ABL Round Two Preview:  so many questions

AJ Mithen

23 November 2017

 

For all the talk of even rosters and balanced matchups in ABL Week One, we were one out away from a clean sweep of sweeps.

 

There was a rain-shortened 3-0 result for the Bandits, a 4-0 outcome for Sydney over Adelaide and Perth flew over to Melbourne and spanked the home side 3-1.

 

What does it all mean? Are the Heat back where they expect to be? Are Adelaide gone? Can we finally bank on the Blue Sox? Are the Aces contenders or pretenders?

 

Settle down, everyone. Sure, some teams are in early holes, but the addition of the fourth postseason spot should calm a few nerves.

 

Why? Because since the ABL rebooted, only one club has finished fourth with a record over .500 (Brisbane’s 23-22 in 2012/13). The next best fourth place was last year’s Cavalry who went 20-20.

 

So an early stumble might not be fatal, but teams might be relying more heavily on post-Christmas arrivals than they’d hoped.

 

Lovers of the long ball were in for a treat in Round One, with 30 carrying the fences around the country. What stands out though was that 16 of those came at Melbourne Ballpark, where homeruns go to die…...

 

Is this a trend? Are the balls juiced? Are the seams too high? What does Week Two hold? Read on!

 

We’re keen to get your thoughts on what will happen in Week Two. Let us know on the Australian Baseball Alumni’s Facebook page. To ridicule these previews, visit @AJMithen on Twitter.

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus MELBOURNE ACES (West Beach)

 

Game 1:      Thursday 7.00pm local time                                            ABL TV                                                    

Game 2:      Friday 7.00pm local time                                                 ABL TV                                                                                       

Game 3:      Saturday 7.00 pm local time                                            ABL TV         

Game 4:      Sunday 12.00 pm local time

 

Two clubs undoubtedly annoyed with their first week get the chance to take it out on each other.

 

The Bite showed flashes but there was not much to trumpet about at the plate. From early impressions they’re going to rely heavily on import Rodrigo Ayarza and Aussie Angus Roeger to drive the attack. Chris Adamson would be expecting a lot more from his hitters in the comfortable home surrounds.

 

For those looking for a statement of the bleeding obvious, ‘towering closer’ Loek van Mil is in the squad for the weekend and he’ll be critical if the Bite find themselves in tight spots late on. He’s got a pretty good record against Melbourne, too.

 

As for the Aces, if Jared Cruz hadn’t nailed a two-out, game-tying, seventh inning blast in the first Saturday game, they were a huge chance of being swept for their third straight home series.

 

Mark Hamburger’s performance on the Friday was typical stuff until he got rocked in the sixth, copping a two-out grand slam. Hamburger still struck out nine, but taking six earned runs and walking four batters is as close as he’ll be to getting wild.

 

Delmon Young went 2-15 and looked a little dinged up by the end of the weekend, but the Bite would be foolish to think he’s going to continue at this clip.

 

There were some good signs for the Aces among all the troubles. Braves import Brett Cumberland looks like he’ll be a key contributor, Jarryd Dale has his eye in at the plate and Allan De San Miguel is doing what Allan De San Miguel does, getting hits and bringing runs home.

 

I liked the Sunday relief outing from Jack Enciondo, too. He came in with Perth rolling and threw 3.2 hitless innings to help his team find their feet. 

 

Prediction: Melbourne 3-1

 

Melbourne haven’t won a series against the Bite since 2013 and if I’ve done my maths right, it’s 44-26 Adelaide’s way since 2010.

 

So why choose the Aces? I’ll admit it’s pretty ambitious, but when you weight up the bad versus the good from week one, the Aces have a bit more in the positive column than the Bite.

 

(Mind you - if Jack O’Loughlin ever gets some run support, you can throw this prediction in the bin.)

 

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (Narrabundah))

 

Game 1:      Thursday 7.00pm local time

Game 2:      Friday 7.00 pm local time

Game 3:     Saturday 7.00 pm local time                                                   

Game 4:     Sunday 2.00 pm local time (Wollongong Classic)        ABL TV

 

Tony Harris must have thought it was Christmas as his Blue Sox first blasted, then ground out a sweep against the Bite. The ‘hittin’ plus 'grittin’ is exactly what he wanted from his squad. 

 

Of the Week One losing sides it’s probably only the Cavs who flew home thinking that life wasn’t all that bad. Their starting pitching was solid and they led the Bandits in two of the three games before being run down.

 

After giving up those leads, Michael Collins may have some bullpen concerns but there was a good memory for Tom Holland, an 18-year old who came to Canberra via Newcastle for tryouts. Holland found himself pitching against some of the ABL’s best bats, managing a scoreless eighth and striking out Donald Lutz into the bargain.

 

The Blue Sox were exactly what they said they would be – disciplined at the plate and aggressive around the bases. There might have been a few more errors than Harris would have preferred, but their first weekend would have reinforced the ethos that Harris, Fingleson, D’Antonio and co. want to see at the club.

 

Taiwanese infielder Chih-Hsien Chiang had a massive weekend (7-15 with four RBIs) and also drew a happy pocket of Taiwanese support to Blacktown, another reminder (as if we need it) of how far this league can reach.

 

Prediction: Split 2-2

 

This prediction relies heavily on the performance of Trevor Foss and Luke Wilkins, who both did great work in Week One. Canberra’s bats will offer more resistance than Adelaide’s did.

 

A quick note for the fans heading to the Wollongong Classic on Sunday - take a glove or two. Last year it finished with an insane 21-11 scoreline and with seemingly every second at bat going yard this season, the 2017 edition might even top that.

 

 

PERTH HEAT versus BRISBANE BANDITS (Barbagallo)

 

Game 1:       Friday 7.00pm local time                                               ABL TV

Game 2/3:   Saturday double header: 4.00pm & 7.00 pm local time      

Game 4:      Sunday 4.00 pm local time

 

Perth looked really, really good turning the Aces over 3-1 in Melbourne.

 

Manager Andy Kyle was feeling good too, and is looking forward to testing his side against the champs.

 

“Very excited,” he said after the series in Melbourne. “First round series you’re not sure what you’re going to get and there’s a little bit of doubt, but I thought we came out here and competed really well.”

 

“We know we’ve got some young kids coming through and to put some guys around these kids is important."

 

The Heat have a much improved pitching staff. Dylan Thompson, Alex Boshers and Tom Bailey are quality starters and Scott Mitchinson and Benn Grice can clean things up late.

 

“The Rays guys were pretty good, they’re athletic, they’re exciting to watch,” said Kyle. ”We’ve got some older heads in the bullpen as well to mix things up. I’m pretty happy.”

 

Imports Garret Whitley, Zac law and Jake Fraley are off and flying, Aussie infielder Jess Williams has also started well and Ulrich Bojarski is expected to make his first appearance for the year in this series.

 

There’s also a fella named Luke Hughes who walked eight times (yes, eight) in Week One, throwing in a grand slam for good measure.

 

“We had some good at bats, especially early in the games,” Kyle said. “We were able to get to their bullpen quickly, that was probably the biggest key. Grinding out our bats, putting the ball in play and being aggressive on the base paths, we’re pretty excited.”

 

I don’t know if you noticed, but Kyle said ‘excited’ or a variation thereof three times in three sentences and he’s right – this year’s Heat will put on a good show, so get to your ballpark and check them out when they’re in town. 

 

Let’s not disrespect who’s coming to visit, though. A Brisbane side who worked hard for a shortened sweep against Canberra is bringing some seriously good starting pitching and the best hitting in the league.

 

Tim Atherton, Travis Blackley and import Ryan Bollinger combined for 29 strikeouts from three starts, Ryan Searle already has two saves and Zac Treece, Matt Timms, Chiu Pin-Jui and the rest of the bullpen all performed when their side needed to put the brakes on their opponent. 

 

Perth drew 32 walks across the weekend in Melbourne and you can guarantee the Bandits won’t be so generous. It will be a lot tougher for the home side to work their way around the bases this week.

 

Prediction: Split 2-2

 

This should be the pick of this week’s matchups. Brisbane will be looking forward to a challenge from a ‘young upstart’ as much as Perth will be keen to test themselves against the best.

 

Will the defending champs put the Heat back in their place? It’s possible. It’s just as possible that Perth will come out blazing again. But I think the result will be a little from column A and a little from column B.

 

Make sure you take in as much of this series as possible!