As a team nears the end of the regular season with playoff hopes in mind — no matter what sport or level of competition — athletes, coaches and media pundits never fail to bring up the importance of controlling one’s own destiny.
Cal baseball begins its final three-game series of the regular season against Washington with a chance to obtain the coveted fourth place in the Pac-12 standings, only trailing No. 1 UCLA, No. 4 Stanford and No. 12 Oregon State.
The final game of the Cal’s three-game series with Arizona State was canceled because of weather, resulting in a series split that kept both teams in a fourth-place tie. Assuming outright control of fourth place would put Cal in the best position possible to earn an at-large bid.
ASU holds the tiebreaker because it has played more total games and netted a few more nonconference wins as a result, despite the fact that both teams possess a 15-11 record in conference play.
While the Bears don’t possess complete autonomy over their fate in the standings, they’ll better their chances to surpass the Sun Devils if they take two of three games or sweep the Huskies this weekend. With Arizona State set to face No. 3 Stanford in a three-game set, a series win over Washington should be enough to lock up fourth place.
Washington, however, is not the type to roll over by any stretch of the imagination. Until suffering a sweep at the hands of No. 1 UCLA a week ago, this team was squarely in the hunt for the “best of the rest” position in the Pac-12. Just last year, the Huskies surprised tournament experts by advancing to the College World Series finals in Omaha.
Washington doesn’t necessarily jump off the page — the team currently sits at No. 57 in the rating percentage index and is relatively low in both batting average and ERA — but the Huskies represent a relatively balanced and experienced foe in the Pac-12.
The Huskies also possess a variety of solid bullpen options, led by sophomore Stevie Emanuels’ team-leading 2.42 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, making it important for the Bears to be aggressive in the box from first pitch of the game.
Cal boasts a strong rotation of its own, looking solid against an ASU team that featured two of the country’s best hitters in junior Hunter Bishop and sophomore Spencer Torkelson.
As an added defensive bonus, the Bears produced their own version of “Web Gems” in the past week, highlighted by two diving stops from sophomore second baseman Darren Baker and a home run robbery from junior Max Flower.
Considering the teams’ track records and resumes, Cal should be the favorite in this one. Looking at common opponents, Washington was not able to secure a single win against UCLA, Stanford or Oregon State this season, while Cal stole a win from all three teams, but the Huskies did come up with a series victory against the Sun Devils in late April.
Max Mennemeier covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].