BSB: Can Cal Buck History in Final Series?

No. 22 California travels to No. 23 Oregon State for the final series of the regular season, and the Bears will face a team that's a near mirror of themselves. Will this series be what Cal needs to get over the hump to host a Regional?

SERIES AT A GLANCE
California Golden Bears (33-17, 17-10 in Pac-12) vs. Oregon State Beavers (36-15-1, 17-9-1)

Polls:
Cal is No. 26 in NCBWA, No. 25 in D1Baseball.com, No. 22 in Baseball America, No. 16 in Collegiate Baseball
Oregon State is No. 20 in NCBWA, No. 18 in D1Baseball.com, No. 20 in USA Today Coaches’ Poll, No. 23 in Baseball America, No. 11 in Collegiate Baseball

RPI: Cal is No. 40, Oregon State is No. 37

NOTABLE UPCOMING DATES: May 25, Memorial Day at 9 a.m. PT on ESPNU, NCAA field announced; May 27, All-Pac-12 team announced; May 29, start of NCAA Regionals; June 5 start of NCAA Super Regionals; June 8, first 75 picks of MLB Draft, 4 p.m. PT on MLB Network, June 9-10, MLB Draft, June 13-23/24, College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

TV: All games will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks, Roxy Bernstein on play-by-play Friday and Sunday, Matt McConnel on play-by-play Saturday and Kevin Stocker as analyst for the series.

Friday, 7 p.m., at Goss Stadium (Corvallis, Ore.): RHP, Soph., Daulton Jefferies (5-4, 3.17 ERA) vs. RHP Andrew Moore (6-2, 1.87)

Saturday, 4:00 p.m., at Goss Stadium (Corvallis, Ore.): RHP, Jr., Ryan Mason (6-2, 3.19) vs. RHP Drew Rasmussen (6-3, 2.72)

Sunday, 3 p.m., at Goss Stadium (Corvallis, Ore.): LHP, Fr., Matt Ladrech (6-4, 2.67) vs. RHP Travis Eckert (6-0, 3.64)



Three games are all that stand between No. 22 California and the NCAA postseason. Three games are all that stand between the Bears (33-17, 17-10 in the Pac-12) from a potential second-place finish in the conference – the highest Cal will have finished since 1985. The team that stands between the Bears and that potential second-place finish – and possibly even hosting an NCAA Regional – is No. 23 Oregon State.

“I’m excited to go up there, especially right before the playoffs,” said Cal pitching coach Mike Neu. “It can be a playoff primer for both teams.”

The two teams are separated by mere percentage points in the conference standings, with the Beavers sitting in second place with a .648 winning percentage, and the Bears tied with Arizona State at .630, in part thanks to an Oregon State tie with Utah.

The Beavers have won 10 straight against the Bears, dating back to 2011 (Cal won one of a three-game series in Corvallis). In fact, in 12 years, Oregon State has won all but two series against the Bears. The last time Cal got the best of the Beavers was a sweep in Berkeley in 2010, and before that, the last time the Bears won a series in Corvallis was in 2003.

Over Cal’s last six trips up to Goss Stadium, the Bears are 4-14.

History, it would seem, is not on the Bears’ side. There is something to be said, though, for being young and dumb, with two underclassmen (Daulton Jefferies and Matt Ladrech) in the starting rotation and two more (sophomore Alex Schick and freshman Erik Martinez) serving as the backbone as the bullpen, while fielding three underclassmen on the infield, a true freshman (Brett Cumberland) behind the plate and a sophomore (Aaron Knapp) in center field.

“I don’t think our guys know, or feel any of that history, really,” said Neu, who will be making just his second trip up to Goss. “I think our younger guys feel like this is our team, and we’re going to try to create our own identity. I think we’ve definitely done a good job of that. I think our guys have really competed hard and played hard all year. I don’t think that will really play a factor in it. I don’t feel that much of it, even though I’ve been here for longer than most of these guys. We’re going to try to win the first game, then win the next game and go from there.”

That first game looks to be a tough one, with Cal ace Jefferies going 0-2 in his last two outings, allowing 12 earned runs in 13.0 innings of work – nearly half of his season total. His opposition – junior righty Andrew Moore -- comes in with a 6-2 record and a 1.87 ERA, the best by a starter in the Pac-12. A Capital One Academic All-District 8 selection, Moore was named to the preseason National Pitcher of the Year watch list, and his .201 batting average against is the second-lowest in the Pac-12 – the lowest for starters, just ahead of the Bears’ Jeff Bain -- and just behind UCLA reliever David Berg. Moore has pitched the second-most innings in the league (105.2), has struck out 90 (second), caught 25 hitters looking (third).

Saturday’s starter for the Beavers – righty Drew Rasmussen -- became the first Oregon State pitcher to throw a perfect game, downing Washington State 3-0 on March 21. His perfecto was the first perfect game in the Pac-12 since the Cougars’ Joe McIntosh in 1973, and was the fourth in league history. The freshman threw 103 pitches and struck out 10.

Going Streaking
Oregon State is 8-0-1 in its last nine games, sweeping Stanford last weekend, despite missing the services of Trever Morrison for 12 games, during which the Beavers have gone 9-2-1. Without the sophomore shortstop, Elliott Cary has stepped in to fill the void, offensively, going 15-for-43 since April 30 with one double, one triple and 10 RBIs, hitting safely in all but one game during that stretch. The Beavers (36-14-1, 17-9-1) have won their last five straight conference series.

Cal has won its last four series, and has won 10 of its last 13 games. Away from Evans Diamond, the Bears have gone 13-7, going 5-1 in their last six road contests.

Mirror Images
In seven offensive categories, the Bears and Beavers rank one after the other or tied on conference leaderboards.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup of some similar teams, offensively, defensively and pitching,” said Neu. “I think it’s exciting for us to go up there, especially with both of us kind of battling for some playoff momentum and some seeding, and things like that. I think there’s more on the line in this game, even though we’re both going to be in the playoffs. I think both teams are going to play hard, and it’s going to be exciting. Last Pac-12 series of the year. It’s going to be fun.”

On the mound, Cal and Oregon State rank one after the other on conference leaderboards in ERA, saves, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and home runs allowed.

That last stat should play a big role this weekend, as the Bears (41) and Beavers (39) are one-two in the conference in longballs, but are second (Cal, 14) and third (Oregon State, 18) in fewest home runs allowed.

“I think early in the season, we hit a lot of home runs, and we maybe even got into trouble a little bit, relying on that, when we struggled in the middle part of the year,” said Neu. “We were almost expecting to hit a couple home runs in a game, and when we didn’t, we felt like, ‘Hey, where’s our offense?’ I think we’ve done a better job lately, putting together some hits, putting some pressure on the defense, competing more offensively and not relying on one or two guys to hit a three-run homer and win the game. If it comes, it comes.”

Over the past nine games, Cal has given up just three circuit shots, and hit eight.

“We’ve had them a little sporadically, and they’ve been big, but I don’t think we’re relying on that as a part of our offense as much as we did, probably early in the year,” said Neu.

The biggest difference between the two teams comes down to plate approach. Oregon State has taken 215 walks – second most in the conference – but have also struck out 343 times – third most in the Pac-12. Cal has walked just 158 times (last), and it can’t be forgotten that they have one player – starting shortstop Preston GrandPre -- who has taken just one non-intentional free pass this season.

With all those walks and strikeouts, though, Oregon State still has the fifth-most hits in the conference (490), ahead of the Bears, who have 469 (6th), and an on-base percentage of .352 (7th).

Oregon State has the third-best on-base percentage in the league (.371), and the fourth-most RBIs (277).

“I’ll look at the stats more individually with these guys, and see what we can try to attack, and what we’re going to stay away from, and we’ll look at it from there, but typically, you see high strikeouts, you’ll see lower walks if guys are a little more aggressive. When you see the high strikeouts and high walks, it’s a little bit different. You don’t see it as much.

“I think, obviously, when our pitching is executing and pitching well, I don’t think there’s anybody that we’re not going to be able to compete with, and it’s probably the same with their staff. They’ve done a good job, too.”

Double The Pleasure
Oregon State has grounded into just 21 double plays all season – the fewest in the league. Cal has 53 fielding double plays – second in the conference – in large part thanks to pitch-to-contact Ryan Mason and Matt Ladrech.

Of the 254 outs Mason has recorded this year, 201 have been on balls put in play (79.1%). Of those 201, 108 have come on ground balls, which is to be expected given the 6-foot-6 righty’s sinkerballing ways.

Of the 233 outs that Ladrech has recorded, 192 have come on balls in play (82.4%), and 114 of those have come on the ground for the soft-tossing lefty control specialist.

Cal’s fielding percentage (.969) is eighth in the Pac-12, with the fifth-most errors (61) in the fewest fielding chances (1949), an oddity with a team that boasts two starters with high pitch-to-contact numbers.

“They have some speed on their team. They have some guys that can run a little bit. It can be a short season, and you can definitely get caught up in the stats. I think our infield can definitely turn a double play as good as anybody,” Neu said. “We obviously don’t want to rely on double plays all the time to be the factor in us winning or losing games.”

But, in the last two games, the Bears have turned four double plays. The two they turned on Sunday were key in keeping them in the game as USC got 10 men to reach base over the first three innings against Mason.

“We have needed those, and we’ve gotten some big ones,” Neu said. “We’ll see how it plays out. I know they have some new turf. We’re going to practice there [Thursday], see how the turf plays, maybe it plays a little slower and it’s harder to turn, but it’ll definitely be interesting to see how it turns out. We’ll have a better idea after Friday.”

To throw another wrinkle into that, Oregon State has a .977 fielding percentage – best in the conference with Goss Stadium’s new, all-turf field.

“I think the turf helps anybody,” Neu said. “It’s easier to play infield on the turf. You’re not going to get any bad hops. You know exactly what the ball’s going to do. I don’t think it’s an advantage. It’s probably an advantage to the poor defenders. We played fine at Washington, and that turf was wet at the time. They’re just used to playing on it. They’re going to know how the ball bounces and where the dead spots are a little bit more, but our defense should play. We have some arm strength and range, and our infield can probably play with anybody, so I think we’ll be fine.”

One-Two Punch
The Beavers are led offensively by junior outfielder Jeff Hendrix, who’s one of the top left-handed bats in the league.

Hendrix is among the Pac-12’s top 10 in nine offensive categories: He’s fourth in batting average (.351), fourth in slugging (.574), second in OBP (.460), fifth in runs scored (44), sixth in hits (68), T9 in doubles (14), T2 in triples (5), fifth in total bases (110) and second in walks (35).

“He was a good player for them last year, and he’s a good hitter – he’s probably one of the better hitters in our league,” Neu said. “We’ll probably have to evaluate how we’re going to pitch to him in certain situations, and how we can attack him. We’ll look at the film, and as we get into the series, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how the momentum swings and how it’s rolling, and we’ll do whatever we feel like is best to try to win the game. He’s a great player – one of the better players in our conference.”

Oregon State isn’t just a one-man show on offense, though, with freshman catcher K.J. Harrison providing plenty of pop at the plate. The Bears, of course, know all about productive freshman catchers – they have one of their own in Cumberland, who started the season white hot, before cooling down and settling in at .255 in the batting average department. Cumberland, though, is third in the Pac-12 in walks (32), third in hit-by-pitches (14) and tied for seventh with seven home runs.

Harrison -- selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 25th round of last year’s Major League Draft – has been much more consistent. The 6-foot, 200-pound right-handed-hitting backstop is third in the conference in slugging (.574), eighth in on-base percentage (.422), tied for 10th with 64 hits, on top of the pile in RBIs (57), tied for second with 10 home runs and third in total bases (112).

“He’s had a great year,” Neu said. “He’s really been similar to Cumby, where he started out really, really hot. He’s been colder lately, but you still look at the overall stats, and know that he’s dangerous with some power. Obviously, a very good player for them.”

Harrison is tied for eighth in the league with 29 walks, though he’s struck out the eighth-most times in the conference (43).

That statistical oddity – high strikeouts and high walks – is part of what distinguishes the Beavers from the Bears.

Oregon State has taken 215 walks – second most in the conference – but have also struck out 343 times – third most in the Pac-12.

With all those walks and strikeouts, though, Oregon State still has the fifth-most hits in the conference (490), ahead of the Bears, who have 469 (6th), and an on-base percentage of .352 (7th).

Oregon State has the third-best on-base percentage in the league (.371), and the fourth-most RBIs (277).

“I’ll look at the stats more individually with these guys, and see what we can try to attack, and what we’re going to stay away from, and we’ll look at it from there, but typically, you see high strikeouts, you’ll see lower walks if guys are a little more aggressive,” Neu said. “When you see the high strikeouts and high walks, it’s a little bit different. You don’t see it as much. I think, obviously, when our pitching is executing and pitching well, I don’t think there’s anybody that we’re not going to be able to compete with, and it’s probably the same with their staff. They’ve done a good job, too.”

Walk This Way
Cal has walked just 158 times (last), and it can’t be forgotten that they have one player – starting shortstop GrandPre -- who has taken just one non-intentional free pass this season.

“We don’t walk a lot, offensively, but maybe against a team like this, they throw strikes and they’re pretty competitive in the zone, so you definitely worry about chasing balls out of the zone,” Neu said. “I think we can do that sometimes. I think we did a better job this weekend.

“We walked nine times on Monday, which is -- GrandPre walked – so, yeah. I think we’ve done a better job this weekend of zoning in, especially in hitter’s counts. I think we’ve been trying to say, ‘Let’s get our pitch to hit.’ Our guys can kind of swing based on the count, sometimes, and we’ll get ourselves out that way. Obviously, when you’re swinging the bat well, I think we are one of the more aggressive-swinging teams in our conference, but at the same time, you don’t want to get yourself out. You want to make them work and make them get the outs. I think we did a better job of that this week, especially the last two games. We got some pretty big hits, and we weren’t swinging at balls out of the zone.”

CP6 And Friends
Cal can counter the Beavers blow-for-blow on offense, thanks in part to the virtuoso senior season at the dish by first baseman Chris Paul, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Thanks to last weekend, the senior out of Aliso Viejo, Calif., is showing up plenty on conference leaderboards, too. Paul is seventh in batting (.335), fifth in slugging (.555), T5 in RBIs (42) and T4 in home runs (8).

During the series against USC, Paul went 7-for-10 with three doubles and nine RBIs.

But, for the Bears to truly match the Beavers’ one-two punch, Lucas Erceg needs to find his way again.

Erceg – who is among the conference leaders in total bases (6th, 104), home runs (2nd, 10) and RBIs (T10, 37) – has been struggling in the final stretch of the season. Over the past 14 games, Erceg has just three extra-base hits – two doubles and a home run, the latter of which came on May 9 against Campbell – and has gone 13-for-56 (.232) with three walks and five strikeouts during that span.

“He’s chasing balls out of the zone,” said Neu, who recruited Erceg as a two-way player (his work at the back end of the bullpen has increased late in the year, and will be crucial come Regionals). “He’s hit some balls hard that are in the air, where maybe his home runs aren’t coming the way they were early, and maybe he’s trying to force it, looking at some of his swings. I think if he plays his game and hits the ball hard, he may hit a couple homers by accident. He’s definitely forced it at times. If we can get him dialed down back to his game, he’s obviously one of the better hitters in the conference.”

While Erceg looked to return to form against the Camels – going 6-for-12 with four RBIs – those three games were the lone bright spots in what’s been a pretty barren stretch, as he went 1-for-10 against USC.

“Little bit better at Campbell, but nothing consistently where he’s that guy that they walk away and say, ‘We don’t know what to throw him,’” said head coach David Esquer. “We’re going to need one or two of those efforts where we feel like the opposition doesn’t know how to get this guy out.”

Cal needs a second offensive threat to be viable. Luckily for the Bears, that second threat has emerged in the person of junior Devin Pearson. After missing five weeks with a broken hamate bone, Pearson has come alive over the past four weeks, going 22-for-44 (.500) with two home runs, nine RBIs, 13 runs scored and five walks. Last weekend, he was 7-for-9 and scored five times against No. 15 USC.

“I think it’s great that Pearson is now healthy, and has stepped up,” Neu said. “Chris Paul has obviously been playing great. I don’t think we could ask more of him. What would be great is if we could kind of get our whole lineup going a little bit more, we could be really dangerous. At times, Cumberland has been really good, and obviously Erceg has, and Knapp. Kranson has been really steady lately, but we feel like if we could get everybody clicking, we could really have a pretty potent lineup.

“Going into the playoffs, going into the last series, you’d like to get one or two more of those guys rolling a little bit, because it really makes it tough on an opposing team, if you have four or five of those guys playing at their highest level. I think we’d be pretty tough to pitch to.”


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