It was only months ago that the Golden Bears’ baseball team was making national headlines for its unlikely College World Series run in the wake of the program’s brush with extinction.
Now, California arrives at Dedeaux Field to take on USC, eager to turn around a rough start to 2012 that has left the Golden Bears at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings at the midway point of the season.
The Trojans, however, should be prepared to face the team that made a run at Omaha, Neb., last season, not the one treading water in one of the nation’s toughest conferences. Cal is just 1-5 against the two Pac-12 teams it has faced thus far, but is coming off a road series win over No. 25 Texas and could be primed for the type of run that it went on in 2011.
That’s mostly because of Cal’s lineup, which features six regulars hitting .300 or better and is led by infielder Tony Renda’s .351 mark.
USC’s likely senior starters, Andrew Triggs and Ben Mount, along with freshman Stephen Tarpley, won’t keep players like Renda and junior Darrel Matthews completely off the base paths, but neutralizing the hitters in front of and behind them would bode well for the Trojans.
Not to say USC’s offense won’t have just as big an impact on the series. Of all the players who have started at least 20 games for the Trojans, four are hitting .333 or better.
That appears to match up well on paper with Cal’s starting staff, which, aside from senior Matt Flemer, has struggled.
The Golden Bears’ other two probable pitchers for the weekend, Michael Theofanopoulos and Justin Jones, both have earned run averages above 4.30, with Jones’ sitting at 5.45.
That last statistic is particularly concerning for the Golden Bears, who just last year saw Jones receive All Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors to go along with a 9-6 record and a tidy 2.93 ERA.
With two starters possessing ERA in the lower threes, USC would appear to have an advantage on the mound heading into the weekend.
It doesn’t hurt that Tarpley, likely to start Saturday’s series finale, still has yet to lose a game as a Trojan.
The games were moved up to avoid playing the series finale on Easter Sunday. Thursday and Friday’s games begin at 6 p.m., with a 1 p.m. first pitch for Saturday’s series finale.