Arizona State (25-14, 10-8 Pac-12) travels to the East Bay to face the California Golden Bears (23-19, 9-9 Pac-12) for their penultimate road series of the regular season. The Sun Devil offense comes in on a roll, scoring at least five runs in its last seven games.
Meanwhile, Cal is a middle of the Pac team that hit a good stretch in the schedule and capitalized. The Bears winning streak sits at four games, but their opponents have been lowly Washington and a San Jose State program that hasn’t had a winning season in over five years.
The Sun Devils have yet to get on a real roll this season, but after sweeping Rhode Island, the team has an opportunity to turn that page. However, the Bears sit right behind the Sun Devils in the standings, and a poor showing from Arizona State could drop them down in NCAA Tournament seeding.
On their best winning streak of the season, the Bears know a series win is virtually required to break into the postseason. This weekend series will feature playoff urgency.
Here is how both sides matchup going into this pivotal weekend series.
The Berkeley Boys can Bash
The Bears have hit almost double the home runs than their opponents this season (43-22). Right fielder Dylan Beavers has homered in three straight games to become the conference leader in leaving the yard. His teammate, third baseman Quentin Selma has five less than Beavers with eight homers. Only Stanford (51), which is on program-record pace, and Arizona (44) have more home runs in the conference this year than Cal.
Center fielder Nathan Manning leads the team in batting average with at least 100 plate appearances. Second baseman Darren Baker is the only other Golden Bear with a +.300 batting average.
Darren Baker? That Darren Baker? He is indeed Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker’s son. Bay Area residents and long-time baseball fans might remember his days as the toddler bat boy of the San Francisco Giants. My, how the time flies.
Remember when Dusty Baker's son was saved at home by JT Snow during the 2002 World Series?— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) June 14, 2017
Darren Baker just got drafted by the Nationals pic.twitter.com/sOWxXGPjrI
The Bears’ head coach Mike Neu has been tinkering with his staff all season, and might have found a diamond in the rough in new Friday night starter Josh White, who has held his opponents to a .204 batting average.
The Bears are used to close games at Evans Diamond, five of their 14 victories at home in 2021 have come on walk-offs.
Long Reigns, and the Fabulous Freshman Continue to Perform
Ethan Long has a bat hot enough to fry eggs in 30 seconds. For the past two weeks, the freshman from Gilbert, Ariz. has stomped opposing pitching on his way to being recognized as the now two-time reigning Pac-12 player of the week.
Long’s slash line during his last seven games features stats that would make you think EA Sports brought the MVP Baseball Series back. His slugging sits at an astronomical 1.433, he has reached base in more than half his at bats, and he has hit eight home runs during that timeframe.
This incredible stretch has brought Long, who has 10 homers so far, within two home runs of surpassing Barry Bonds for second on the school’s list of homers hit by a freshman in a single season. Long still has a ways to go to catch the record, set by 2020 MLB No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson (25) in 2018.
With the Sun Devils playing less than 20 minutes from where Bonds became the home run king, how fitting would it be if Long could find a pair this weekend in the Bay Area to move ahead of Bonds?
On This Date: Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's home run record with No. 756. pic.twitter.com/xRkI3DvZ9m— ESPN (@espn) August 7, 2018
While Long has seemingly burst into flames every time he has stepped into the batter’s box for the last two weeks, it is Sean McLain, another freshman, who has been the most consistent Sun Devil batter this season.
In any other year, a 23-game hit streak would be the biggest accomplishment for a freshman at Arizona State. 2021 just happens to be the year where 65% of the team’s at bats come from freshman, and one of them is on a historic pace. So McLain has quietly put together a .364 average with 14 doubles.
The pitching staff has remained solid outside of a track meet last weekend against Rhode Island. The last few weeks, solid is all the Sun Devils have needed. As the watch their freshman sensations tear baseballs up and set records, the pitchers have been given a margin for error wider than the Bay Bridge.
Still, that is not to say standout performances from Jared Glenn and Will Levine should be overlooked. We might need to start calling Levine “The Wolf” with how he gets this team out of jams. He has inherited 13 baserunners this season and allowed just one to score.
The biggest question to answer this weekend will be whether the Sun Devils can stay hot offensively. If they can, they will advance to 9-3 on weekend series in 2021.
Where/When to Watch
Friday: 6 p.m. MST/Cal Bears Live Stream
Saturday: 3 p.m. MST/Cal Bears Live Stream
Sunday: 1 p.m. MST/Cal Bears Live Stream