Redemption: the act of making something better or more acceptable.
Redemption is something no one wishes to need and is never easily attained. And yet, seeking redemption is exactly where the blue and gold find themselves. After a jubilant 3-1 start to the season, Cal baseball has been on a gradual decline as each game passes.
After splitting another weekend 2-2, the Bears are looking to improve their record this weekend against Pac-12 competitor Washington.
The two appear to be on equal footing heading into this weekend’s competition as they boast near identical records thus far. The Huskies match the Bears’ 5-7 conference record but are 14-13 overall, which trumps the Bears’ record of 13-15.
Fortunately for Cal, Washington comes into this weekend off a 0-3 series loss to No. 11 Arizona — a side that Cal picked up a 9-8 win over last month.
Tuesday’s 9-3 win over Cal Poly, which Cal lost to two weeks prior, is sure to be a confidence boost. The question is if the Bears can ride that confidence to a series sweep, something they have yet to do this season. Notably, the last time the blue and gold swept a series was last year against Washington.
If history isn’t enough to carry the team to some wins, perhaps the strong opponents they faced will have adequately prepared them. The Bears’ RPI of 82, a ranking that takes into account strength of schedule, is far superior to the Huskies’ meager 102.
Following the weekend series against Washington, the Bears will travel down to Moraga to face Saint Mary’s for the second time this season. Last time the two faced off, the Bears were on home territory but had no advantage to show for it. The Gaels trampled Cal in a 10-5 victory at the Stu.
Since the two last faced off, Saint Mary’s has added to its success by picking up three wins while dropping only one game — its latest win being an 8-1 victory over Pac-12 foe Stanford, which sits four spots ahead of Cal in the conference standings.
At the forefront of the Gaels’ offense are four key players: designated hitter Nathan Chong, shortstop Christopher Campos, first baseman Christian Almanza and infielder Chris Santiago. Together these four boast a batting average of .338; an average that bests every Cal player except Keshawn Ogans, who maintains a .357.
Shutting down those four will be the key to Cal’s success Tuesday, as they were unable to do so last time, with the four scoring six of Saint Mary’s 10 runs that night.
On the flip side, Cal fans will continue to look to outfielder Dylan Beavers to put the team on his shoulders. The Pac-12 home run leader and team RBI leader has begun to find his form as of late and will need to show up this weekend if the Bears hope to be successful.
Catcher Caleb Lomavita and Ogans will also be essential to the blue and gold overcoming the mountain in front of them. Lomavita falls second only to Beavers in many categories, and has a knack for stealing bases that has him tied for third in the Pac-12 with nine bases stolen. Ogans is the consistency that the Bears have been lacking elsewhere. His team-high batting average coupled with his strong slugging percentage makes any Cal win next to impossible without him.
“We’ve been playing some good baseball outside of some blowup innings,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu.
Those so called blowup innings have cost Cal several games in which it appeared to have a win safely within reach. In the off chances where those innings didn’t cost them the game, the Bears clawed back to narrowly win, often in walk-off fashion. Though still able to get some much needed wins, giving up runs and narrowly escaping defeat is simply not acceptable.
“At the end of the day, we just have to play well,” Neu said.
Playing well seems to be Cal’s Mount Everest this season as it struggles to consistently do so. With more than half the season played already, the blue and gold have an uphill climb if they wish to escape last year’s fate.