Friday, June 17, 2011

game preview: California

Date/Time: Sunday, June 19; 2 PM


History against the Bears: 0-0

Last matchup: Never

Last game: UVA 3, UCI 2 (6/13); Cal 6, DBU 2 (6/12)

Last weekend: UVA 2-1 over UC-Irvine; Cal 2-0 over Dallas Baptist

National rankings: this is Omaha, brutha, forget that stuff, just play ball

Blogs of the enemy: California Golden Blogs

Cal's possible lineup:

C: Chadd Krist (.304-2-43)
1B: Devon Rodriguez (.288-5-34)
2B: Tony Renda (.335-3-42)
SS: Marcus Semien (.277-5-35)
3B: Mitch Delfino (.260-4-20)
LF: Austin Booker (.319-1-24)
CF: Darrel Matthews (.275-0-18)
RF: Chad Bunting (.276-7-23)
DH: Vince Bruno (.301-0-13)

Pitching probables: LHP Danny Hultzen (12-3, 1.49, 151 Ks) vs. RHP Erik Johnson (7-4, 2.91, 100 Ks)

Cal's bullpen:

RHP Kevin Miller (6-4, 2.59, 86 Ks)
LHP Kyle Porter (5-0, 1.59, 53 Ks)
RHP Logan Scott (1-1, 2.89, 29 Ks)
RHP Matt Flemer (4-2, 2.08, 36 Ks, 5 sv)

It's Omaha Time.

Let me just get you ready right now for the storylines that'll be beaten over your head during the game on Sunday:

- Cal was ready to drop baseball last fall, but a bunch of donors stepped in and saved the program, and now they're in the College World Series.
- Virginia nearly did the same ten years ago, and now they're in the College World Series as the #1 seed.
- How crazy is it that these two teams are meeting?

Now that we've done ESPN's job for them and gotten that out of the way, let's talk Cal baseball.

The week's big question was whether Cal's lefty starter Justin Jones would be ready to go on Sunday.  Answer: he won't.  That probably means right-hander Erik Johnson, who might be a better pitcher anyway.  Johnson is a big, legit pro prospect, drafted with the 80th overall pick by the White Sox.  He can throw four pitches well, but two consistently (a low-90s fastball and a good slider) and has control issues.  Johnson's issued 54 walks this year (more than one every two innings) which is more than twice the number of walks issued by any UVA pitcher.

UVA should be throwing CyberDanny Hultzen, of course.**  The #2 pick in the draft.  Cal will get some confidence out of having already beaten the #1 pick in the draft - they beat UCLA and Gerrit Cole last month, but it should be noted, the Cal batters scored just once off of Cole and UCLA never scored at all, their hitting being thoroughly miserable.  And they were dominated by Trevor Bauer the next day.  So, have no fear.  As ever, the only thing that can really slow down Danny Hultzen is Danny Hultzen, and even then he pitched six shutout innings against Irvine with his worst stuff of the season.

The Cal lineup is nothing to write home about.  I think Irvine's was probably better.  Cal didn't attract much attention from MLB drafters, although partly that's because their best hitter, Tony Renda, is a sophomore.  Renda leads the team in batting average and total bases and is just shy of the RBI lead, too.  Not much home run power, though.  Cal can spread some of that around the lineup, but no one hitter is a huge danger.  Chad Bunting leads the team with seven, and White Sox draftee Marcus Semien (sixth round) has five, as does Devon Rodriguez.  UVA isn't a home run-hitting team, and still we have John Hicks with eight.

Unlike the other baseball previews this season, this is a one-game shot.  So it comes down to this: Will Danny Hultzen be effective?  If so, we win.  Cal neither strikes out nor walks very much.  They like to get the ball into play.  The Rob Deer Fan Club does not approve.  This is A Good Thing; UVA's fielding percentage is fifth-best in the country, and Danny has a good shot at cruising through some of these innings with fewer than 10 pitches.  One the flip side, Johnson's propensity to walk hitters (if indeed we face Erik Johnson) should be helpful; a big strength of the UVA lineup is making you waste good pitches and then driving your mistakes into the gaps.  Look for UVA to go into full-on get-on-base-however-you-can mode.  I'm hopeful of getting this CWS kicked off on the right foot.

**Some folks see the setup of the tournament, which is a repeat of the last two weeks (a double-elimination four-team "regional" and then a best-two-of-three series, and assume we should use the same pitching strategy.  That is, save Hultzen for the all-important Game 2.  This is incorrect.  The CWS offers a day of rest, or two, between games, meaning if the best happens and we win two in a row, Hultzen can pitch Sunday and then pitch again on Friday.  The rest time in Omaha allows you to shorten up your pen.  Last time, Hultzen started both Game 1 and Game 3 (albeit after throwing just three innings in Game 1) because they were far enough apart, and Sunday starter Andrew Carraway found himself in long relief in both Games 2 and 3.  It may well be possible to get through the "regional" round of the tourney alternating Hultzen and Tyler Wilson, with Will Roberts and Cody Winiarski throwing in relief.  A guy like Will Roberts coming out of the pen?  Nasty.  On the pitching staff, UVA has the best horses in Omaha; it's time to ride.  Shorten the pen, shorten the rest, and win with your best.

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