In order to get to know California better before this weekend's series, BTD did a quick Q&A with Nicolas Kranz over at California Golden Blogs. Be sure to check out Nick and CGB throughout May and June for all your Golden Bear Baseball related needs. His answers are below. To view my replies to Nick's questions, please click here. Enjoy!
Q. Erik Johnson is Friday's probable starter for California. How has he looked so far this season?
A. Pretty darn good - he's right there in the conversation with Sam Gaviglio, Tyler Anderson from Oregon and Adam Plutko from UCLA as '2nd best pitching in the conference behind Bauer'. He's a fastball-curveball-changeup pitcher, and the fastball is the pitch that makes him special - he gets good, consistent velocity and locates well. He's only had one truly bad start in Pac-10 play, when he allowed two 2 run homers to Ricky Oropesa and USC. Other than that he's either won or been victimized by lack of run support or bullpen failures.
Q. What should we expect to see out of the California bullpen? A mixture of relievers, or just a long reliever and a closer?
A. Cal has had the luxury of strong weekend starting pitching, and that means that Cal's bullpen has generally only had to go about three players deep.
Kyle Porter is a lefty but has been used as a set up man rather than just a lefty specialist. Matt Flemer has been closing games out. And Kevin Miller has been whatever Coach Esquer wants him to be. He's nominally Cal's 4th starter, but he has pitched so well that they like to use him on weekend series whenever he's needed. That can mean an inning here or there, or it can mean long relief, as we saw against Oregon last Sunday.
Q. The Beavers are a very young team, what about the Golden Bears? Are they very young, and which newcomers have made an impact thus far?
A. Cal was pretty young last year, but this year the vast majority of the contributors have been sophomores, juniors and seniors, so there haven't been many new names in the mix. Andrew Knapp is the back up catcher has been getting some time at designated hitter, and Kyle Porter has been a reliable bullpen arm, but after that it's mostly just the occasional pinch hitting or long relief opportunity.
Q. What is California's offensive identity? More "swing for the fences", or a lot of small ball like the Beavers play?
A. Very much small ball, for better or for worse. Coach Esquer tended to favor small ball strategies even before the bat size regulations this year. Frankly, I tend to get very frustrated with Cal's frequent sacrifice bunt attempts and stolen base attempts. I understand that there is sometimes a time and a place for a good bunt, but too often Cal's better hitters are asked to sacrifice. And Cal's 65% stolen base success rate just isn't high enough to risk continued steal attempts.
But while a few players have the power to pop a home run, it's not nearly a frequent enough occurance to build an offense around.
Q. Who should Beaver fans be looking out for on California's roster?
A. On the mound I've already talked about Erik Johnson, but Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson are both pretty solid. Matt Flemer has been nasty this season, striking out more than a batter an inning, and has been very reliable thus far.
Hitting wise, it's definitely Chadd Krist. His home runs are down from last year, but he's a doubles machine and he always gives the Bears a great at bat. He's exactly the guy we want up during a critical moment in the game, and it seems like he always comes through. Tony Renda is the other big hitter, and recently was moved back into the lead-off spot that he occupied frequently during his freshman All-American campaign last year.
Also, watch out for Austin Booker. He's batting 9th, but he's arguably Cal's most consistent hitter, though he could stand to walk a bit more.
Rest of the Q&A after the break
Q. What does California have to do in the last month of the season to make the NCAA Tournament?
A. I'd like to think that Cal is already safely in, but Cal has been shocked before so I won't be taking anything for granted. I think simply not getting swept in the last three series of the season would be enough, considering the last three series are against Oregon St., UCLA and Stanford, with the first two on the road.
Q. After knowing that the baseball program would be reinstated, did you notice a difference in how the team played and acted, or has it been the same all season?
A. A few have tried to speculate that the team 'lost their edge' after getting reinstated, since they lost two of three in Tucson and then got swept at home to Arizona St. But they also swept Washington on the road. I'm much more inclined to blame Cal's recent struggles on the uptick in the quality of the opposition rather than some kind of psychological let down.
Q. Adding on to the previous question, how many players transferred out of California after thinking that there would be no more Cal baseball, and were those players a big part of the team?
A. Just three players transferred, which was a surprisingly low number in my mind. Two of the players who transferred were freshmen last year who mostly provided depth - one as a pinch hitter, the other at the back of the bullpen. The biggest loss was probably Eric Jaffe, who was a pretty big pitching recruit and was nabbed by UCLA. He hasn't played yet for the Bruins (though I was under the impression he wouldn't have to sit out a year) but I wouldn't be surprised to hear from him further down the line.
A. It would be folly to predict Cal taking more than 1 game in the series the way the Beavers have been playing lately. But I'd like to think that Cal could steal a game. I'm thinking that if it happens it will either be because Erik Johnson has his best stuff on Friday, or because Cal manages to scratch out a few runs against Oregon State's 3rd starter (which seems relatively unsettled?) on Sunday.
I guess it's possible that both of those things happen and the Bears somehow escape with a series win. But that seems improbable considering how iffy Cal's hitting has been lately.