In life, you’ve got to learn how to walk before you can run. And the Cal baseball team, which came out sprinting during its first series of the year against Cal Poly, might have traded in its sneakers for spikes a little too early.
After falling down and getting swept by No. 10 Texas Tech last week in a four-game series, the Bears (2-5) will pick themselves right back up and attempt to find a new balance in this weekend’s series against Gonzaga (3-4).
“I think that this last weekend, even though we lost four times, was a huge stepping stone in gaining maturity,” said Cal closer Erik Martinez. “Just playing in an environment with so many fans rooting against you, it’s only going to get easier from here.”
Other than the obvious difficulty that comes with competing against a top-10 team, the Bears’ downfall against the Red Raiders was their inability to keep it close in the later innings. Cal held a 2-0 lead until the eighth inning during game one of the series and walked off the field in the 11th inning of the second game of Saturday’s double-header.
Despite being on the wrong side of the win column after this weekend’s stay in the Lone Star State, cutting down on simple mistakes could pay dividends against a Gonzaga team that is struggling itself.
“Things happen. When things are so close, something so small can turn into something so big in the game,” Martinez said. “Even though it might seem like, ‘Oh, they’re not focusing,’ it’s really just (wondering) who’s going to make that first mistake and how the other team is going to take advantage of it.”
The Bulldogs dropped their last series against UCLA this past weekend, with their only win coming in extra innings during the series opener. A lone crooked number was the difference maker for the Bruins, as the Bulldogs could not overcome UCLA’s four-run second inning, ultimately losing 5-4.
As a whole, Gonzaga’s pitching staff boasts a mediocre 4.43 ERA while its starters are posting a cleaner 3.55. Junior Justin Vernia has proven most effective in two starts, allowing three earned runs over 11 1/3 innings.
Several Bears will be looking to capitalize on Gonzaga’s pedestrian pitching numbers, namely freshman Anthony Walters. Cal’s interim shortstop has been doing a terrific job up the middle by providing some much-needed grit into the Bears’ lineup. He’s also leading the team’s starters offensively, providing a .350/.500/.400 slash over seven games. While those numbers are sure to even out as the season progresses, the current production coming out of Cal’s middle infield is a blessing considering that slated starter Preston Grand Pre is out with a broken hand.
Even a series split could result in a month’s worth of confidence into this young Bear squad. So while the Bears are still trying to get a good pace going early in this 2017 season, a few wins this weekend could be the metaphorical Heelys that the team needs.
Chris Tril is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].