ABL Week Five:  some gaps appearing

Although less than favourable weather is expected for a crucial Week Five of Australian Baseball League that commences on Thursday evening, supporters will be hoping for a surfeit of action during a round of great importance to all clubs as we approach the half-way point.

 

Third in its division, Adelaide Bite will play host to Canberra Cavalry – which will be keen to stay in touch with the Northeast leaders – while Sydney Blue Sox, at home, will be looking for a bold showing against an in-form Melbourne Aces.

 

Both on the receiving end of a home sweep last week, Geelong-Korea and Auckland Tuatara have much to play for in their match-up at Waurn Ponds, while other serious interest will be focused on Holloway Field – where Brisbane and Perth clash in an interdivisional blockbuster.

 

AJ Mithen

13 December 2018

 

Before we begin this week, a note on behalf of the Australian Baseball Alumni to wish Brisbane’s Loek Van Mil and his family strength and support as Loek recovers from the serious injuries he suffered last weekend while bushwalking in Canberra.

 

The Australian baseball community has a history of showing solidarity and support for our people in difficult times like this, with rivalries set aside and genuine compassion shown across clubs and their supporters. This has been no different.

 

We also marvel at the Brisbane Bandits’ ability to perform to such a high standard in their series against Canberra with so much uncertainty weighing on their minds.

 

As we head towards the second half of the season, it’s time we studied up on how things might play out at the business end. Now I may or may not have this right and I’m not doing tiebreakers, but here goes.

 

If the season ended today, according to the standings on the ABL website the playoff picture is:

 

Melbourne hosting the winner of the wild card game between Sydney and Adelaide.

Brisbane hosting Perth, even though Perth have won more games (11 v 10). That’s the joy of divisional play!

 

Now I hear you all yelling “it’s only halfway and plenty can happen in 20 games plus possible washout replays so don’t go around predicting the postseason” - and you’re right. But where’s the fun in that? Every series this week is hugely meaningful to the postseason race. And the best part is that almost every round from here on in will be just as important.

 

Let’s get to some predictions. And hoping the weather forecasts are wrong for all four series.

 

We’re keen to get your thoughts on ABL Week Five. Let us know on the Australian Baseball Alumni FACEBOOK page. To debate these previews, make suggestions or to offer information, visit @AJMithen on Twitter. All efforts are made to show correct broadcast times, but for definitive broadcast information check the official ABL website.

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (West Beach)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 7.20 pm local time (Forecast weather: 18, showers)       ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 2:   Friday 7.20 pm local time (20, showers)                             

Game 3:   Saturday 7.20 pm local time (24, shower or two)                                                   

Game 4:   Sunday 11.30 am local time (24, cloudy)               

 

Right now, Canberra are three games behind Adelaide for the Wild Card spot and four games behind Sydney and an automatic postseason spot. They can’t mess about if they want to extend their season but there’s no simple challenge ahead of them this weekend.

 

Adelaide took to Geelong-Korea with relish and have shown throughout the year they can match it with the best. If there’s a wrinkle, it’s that the Bite have given up the second most hits to opposition hitters and they’re second for runs allowed with 77. For all the Markus Solbach strikeouts, do Adelaide have the ability to keep the Cavalry tied down like they have been all year?

 

Canberra’s starting pitching has been phenomenal but they’ve been getting absolutely no run support. The Sunday battle between current bite starter Greg Mosel and former Bite starter Steve Chambers will be the one to decide who takes more ground in the standings.

 

Prediction: Split

 

This weekend is critical to both clubs’ intentions for 2018/19, but the picture may not be any clearer after this series. Again weather may play a part in how much baseball gets played.

  

BRISBANE BANDITS versus PERTH HEAT (Holloway Field)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 6.00 pm local time (31, late shower or storm)            ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 2:   Friday 6.00 pm local time (29, showers/possible storm)                 

Game 3:   Saturday 2.30 pm local time (28, showers/possible storm)                     ABLTV

Game 4:   Saturday 6.00 pm local time (28, showers/possible storm)                    ABLTV  

 

There’s no easy road to a #4peat for the Bandits, playing their third straight series against a difficult opponent. So far, they’ve shown they’re more than capable of handling what the ABL can throw at them.

 

Perth have the pitching to pin down the Bandits. Out of the bullpen Ryan Flores has only allowed two hits from 26 batters faced and Conor Lourey continues his great season, with opponents only hitting .151 against him.

 

All that can change up in Brisbane though, where homeruns occur as regularly as Claxton Shields. Perth’s Baltimore Orioles prospect Chris Clare leads the ABL with a .410 average from 12 games but he doesn’t have a homerun yet. Will Brisbane’s stellar lineup keep him barren?

 

Brisbane’s last series against Canberra was astonishing in its closeness, with every game in the balance to the last out. The Bandits were able to pull out a 3-1 series as Matt Timms took the lead out of the bullpen.

 

Timms leads the league for holds (5) and has a save already. He’s not phased by the pressure moments and he’ll face plenty of them against a hot Perth lineup. Let’s not forget a fella named Ryan Bollinger, either. In Van Mil’s absence and with Ryan Searle out of action there’s still high quality arms to guide the Bandits through the late moments.

 

Compared to the hitting explosion of the last few years, it’s quite incredible Brisbane have been able to keep in front of the division when they’re hitting .238 as a team and scoring ‘only’ five runs a game.

 

Their pitching and defence is still a benchmark and their seemingly inevitable ownership of the clutch moments is something other clubs dream of.

 

Prediction: Split

 

Are Perth serious about winning a title? Here’s their chance to flash their credentials. This will be a great battle between pitcher and batter. In round nine last year Perth went to Brisbane and took a split, I think they’ll be able to do it again.

 

GEELONG-KOREA versus AUCKLAND TUATARA (Geelong Baseball Centre)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 6.30 pm local time (22, rain and storms)                            ABLTV

Game 2:   Friday 6.30 pm local time (22 heavy showers)                    ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 3:   Saturday 7.00 pm local time (26, shower or two)                               ABLTV

Game 4:   Sunday 1.00 pm local time (26, shower or two)                                  ABLTV

 

Oh, Geelong Korea. I wanted to believe you could take your chances and get a split last week but your pitching remains deplorable and you’ve got a real talent for making little-league standard errors that open the floodgates for your opponent.

 

There’s some definite positives, though. Tae-Joon Lim has been great around the plate catching and hitting. Seung-Hun Kim has been good in the infield and starter Jin-Yong Jang has been head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet above his fellow Geelong-Korea pitchers, fighting a lone battle on weekends as the rest of the crew self-destruct around him. God help the side and the scoreboards if anything happens to Jang.

 

Auckland weren’t much better last week in getting swept by the BlueSox. The New Zealanders start 40 days in Australia without star pitcher Kyle Glogoski, shut down after a good body of work in 2018.

 

Auckland have had trouble getting on base, let alone getting around the bases. They’re dead last for hits, runs, RBIs and walks. They’ve only hit four home runs. As a guide, six individual players have at least four long balls this season. You name a major offensive stat, Auckland’s probably last - except for stolen bases, oddly. They lead the league with 19!

 

Does this change this week? Auckland are a live yet highly unlikely postseason chance but the only way they keep their season lukewarm is to take all four games in Geelong. Behind Guiyan Xiu, Max Brown, Kris Richards and a decent pitching staff surely they’ll push for that outcome.

 

To the weather. After a scorching weekend against Adelaide there’s no respite for the fans down Geelong way. The weather forecast is abominable, so bring a poncho, and hope for the best.

 

Prediction: Auckland win

 

Of the two newbies it’s the New Zealanders who have caught the pace of the competition faster. The only thing that could save Geelong-Korea is the forecast downpour of biblical proportions.

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus MELBOURNE ACES (Blacktown International Sportspark)

 

Game 1:   Friday 7.30 pm local time (29, rain increasing)                                                       

Game 2:   Saturday 3.30 pm local time (31, possible shower)               ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 3:   Saturday 6.30 pm local time (31, possible shower)               ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 4:   Sunday 1.00 pm local time (30, cloudy)

 

Are the Blue Sox finally for real? It’s looking that way, isn’t it. Their ruthless dispatching of Auckland left them half a game behind Brisbane and with their destiny in their own hands.

 

But we’re approaching a tough few weeks for the Blue Sox where they play three straight series against teams in playoff positions. Manager Tony Harris will have hammered into his squad the importance of getting something out of this battle with Melbourne.

 

It’s going to be a big weekend for pitching. Sydney have two of the top three strikeout merchants in the ABL with Alex Maestri and Josh Guyer. Maestri and Nick Fanti will be under pressure in their starts against the underrated Luke Westphal and proven performer Dushan Ruzic in games one and three.

 

The teams are pretty evenly matched as far as hitting goes, but there’s definite separation when it comes to homeruns (Aces 19, Sydney 7). Melbourne have made it count so far when they get on base but it’ll be tough against a Sydney bullpen which has Ty’Relle Harris, Todd van Steensel and Craig Anderson doing good work.

 

Melbourne welcome back Jon Kennedy to the bullpen and he’ll add more quality in the later innings. With Kennedy added to Tyler Fallwell (four hits allowed through 41 hitters) and Hiromasa Saito (no earned runs allowed in 12.2 innings), the Aces have a great setup to support their hitters.

 

Sydney’s Gift Ngoepe is listed as a reserve for Sydney this week, at time of publication it wasn’t clear why or how or if he’ll be used if at all. Maybe it’s a points thing. He was on a nine game hitting streak and a 12 game on base streak, so that could be an unexpected bonus for the Aces.

 

Prediction: Split

 

This will be a belter of a series matching quality pitching with aggressive hitting. Sydney should be able to manufacture enough runs against a tough Melbourne outfit to jag a couple of wins, rain permitting.

 

Image:  Perth Now