ABL Semi-Finals time: let's get it on
2 February 2018
It’s finals time! The postseason, the second season, the playoffs, the real stuff. Sure, we might have known our participants for a while, but all that’s done is heighten anticipation for a great weekend’s baseball.
Melbourne travel to Brisbane for the daunting challenge of the back-to-back champs while Canberra heads west to Perth and a Heat side reeling from yet another major departure.
We also go from the regular four game series to a three game runout. I’ve got my own thoughts on that (make it five!) but a three game series for ABL finals means everyone’s bullpens get a little deeper.
There’s two mouth-watering matchups ahead, they’re all available to watch and thanks to the majesty of Australian Western Standard Time, we can enjoy them as double headers. There’s going to be some bleary-eyed Aussie baseball fans this weekend. Make sure you warn your significant others!
Who goes forward? Who goes home? Let’s take a look.
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BRISBANE BANDITS versus MELBOURNE ACES (Holloway Field)
The Aces return to the scene of their murder in round eight. A five game sweep from the home team included some wild hitting from both clubs, but Brisbane bolted from the gates and couldn’t be headed.
Aces v Bandits series this season have been contrasting outings. The Bandits ploughed through Melbourne’s pitching in the sweep but don’t forget Melbourne grinding out a 3-0 series win in week three, conceding only four runs and playing small ball to support quality pitching and effective defence.
What’s more likely at Holloway? Everyone is expecting it to be raining homers, but this is playoff baseball. Things stay close and often it’s the team with the grit and grind who emerge on top.
Tim Atherton is slated to start game one against Josh Tols, the latter coming off a magnificent outing in Perth. With a three game series comes a short leash for the starters, so once agains Nilsson and Deeble will need to pull the right reins if things look like heading south. There’s no second chances this week!
Keep your eyes on:
Brisbane: Ngayaw Ake.
The angle of the cameras at Bandits home games has been a treat this year, as it allows us to witness the magic glove of Ake. He patrols the hot corner like few others and I’ve lost count of the number of hitters passing first base, then turning in shock at the realisation that Ake has pinged them from a ridiculous angle and/or range.
Add to that 42 RBI, 11 homeruns, .310 hitting and several hundred thousand Taiwanese eyes on his every move, and he’s one of the most exciting players of the season.
Melbourne: Darryl George.
One of Jon Deeble’s biggest ‘what ifs’ from last season surely has to be losing Darryl George to the Japanese leagues after only five games. George is showing this year why he’s held in such high esteem by those around the Aces, piling up 55 hits, 30 RBI and 11 bombs (five in his last 10 games) at a .327 clip.
George’s good form was recognised with a spot on the national team roster at the All Star game and his talents around the infield are critical to the Aces keeping the bases clean. With him in the side and firing, Melbourne could push the Bandits to their limits.
Prediction: Brisbane 2-0
I can’t see the Aces taking a game, but that’s not to say this will be more domination by Brisbane. The Aces’ recent form may have snuck under a few radars, winning five from eight with a split in Perth and a tough series win against the gritty Adelaide. They won’t be a pushover by any measure.
It seems to be repeated every week in these previews, but it’s Brisbane’s pitching staff that make the difference for mine. Dave Nilsson can call on better arms than Jon Deeble can, and that’s where the series will be decided.
(Note though that Friday and Saturday are expecting up to 25ml of rain, so Sunday might be a day where there’s a lot of baseball played…)
PERTH HEAT versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Barbagallo)
Game 1: Friday 7.00 pm AWST WATCH LIVE
Game 2: Saturday 7.00 pm AWST WATCH LIVE
Game 3: Sunday (if required) 4.00 AWST WATCH LIVE
Older readers may remember the Black Knight from the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. He battles King Arthur, progressively losing limb after limb but still well and truly up for the fight. Andy Kyle must be feeling a bit like the Black Knight after the Heat lost their ace import Jake Fraley.
It’s a class list of imports gone from Perth. Zac Law shone as catcher, then left before Christmas to get married. Mike Brosseau was well and truly in MVP discussions before breaking a finger and heading home and now Fraley, owner of the ABL single season stolen base record (39) and leader of the ABL in hits (61) is on a plane, called home to attend to a family matter.
Perth covered Law with youngster Alex Hall, who performed brilliantly. The arrival of Robbie Glendinning and the form of Jesse Williams helped soothe the loss of Brosseau but Fraley leaves a massive gap in the lineup with Canberra’s pitching battery coming to town.
As well as those mentioned, Luke Hughes has been magnificent for Perth and Tim Kennelly with Ulrich Bojarski have added quality bats. They’ll all need to dig deep this weekend and only a fool would doubt they could.
Canberra also lost their share of talent this year but their pitching has mainly been untouched. There were recent concerns about their bullpen but a three-game series may be a saving grace, with one, two or all of Lake Bachar, Frank Gailey and Steve Kent likely relievers. A potential Michael Click/Steve Kent setup and closing combination is daunting for any lineup.
Keep your eyes on:
Perth: Robbie Glendinning.
Since arriving in the ABL the WA local has lived up to his great potential, hitting .333 and scoring 22 runs in 21 games. Glendinning has a taste for the key hit and he’ll be leant on by his teammates to help fill the Fraley-sized gap.
Glendinning won’t sweat being in a finals series, either. He’s played in two NJCAA Division II World Series - that’s some serious pressure with plenty on the line.
Canberra: David Kandilas.
While all the fuss has (rightly) gone Jay Baum’s way, Kandilas has gone about compiling a brilliant season of his own. He’s been getting clutch hits, walkoff wins and using his cannon of an arm in the outfield to keep baserunners honest.
Kandilas is a key part of Canberra’s plans and Perth’s pitching will surely have spent a lot of time in study hall before he steps into the box this weekend.
Prediction: Canberra 2-1
These two clubs have played some of the best series of the year, a split in Canberra which went down to the final pitch and a Perth win out west which featured the 32-10 madness.
Like the Black Knight, Perth might well be willing and wanting to fight, but they’ve been losing too many limbs to take down a Cavs team that is settled and hungry.
This will be great series to watch between two clubs with some real playoff history. Whoever wins will be well seasoned to take a genuine shot at winning the ABLCS.