The California Golden Bears continue their date with destiny as they open their 2011 College World Series against the Virginia Cavaliers, listed as the number one overall seed heading into the original 64-team tournament. Cal is guaranteed at least two games since the tournament is a double elimination set-up. However, for now, Cal will be focusing in on the Cavaliers in hopes of getting themselves into the winner's bracket.
Although we do our best to cover Bay Area sports here at SB Nation Bay Area, many of us have not watched much college baseball prior to the NCAA tournament. Accordingly, I thought it would be useful to get a basic preview of Cal into this thread. I spoke with norcalnick from California Golden Blogs and he was kind enough to take a few minutes to provide a basic breakdown of the Cal baseball team.
It's fast become common knowledge that the Cal baseball team was on the verge of budgetary elimination before a last minute fundraising drive raised enough money to keep the team afloat. While that is an essential storyline with this team, I asked norcalnick to provide more on-field information so we know what to watch for on Sunday against Virginia and beyond. Here's what he had to say:
Cal's pitching is the strength of the team, and what they might lack in star power they make up for in depth and consistency. Power righty Erik Johnson and southpaw Justin Jones have both been excellent this year, though Jones did have to leave Saturday's super-regional after six innings with arm cramps and it's unknown if that will impact him in Omaha. Dixon Anderson and Kevin Miller have also been frequent starters, and both are capable performers. Cal's bullpen is arguably the strength of the team, as Matt Flemer, Logan Scott and Kyle Porter have all been excellent this year.
Cal's lineup has been less consistent, though some of their struggles can be blamed on some of the truly elite pitching found in the Pac-10 this year. Cal relies on 2nd baseman Tony Renda and catcher Chadd Krist to make the offense go, but the Bears are at their best when they get contributions from up and down the lineup. Austin Booker, Marcus Semien and Devon Rodriguez will all need to contribute for Cal to advance. The Bears can't rely on the long ball, but most of the lineup has a little bit of pop. Cal's real strength is the ability to put the ball in play. They may not show a ton of patience at the plate, but they don't strike out much either. Opposing defenses have to earn their outs.
Defensively, Cal is much improved from the 2010 season. Marcus Semien took major strides after an iffy sophomore year, and his defense was a big reason why he was taken in the 6th round of the draft by the Chicago White Sox. Darrell Matthews and Austin Booker have both shown excellent range in center field and left field respectively. Pac-10 teams tried to steal against the Bears frequently, but Chadd Krist successfully threw out more than a third of the attempts and is generally capable around the plate.