ABL Round Two:  pitching is cool again

 

AJ Mithen

22 November 2018

 

After the record-breaking madness that defined the last ABL season, it seems we have a more even contest between ball and bat this year.

 

There’s a definite lack of pop off the bat compared to last year and for me that’s a good thing. No more one-handed homeruns hit from one knee off a pitch close to the dirt. The Brett Brothers organisation have made small adjustments to their product and to their credit the early signs are good.

 

Last season there were thirty home runs hit in eleven Week One games. This year - with five more games played - we saw ‘just’ twenty-one. That’s still plenty of fun for the long ball aficionado.

 

Aside from the balls, a notable change is the pitching. After last season’s destruction, teams made it a priority to stock up on decent arms and there will be a lot of work - 85 pitchers toed the rubber across the first sixteen games.

 

Home teams dominated ABL Week One, with the visiting clubs only able to win a solitary game between them.

 

Of the newcomers you’d feel better as a fan of the Tuatara than Geelong-Korea but as they say in the classics, it’s a new game every day and there’s plenty of time to get things working.

 

One point to finish. Baseball fans around the world settled in on Thursday to watch Brisbane and Adelaide’s season opener and were presented with an appalling picture and sound. Friday was even worse, with the main camera apparently hovering in a hot air balloon three kilometres above the diamond, accompanied by similar sound quality issues.

 

It’s a critical year for the league - when isn’t it - and this is something that had months of lead time to prepare and test. For the first two games of the season to turn out like that was incredibly disappointing.

 

Fair play to Baseball Australia CEO Cam Vale for his apology to the fans after the weekend, but if Thursday and Friday are indicative of what’s on offer from the official ABL broadcast, we’ve got a real problem. Hopefully week two makes us all forget this ever happened.

 

Enough with the negativity though. The Fox Sports broadcast is finally on board, live streaming one game a day via this linkhttps://www.foxsports.com.au/live (subscription might be required at $4.99 a month).

 

We shouldn’t dwell on bad stuff. There’s enough of that in Aussie baseball. Let’s turn a positive eye to round two!

 

We’re keen to get your thoughts on week two in the ABL. Let us know on the Australian Baseball Alumni FACEBOOK page. To debate these previews, make suggestions or to offer information, visit @AJMithen on Twitter. For definitive ABL broadcast information, check the official ABL website.

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus ADELAIDE BITE (West Beach)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 7.20 pm local time (predicted weather: 18 degrees, early showers)

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

Game 3:   Saturday 7.20 pm local time (23, rain in the afternoon/evening)

Game 4:   Sunday 2.00 pm local time (23, cloudy)

 

Melbourne’s starting pitching and defence was all the rage out Altona way in week one. Dushan Ruzic announced his ABL return in dominant fashion as batter after batter meekly grounded out, Jack Enciondo kept the Cavs hitless through six innings in his start and Hayato Takagi was all but untouchable in the short game, completing the seven innings for just three hits.

 

The Aces didn’t just have the pitching though, with imports Garrison Schwartz and Jake Romanski looking like they’ll have some fun with the bat this season. Luke Hughes did what he does with two bombs and five RBI for the weekend and Jarryd Dale had a whale of a game on Saturday, going three-for-three and making some fantastic defensive plays.

 

Adelaide went down 3-1 in Brisbane but showed they’re up for the fight in 18/19. Aaron Whitefield, Mitch Edwards and Stefan Welch performed well, imports Michael Gettys and Nick Shumpert look an upgrade on last season’s crew and let’s not forget Markus Solbach, who throttled Brisbane’s hitters in a fashion rarely seen.

 

The Bite hitters had a tough outing against Brisbane but everyone has a tough outing against Brisbane. Chris Adamson would have been most encouraged by what he saw.

 

Prediction: Aces win, just

 

Adelaide will be feeling good and amped up to do well at home, but the pitching matchup tips me towards Melbourne. It’ll be a tight series!

 

PERTH HEAT versus GEELONG KOREA (Geelong Baseball Centre)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 6.30pm local time (18, afternoon/evening showers)       FACEBOOK

Game 2:   Friday 6.30pm local time (16, afternoon/evening showers)            FACEBOOK

Game 3:   Saturday 7.00pm local time (20, cloudy)                                            FACEBOOK

Game 4:   Sunday 1.00pm local time (21, partly cloudy)                                    FACEBOOK

 

What do we make of Geelong Korea? They were described during the week by Korea’s Yonhap News Agency as “mostly a team of reclamation projects, with a few other KBO castoffs in their core.” I’m still trying to work out if that’s a compliment or not.

 

Manager Dae-Sung Koo will face the ABL Disciplinary Review Panel after dragging his team off the field in game two against Sydney. Koo had been ejected for arguing the call on a pitch that was so far inside it was practically behind the batter. Where this leads for Koo, who knows. But it wasn’t a good look.

 

Koo’s Geelong lineup don’t die wondering at the plate. If they see a pitch they’re vaguely attracted to they’ll go after it, a philosophy resulting in a hefty 48 strikeouts in round one. But with the excitement of a debut series out of the way and maybe a little more relaxation in the batter’s box, we might see a few more baserunners down Geelong way.

 

Perth found themselves in a battle against Auckland, but were able to work their way out of trouble with consistent play and a remarkable walkoff win in game three after being four runs down with three outs left.

 

Andy Kyle will be expecting another professional performance from his team. Alex Hall will bring a hot bat and Conor Lourey, Lachlan Southee and the rest of the heat pitching staff will be keen to continue Geelong-Korea’s strikeout trend.

 

Prediction: Perth win

 

Did Geelong-Korea underestimate the quality of opponent in the ABL, or was their round one performance a fair reflection of the squad? We may not be much the wiser after this weekend. Perth did what they needed to do in sweeping the Tuatara and they’ll get the job done again.

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus AUCKLAND TUATARA (McLeod Park)

 

Game 1:   Friday 3.00pm local time/5.00 pm AEDST (21, evening rain)                  BANDITS TV

Game 2:   Saturday 12.00pm local time/2.00 pm AEDST (23, rain easing)              BANDITS TV

Game 3:   Saturday 3.00pm local time/5.00 pm AEDST (23, rain easing)               BANDITS TV

Game 4:   Sunday 3.00pm local time/5.00 pm AEDST            (23, heavy rain)       BANDITS TV

 

Steve Mintz’s Auckland side take to their home patch for the first time and Brisbane make the new ABL’s first international business trip in an interesting matchup.

 

These teams had a look at each other when they played a three game preseason series, but that’s irrelevant to this matchup.

 

Auckland got themselves into good positions against Perth but couldn’t make it count, with critical errors and rally-killing at bats. Steve Mintz hates errors even more than Tony Harris does at Sydney, so practice this week couldn’t have been too much fun.

 

The worst came on the Saturday, when Kyle Glogoski pitched five magnificent no-hit, six strikeout innings before the bullpen collapsed and gave Perth a walkoff win.

 

Glogoski’s now 20% of the way through his allowed innings for the season. It must be incredibly frustrating for Mintz to have such a weapon but so little ammo for it.  

 

So it’s good news for Auckland to welcome shortstop Taiga Hirasawa to the lineup and Tomhito Sakai and Atsuki Taneichi to the pitching staff, because they’ll need all the arms they can get against the Bandits. 

 

Brisbane got the job done with a series win banked by reliable hitting and the best starting rotation in the league. I get the feeling I’ll be typing that sentence a few times this year.

 

The Bandits lose talent like Ake and Aaron Whitefield and replace them with Daniel De La Calle and Chi-Hung Hsu. Logan Wade is injured? TJ Bennett makes unbelievable plays at shortstop. The Bandits are as consistent as you like and they’re never really in the mood to slow down.

 

Prediction: Bandits win/washout split

 

The weather may play more of a role than we’d like in this series. Auckland fought hard against Perth but couldn’t capitalise on good work. The Tuatara may pinch a game here if they can keep their defence clean.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (Blacktown International Sportspark)

 

Game 1:   Friday 7.30pm local time (25, sunny)                                   FACEBOOK

Game 2:   Saturday 3.30pm local time (25, cloudy)                             FACEBOOK

Game 3:   Saturday 6.30pm local time (25, cloudy)                             FACEBOOK

Game 4:   Sunday 4.00 pm local time  (25, cloudy)                             FACEBOOK

 

The Cavalry tour bus rolls on to Sydney after a forgettable weekend in Melbourne.

 

It was a most unexpected misfire for the Canberra bats as they scraped and scrapped 20 hits for only five runs against a quality Aces pitching staff and now they’re coming up against a Blue Sox team filled with confidence and more high quality pitching.

 

Canberra’s 20 hits were offset by the pitching staff allowing 20 walks to Aces batters.

 

Steve Kent was immense in game one against Melbourne, striking out 11. But Frank Gailey got taken to, giving up nine hits and seven earned runs in six innings. That’s not going to be the norm for Gailey.

 

A wildcard this week is the arrival of Japanese national team pitcher Shota Imanaga, part of the Cavs’ deal with the Yokohama BayStars organisation. Imanaga is in the ABL until week seven so if you can, get out and have a look at what he can do.

 

The Blue Sox made short work of Geelong Korea behind stellar pitching and aggressive hitting. Josh Guyer, Alex Maestri and Luke Wilkins were superb, the bullpen kept the foot on the throat and the defence was impeccable, only conceding four runs all weekend.

 

But we’ve heard this song before, haven’t we. Sydney have burst out of the blocks a few times before running out of puff midseason. This Blue Sox crew seems different though, and they’re primed to take the game to their rivals from down the Hume.

 

The biggest news from Sydney last week was the 1691 in attendance on Saturday night, a sellout. I don’t know if Blacktown can (legally) fit more than that but a series against a key rival might well require a run to Bunnings to pick up a few extra garden chairs.

 

Prediction: Sydney win

 

Sydney took care of an overmatched opponent in week one just like a club with playoff intentions should. It will be much a more difficult assignment against a Canberra team stung by their quiet opening weekend.