ABL Round Five: won't someone think of the pitchers?
14 December 2017
Week Five of the Australian Baseball League is the first round of back-to-back series either side of the All Star break.
It’s an eight game stretch against the same opponent that can make or break your season - just ask the Blue Sox, who last year went from contending for playoffs to pretty much cooked.
Is having back-to-back series fair in a 10-round season? It’s a quirk of the schedule, no doubt. But it could have a massive impact on the year. There’s enormous pressure on teams in the lower half of the standings to get things right lest they find themselves too far gone.
Speaking of gone, it’s not a good season to be a pitcher in the ABL. It really does feel like three quarters of the league is hitting .780, a feeling not helped when we’re watching one handed swings on one knee with the bat at ground level regularly carrying fences around the country.
I swear I even saw Donald Lutz hit a triple. At Holloway. I swear it!
We’ve had a total of 111 long balls on the year, or 1.23 homeruns per game. That’s on par with the MLB season just done (1.26 per game) which was universally cheered as the best offensive season yet but full of conspiracy theory about bat and ball manufacturing processes.
The best way to gauge how juicy the balls are would be to have a home run derby during All Star weekend…But I’m full of crazy ideas. Obviously no one wants to see that, or they’d be doing it.
Already 48 players have gone yard at least once and four players are tied at five, only two behind last year’s league leader. Are we in for more this week? Read on….....
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ADELAIDE BITE versus BRISBANE BANDITS (West Beach)
Game 1: Friday 7.00 pm ACT WATCH LIVE
Game 2: Saturday 4.00 pm ACT WATCH LIVE
Game 3: Saturday 7.00 pm ACT WATCH LIVE
Game 4: Sunday 1.00 pm ACT WATCH LIVE
I’ve held out writing off the Bite for 17/18 because I still think it’s too early, but the coup de grace for their season is closer than ever. If they can’t get at least a split series against Brisbane they can forget about any play in February and keep putting work into their quality youngsters.
It’s not like the Bite were run out of Perth last week, either. Adelaide actually led in three of the four games but again gave up runs in bunches and fell away.
Import Stephen Lohr is a shining light, hitting .407 but with no support. Connar O’Gorman knocked out a few hits in Perth but he’s capable of more and Tai-San Chang has 10 RBI, but is yet to go deep.
Another offensive hope is 19 year old Jordan McArdle, who has reached base in eight of his last ten games and hit a three run bomb in the top of the ninth on Friday to tie things up.
Angus Roeger started the season well but has faded a touch. Darius Day finally looks at home at the plate, but it might all be too late for Adelaide to make something of the year.
Brisbane have more important things to worry about than their opponent’s travails. They’ve got designs on home finals and historic threepeats and would expect to win this series.
But expectation is one thing, performance is another. Brisbane have so far been able to perform to a level to keep them in front of the chasers, particularly through their pitching.
It was somewhat of a shock to see that Friday’s win was Ryan Bollinger’s first for Brisbane - he’s been fantastic setting the early tone for the Bandits.
Prediction: Bandits 3-1
We should see a ‘run of the mill’ series for the Bandits, but a note of caution. Brisbane are giving their opponents moments of huge opportunity in games – it’s up to Adelaide to do something about it.
MELBOURNE ACES versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (Melbourne Ballpark)
Game 1: Friday 7.00 pm AEST WATCH LIVE
Game 2: Saturday 5.00 pm AEST
Game 3: Saturday 7.30 pm AEST
Game 4: Sunday 1.00 pm AEST
Sydney stare down their season at Laverton, with a series loss making a postseason spot infinitely more difficult.
Sydney weren’t bad against the Bandits in Brisbane, a hard fought series where they were in contention most of the weekend. They got walked off on Sunday in the 10th and left the winning run on base in Saturday’s early game - turn these moments around, and things look a lot different.
But they didn’t, and the reality is they got swept and are 1-10 since round one. They’re three games behind the Aces for the last postseason spot and although Sydney’s errors are down and pitching is good, if they can’t make something of themselves (and their multiple men on base) in this back to back series it’s all irrelevant.
Blue Sox infielder Chih-Hsien Chiang is having a fantastic year. Second for hits, tied for first for homers, 44 total bases and fourth for RBI (16). What stands out though is that Chiang has only struck out four times in 58 at bats.
‘Young veteran’ Jacob Younis is also having a great season, hitting .383 with six doubles.
The Aces had limited opponents to 47 runs in their first four weeks… Then copped 42 runs from 54 hits over the weekend in the nation’s capital.
But as bad as that sounds, they were still a heartbeat away from snatching a series split.
Mark Hamburger has already conceded more runs this year than last year and more than double the homeruns. He’s still top three for strikeouts but (I seem to write this each week) his Friday outings are not the table setters for Melbourne’s weekends like they used to be.
Delmon Young is in a nice groove, hitting safely in eight of his last ten games with a grand slam in Canberra. Tyler Neslony looks to be a handy player and Darryl George’s work in the infield is great to watch if you get a chance.
Japanese import catcher Tomoya Mori has left the Aces a week early due to a reported knee injury. I’m going to miss his funky batting stance, which was incredibly difficult to duplicate.
These teams are one and two for home runs conceded. Usually I’d say Melbourne Ballpark will keep hitters inside the fence, but this is a strange year for balls going a long way.
Last year the back to back series was the killer for the Blue Sox and this year they’ll need to at least split the two series to stay in touch.
Prediction: Melbourne 3-1
I was agonizing over calling a split series here. This will be grinding, attritional baseball with plenty on the line for both clubs. Sydney did push Brisbane hard, even though the final results don’t show it. They’ve had an appalling record since week one but they are better than that record would offer.
Melbourne have been able to shake off their bad performances this year and come back well. I think their pitching and defence gets back on track this weekend.
CANBERRA CAVALRY versus PERTH HEAT (Narrabundah)
Game 1: Thursday 7.00 pm AEST WATCH LIVE
Game 2: Friday 7.00 pm AEST
Game 3: Saturday 7.00 pm AEST
Game 4: Sunday 12.00 am AEST
This series is the pick of the week (and probably next week) with some great hitting and aggressive teams going at each other.
The Cavs hitters went bananas against the Aces but still had to depend on some late David Kandilas hitting to take the series on Sunday.
There’s so many fireworks in Canberra this year that John Hargreaves has to keep his dogs inside for the first time since he banned fun in 2009.
Canberra trashed the Aces' much-vaunted defence, with young Gabriel Arias having a whale of a series. Arias went 7-17, scored six times, hit three bombs, drove in six runs and still had time for a golden sombrero in game three.
Perth took their home series against the Bite but it wasn’t without challenge, including a comeback from a 0-5 first inning deficit in game three.
Andy Kyle has his team humming along and they’re loving life on the basepaths – they’ve got 28 steals which is more than double the next best. Men on base plus consistent hitting is getting Perth fans excited in ways they haven’t felt for a while.
Perth and Canberra share 11 of the ABL’s top 20 hitters and are second and third for homeruns, so outfielders might want to take a good book out there.
Prediction: Split 2-2
We still await 2017/18’s first split series and this one is a likely candidate. These teams match well in hitting and pitching, maybe with just a slight pitching edge to the Cavs.
If you can get an eye or ear on this series over the weekend, do it. And if you want to collect a few Brett Brothers used match balls, go hang out near diamond two with a fishing net, because a bunch of long balls will be landing out there.
Image: Canberra Times