Cal baseball’s hot start to the season seems like a distant memory. A tough tournament at the Frisco Classic, along with three straight losses to open Pac-12 conference play against Arizona, has the blue and gold with an overall record of 8-6.
The three straight losses also put the Bears at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, but the team will look to end the winless drought against the Trojans this week.
It won’t be an easy task, however.
So far this month, head coach Mike Neu and his squad have won just two games. In the seven games played so far, six of them saw the Bears allow six or more runs. As the former pitching coach for Cal, Neu will have to implement his pitching prowess on a team that needs to limit the opposition’s run production.
It is doubtful Bears’ ace Ian May will make his return to the mound after he suffered an injury against Oklahoma two weeks ago. In three starts and 16 innings pitched so far, the sophomore boasts a 0.00 ERA, along with a 0.75 WHIP and an opponent’s batting average of just .158. Fellow pitchers Connor Sullivan and Tucker Bougie, who both allowed four earned runs against Arizona, will need to shake off their rough starts and step up.
To make the upcoming series even more daunting, the Trojans are coming off strong performances against No. 2 Stanford in Pac-12 play, where they took two wins of the three-game series.
At the moment, USC has six qualified players who hold an OPS above .900 and a batting average over .280. In comparison, Cal’s Rodney Green Jr. is the only player for the blue and gold who meets these criteria. Outfielders Austin Overn and Cole Gabrielson are two bats to look out for.
Freshman Overn has a .344 batting average, good enough to put him among the top 20 in the Pac-12. His outfield counterpart, Gabrielson, not only has a batting average of .306, but also has an OPS of 1.218, six home runs and 18 RBIs. The latter two statistics put him first and seventh in the conference, respectively.
The Bears will need to put runs on the board to match the serious offensive production by the Trojans. The established duo of Caleb Lomavita and Green Jr. has been as reliable as ever. Lomavita has a .311 batting average, .898 OPS, 12 RBIs and just seven strikeouts in 61 plate appearances. Green Jr. is hitting .298, while also producing an OPS of .946 to go along with four home runs and eight stolen bases.
Peyton Schulze and Carson Crawford, who both have shown flashes of excellence, will need to display consistency for a Bears team in dire need of offensive help. Schulze, who was off to a slow start, has picked it up in the month of March, driving in 13 runs. Crawford leads the team in RBIs with 16, while holding an OPS of .822.
Putting offense and defense together seems to be the key to getting out of this slump. A strong series against the Trojans could alter the blue and gold’s Pac-12 season trajectory.