ABL Week Nine: roster lotto.....where IS everybody?
18 January 2018
One of the joys of writing up ABL previews is the unpredictability of club rosters and who will be in and out for any given series.
I’ve been caught out a few times pointing out players to watch, then seeing them not play on a weekend or disappearing from the ABL altogether. Players also quietly land on rosters - almost ninja-like - with little fanfare or notice ahead of a series.
Things don't get easier this week, with a host of international talent headed for the exits at precisely the wrong time of the year.
Just this week, Buddy Reed is gone from Canberra, Chih-hsien Chang has left a gaping hole in Sydney’s lineup and you can bank that before the end of the year more key players will be gone.
We all understand and accept the transitory nature of the ABL. Sometimes it feels like an arrivals and departures hall for affiliated and international players. But is this fair on the young Australian player brought in to cover a pitcher like Kona Takahashi or a hitter like Chang? How can they be expected to make an impact so late in the picture?
There was another huge outbreak of home runs in Round Eight. Theories are rife - the balls and bats are juiced, the ballparks are too small, the wind is blowing out, you name it.
I’d like to present theory of my own. In this year’s ABL there’s a sprinkling of early round MLB draft picks, former CPBL MVPs and record holders, a few Major League bats (one in particular who won an American League Championship Series MVP) and Australians coming off career best seasons abroad.
Is it just maybe possible that the hitting quality is streets ahead of what has come before?
Let’s get into the previews.
We’re keen to get your thoughts on what will happen in Week Nine. Let us know on the Australian Baseball Alumni’s FACEBOOK page. To ridicule these previews, visit @AJMithen on twitter.
MELBOURNE ACES versus ADELAIDE BITE (Melbourne Ballpark)
Game 1: Thursday 7.00 pm AEDST
Game 2: Friday 7.00 pm AEDST WATCH LIVE Game 3: Saturday 6.30 pm AEDST
Game 4: Sunday 1.00 pm AEDST
The weekend matchup with the biggest finals impact sees the Bite head east, looking to ruin Melbourne’s last homestand of the year and possibly their season.
It may not be that hard for Adelaide to wreck things for the locals, either. Melbourne are 6-15 at home since the 2016 All Star break. They haven’t won a home series since round three against Brisbane, going down to Perth, Canberra and Sydney.
Melbourne have been scrambling to cover roster holes since their Japanese imports and Atlanta prospect Brett Cumberland departed.
To show the impact of the Aces partnership with Seibu Lions, Australian baseball Alumni correspondent-at-large Stuart Capel crunched some numbers during the week and came up with some significant findings, namely:
- The Aces are 96-115 (45.4%) with the Japanese players and 53-85 (38.4%) without
- Melbourne have finished over .500 just twice after their Japanese players have gone home (both times making the ABLCS).
Last year with Keisuke Honda on the mound and Shogo Noda in the bullpen, the Aces went 15-5. Once they left (combined with Ronald Acuna leaving early), Melbourne were 11-11, including the ill-fated ABLCS.
It begs two questions. If you go into a season knowing you’re going to lose real quality talent halfway through, how serious can you be about making a concerted championship push? Also, how do Melbourne fans see the partnership between the clubs? I’m not convinced they’d be too thrilled about its returns.
Melbourne’s performance in Brisbane was not one of a team with genuine championship credentials. They were absolutely brutalised from the outset. Adelaide also got swept in the nation’s capital although they put up a fight here and there. Their bullpen continues to leak runs with no apparent solution.
At least the Bite welcome back their South Australian u18 representatives Curtis Mead and Mason Clavell, who have not shrunk in the limelight since coming into the squad. There’s also a chance Australian Under 18 representative Ky Hampton will take to the mound.
Prediction: Melbourne 3-1
This is done with no confidence and is based purely and simply on the pitching matchup and Adelaide’s missing imports. But you’re on your last warning, Aces.
BRISBANE BANDITS versus PERTH HEAT (Holloway Field)
Game 1: Thursday 6.30 pm AET WATCH LIVE Game 2: Friday 6.30 pm AET WATCH LIVE
Game 3: Saturday 3.30 pm AET WATCH LIVE
Game 4: Saturday 6.30 pm AET WATCH LIVE
It’s 1 v 2 and it’s Perth’s last shot at being close enough to make a final round push for the top. Perth need a series win to close the 2.5 game gap between the teams, while a split should be good enough to secure first place for Brisbane.
‘Good enough’ certainly hasn’t been the way the champs have approached this season though. The Bandits went over to Perth in week two and gave the Heat a hiding, knocking them off axis after they’d had a great win in Melbourne to start their season.
It’s a lesson Perth will not have missed and they’ll be banking on their prolific offense to take the fight to their hosts.
Brisbane absolutely dominated Melbourne for five straight wins in round eight while Perth battled hard against Sydney to take a 4-1 result.
Heat manager Andy Kyle will be pleased with the fight and grit his team displays, but there has to be a slight concern about how they can give up runs in bunches. Brisbane are the last team you want to have a big inning or two against you, because there may not be any coming back.
The Heat’s bats are in a good place. Jesse Williams is in rare form and Luke Hughes is on the cusp of his best ABL season numbers-wise.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention Tim Kennelly, who went 2-4 with a double and a homer on Sunday… Then got changed and headed out during the bottom of the seventh inning to help battle bushfires in Perth’s surrounds!
For the home team David Sutherland and Donald Lutz were exceptional last week and Tim Atherton, Zac Treece, Ryan Searle and young local Ryan Ihle were good from the mound. It’s Brisbane’s consistent work from up and down the roster that has them where they are now.
Prediction: Brisbane 3-1
Perth will come hard at the Bandits, looking for a shot at top spot but also to return the favour from round two. But with Ake and co. approaching the peak of their powers it’s hard to see the Heat getting over the line.
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Blacktown Sportspark)
Game 1: Friday 7.30 pm AEDST
Game 2: Saturday 3.30 pm AEDST
Game 3: Saturday 6.30 pm AEDST
Game 4: Sunday 4.00 pm AEDST WATCH LIVE
The men from the capital need a big series win and a favourable outcome up north to make a dent in second-placed Perth’s 2.5 game lead.
But it won’t be a simple task as they head to Sydney to face a team only one game out of the finals and with all to play for.
With his number one weapon Chih-hsien Chang gone, Tony Harris would be praying that Zac Shepherd continues his form from his first series back. Max Brennen and Jacob Younis have worked to keep the bases populated, but the Blue Sox leave more people stranded than the city’s train network.
Stalwart Trent D’Antonio is doing what he can, including a 5-6 game in the Sunday madness out west.
Sydney had another frustrating outing against Perth, losing two tight games and chasing down a nine-run deficit before falling short by one run again in game four.
Sunday’s 22-19 rugby score got the Blue Sox a key win in the context of their season, keeping them alive in the finals race.
Can the Cavalry cover having such significant holes punched in their hitting and defence? They’ve already lost Conor Panas and Buddy Reed’s speed and hitting was a big factor for them. Gabriel Arias will be gone soon too.
Now that Mike Brosseau and Chih-hsien Chang have departed the ABL, Canberra’s Jay Baum has inherited the mantle of the ABL’S most prolific hitter.
David Kandilas and Robbie Perkins are coming through with big hits just when they’re needed and after a slow-ish start, Cam Warner has hit in nine of his last ten games.
Canberra’s starting crew have kept delivering and their ability to go deep is a key part of Canberra’s weekends - but there may not be as many runs to play with as before.
Prediction: Canberra 3-1
Sydney just aren’t getting it done when faced with red hot chances to take a game (and a series) by the throat. It’s a familiar tale that might well cost them the opportunity to extend their season.
If the Blue Sox were ever going to get it together, there’s no better weekend to do it than against their rivals from down the Hume.