Cal hungry as Ducks arrive in Berkeley

Photo: The Bears hope to return to their winning ways against the Ducks.
Eugene W. Lau/File
The Bears hope to return to their winning ways against the Ducks.

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The last two weeks haven't just been rough for the Cal baseball team. They've been downright terrible.

After winning five in a row, the No. 20 Bears have dropped their last four in a row. Although those losses have come to good teams (No. 8 Arizona State and No. 21 Stanford), Cal's poor showing in all but its 17-inning loss to the Sun Devils ensured that no game was close.

Four conferences series remain in the season, so ending the slump now is almost essential if the Bears intend to take home their first conference crown since 1980. Luckily for them, Oregon - the weakest Pac-10 rival still left on the slate for Cal - comes to Evans Diamond this weekend for a three-game series. The first starts today at 2:30 p.m. with righty Erik Johnson (5-1, 2.04) on the mound for the Bears.

Johnson was one of the few bright spots for Cal (24-13, 9-6 in the Pac-10) in last week's 17-inning marathon against ASU. Johnson pitched what would have been a complete game on a normal day, giving up two runs through nine full frames.

Pitching hasn't been as much a problem for the Bears as hitting, though. On Monday's midweek nonconference jaunt to Stanford, Cal proved as much.

"Well, all I can say is, hitting can be very contagious and first six innings. We couldn't string it together, just like we've been in the early past," right fielder Vince Bruno said. "We've been struggling lately."

Because of those struggles, coach David Esquer pulled the entire starting eight in the seventh inning of Monday's contest. The bench scored all five of Cal's runs.

"Coach made a big move," Bruno said. "It just shows how you can take bats for granted sometimes and sometimes you can dig in and get something going ... Our bench guys did a great job igniting us."

The bench likely won't make an en masse appearance today, which means the starters need to return to their former glory. A few weeks ago, the Bears were hitting over .300 as a team; now they're batting .290. They were shut out twice in a row by the Sun Devils; they hadn't been shut out at all up to that point.

The Ducks' pitching staff is nothing to sneeze at with their 2.81 staff ERA, but their team batting average should help Cal out, even if the Bears have another off day.

The Ducks (21-18, 4-8) have rarely scored more than five runs in any game - win or loss - over the last month.

Although batting averages have been slipping for Cal, it still possesses a lineup loaded with talented hitters. Second baseman Tony Renda's 52 hits still rank in the top five in the conference and catcher Chadd Krist's 20 doubles and center fielder Darrel Matthew's four triples still top the Pac-10.

It's only a matter of time before the Bears right the ship. It just needs to be soon.


Katie Dowd covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]

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