hopes literally on the line, anything less than a series sweep against Washington State next weekend could spell disaster for their hopes of making it to the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Obviously, Cal’s last homestand did not go as anticipated. After returning home from a sweep of Northwestern in which they registered a +54 run differential, the Bears had difficulty silencing Utah and lost game one by a score of 8-3. Although Cal came back to take game two, 9-2, Monday’s game three was perhaps the hardest loss to swallow.
An eighth inning rally gave the Bears a 5-4 lead and the hope of closing out the home season on a winning note. Jefferies pitched three innings of perfect baseball in his long-awaited return to the mound and Ryan Mason — Friday’s starter — was attempting to close out the game. But still, Cal was unable to shut the door and allowed two runs to score on a double in the top of the ninth, losing 6-5.
The loss has to be forgotten quickly, however, as any mistake made against Washington State (18-33, 10-17) could mean “game over” for the Bears’ 2016 season.
Regarding statistics, Cal should have a good chance to pick up three wins against their Pac-12 rivals. The Cougars offense has been nearly nonexistent this season, with the team as a whole batting a line of .252/.328/.326. Those numbers would be even lower if it weren’t for redshirt junior Trek Stemp who is anchoring the offense with a .355/.391/.388 clip. But after him and senior Patrick McGrath (.280), no other regular starter is hitting above .260.
The Bears would love to get Jefferies on the mound one last time against a weak offense to give them an all-but-guaranteed win after making his return to the mound Monday. But unfortunately for Cal, Jefferies will likely not start against the Cougars and risk re-injuring his shoulder for a possible postseason start.
With Jefferies most likely out this weekend, Mason will have to take the reins of the Cal pitching staff yet again. He got knocked around in his last outing against the Utes, giving up eight runs and 10 hits over six innings in an uncharacteristically bad outing for the senior. But with Friday possibly being the last time he ever puts on Cal’s blue and gold uniform, it is safe to say that the Cougars will see the best of possibly the most competitive pitcher in the Pac-12.
Although the playoffs are more than a week away, Cal will have to play with the same intensity this series as if they were playing in game seven of the World Series. Any slip up, error or run allowed could mean the difference between a playoff berth and a plane ticket back home for the summer.
“If we win 10-0 that’s cool. If we win 1-0 on a strikeout in the dirt, guy gets to first, passed ball, second base. Like, it doesn’t matter,” Tenerowicz said. “If we get no-hit and we win, I don’t even care.”
Chris Tril covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].