ABL Week Four:  the season hots up

AJ Mithen

6 December 2018

 

Australian Baseball League season 2018/19 is shaping up as a belter, with the Northeast Division a close fight for places and the Southwest having two clear leaders, but every game a challenge.

 

Round Three gave us the best series of the season so far when Sydney travelled to Brisbane and the Bandits will feature again when they head to Canberra to ‘help’ the home team launch their redeveloped ballpark. The photos and video of Narrabundah look sensational and that’s without people in it, so I look forward to a heaving crowd as Canberra open their home account for the year.

 

It really does feel like a great time to be an ABL fan. Across the league we’re seeing quality young Aussie players taking giant strides, imports adding some real class and the new licensing model has seen more mainstream media coverage this season than there has been for some time.

 

This week alone Brisbane were covered in the Courier-Mail, Adelaide in the Advertiser, Geelong-Korea ads were on the front page of the Geelong Advertiser with two pages of coverage in the sports section, the Canberra Times kept up their coverage of the Cavalry and Perth Heat co-owner Eileen Bond was all over the newspapers and radio in the West talking up the team, among other things.

 

Ideally this coverage grows as sports writers come and see a game for themselves, but in any event the media networks and contacts of the owners and clubs are getting the league some great publicity.

 

Time to predict. Who ya got?

 

We’re keen to get your thoughts on ABL Week Four. 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.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus BRISBANE BANDITS (Narrabundah)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 7.00 pm local time (Forecast weather: 29, clearing)    ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 2:   Friday 7.00 pm local time (32, sunny)                                             ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU                   

Game 3:   Saturday 7.00 pm local time (34, sunny)                                                    

Game 4:   Sunday 12.00 pm local time (32, possible shower)            

 

After three tough road trips, Canberra nestle back in to the comforts of a newly redeveloped Narrabundah ballpark. They’ll welcome Brisbane, their conqueror from the 17/18 Championship series.

 

With Sydney and Auckland fighting a series out in New Zealand, this is an important series to keep ahead of the chasing pack in the Northeast.

 

It’s fair to say the Cavs haven’t hit their straps yet, but Keith Ward and his crew will be relatively happy to get out of 12 away games with a 5-7 record. A great opportunity presents itself with five home series in the last seven rounds, but this is a tough challenge to kick things off.

 

Brisbane played out a belter of a series against Sydney, the 3-1 result not indicative of how tightly contested all four games were. As usual, the champs dug out a clutch play just when they needed one.

Ryan Searle is out for the champs, replaced by Rhys Niit. He’ll join a Bandits bullpen that is finishing games well - Brisbane are 6-1 when they score first. They’re not getting the amount of hits they’re used to, but they’re still manufacturing runs.

 

Canberra’s renowned hitting is taking some time to heat up this season, particularly with runners on base. Canberra’s 28 RBI is dead last in the ABL.

 

It promises to be a classic ABL series. The eight scheduled starting pitchers have a combined 9-2 win/loss record and there’s still plenty of spice around last year’s ABLCS.

 

Prediction: Split

 

This is two teams with stingy pitching and savage hitting. Brisbane’s swinging the bats better, but at home the Cavs will fancy themselves to relaunch their season. Let’s sit back and enjoy!

  

PERTH HEAT versus MELBOURNE ACES (Barbagallo)

 

Game 1:   Friday 7.05 pm local time (26, sunny)

Game 2:   Saturday 4.05 pm local time (28, sunny)                

Game 3:   Saturday 7.05 pm local time (28, sunny)                

Game 4:   Sunday 4.05 pm local time (30, sunny)                  ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

 

Perth continue to hit, hit and hit some more. After being subdued in Adelaide for two games, they exploded again to fly out with a split result.

 

To give an indication of the challenge facing the Aces let’s run some quick stats. The Heat have scored 112 runs, the next best is Melbourne’s 69. (Those 112 runs have come from 126 hits!)

 

The top three RBI spots belong to Perth hitters Jake Bowey, Tristan Grey and Alex Hall (all 13). Tim Kennelly and Pete Kozma are tied for the most extra base hits (8).

 

So the Aces stingy defence has a lot of work in front of it. Fortunately Dushan Ruzic is back and the hard throwing Chris Meister also joins the squad. Meister did good work for the Aces after moving to the bullpen last season, only allowing three hits in his last five appearances.

 

Pending any action from the league after he was ejected twice in round three, Perth legend Luke Hughes returns to his former club for the first time in the opposition dugout. The Heat crowd will surely give his first at bat a nice round of applause… Before normal barracking service resumes.

 

Prediction: Split

 

The obvious strengths are Perth’s attack and Melbourne’s defence, but the Aces hitters shouldn’t be ignored. Garrison Schwarz is a real threat, so are DJ Burt and Jared Cruz.

 

GEELONG-KOREA versus ADELAIDE BITE (Geelong Baseball Centre)

 

Game 1:   Thursday 6.30 pm local time (35, sunny)                             ABLTV (No commentary)

Game 2:   Friday 6.30 pm local time (38, hot)                                       ABLTV (No commentary)

Game 3:   Saturday 7.00 pm local time (22, possible storm)              ABLTV

Game 4:   Sunday 1.00 pm local time (23, cloudy)                               ABLTV (No commentary)

 

Adelaide head to Waurn Ponds needing wins. Chris Adamson’s crew will feel they let a great opportunity slip last week, starting with a 2-0 lead but not being able to take the home weekend against Perth.

 

Geelong-Korea let some chances slip against Melbourne, winning game one in a tight battle before falling into a predictable, error-filled cycle giving up runs in big numbers.

 

Game one may see records tumble when Markus Solbach takes the mound for Adelaide. He’s got 30 strikeouts on the season after 14 against Perth in his start last week, a club record. With Geelong-Korea’s love of swinging a bat at any ball in the local area code, Solbach is an outside chance of topping that record once again.

 

For the hosts, pitcher Jae-Gon Lee was made a reserve this week after a horror introduction to the ABL. Opponents were hitting .443 against him and he’d been taken for 21 earned runs in just 12.2 innings pitched. To be fair though, Lee was made to do some tough yards for Geelong-Korea in big losses.

 

A final note. If you’re heading to Geelong Ballpark make sure you slip slop and slap, because there isn’t a lot of cover and it’s going to be a fiercely hot few days!

 

Prediction: Split

 

I’ll admit this isn’t a popular view, but I rate Geelong-Korea an outside chance to take a split or even a series win here. Their hitting is pretty good, it’s the defence that’s killing them. Adelaide will be focused on making sure they’re not the first to lose a series to the new kids, but they need to make hay with runners on base.

 

AUCKLAND TUATARA versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (McLeod Park)

 

Game 1:   Friday 3.00 pm local time (1.00pm AEDST)            (20, fine)                                                         

Game 2:   Saturday 12.00 pm local time (10.00am AEDST) (21, fine)      ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 3:   Saturday 3.00 pm local time (1.00pm AEDST) (21, fine)         ABLTV/FOXSPORTS.COM.AU

Game 4:   Sunday 3.00 pm local time (1.00pm AEDST) (23, possible afternoon shower)

 

It’s the last ABL series at McLeod Park and there’s plenty on the line for Sydney and Auckland. With Northeast divisional play this weekend, there’s a chance the team who wins this series can land in second or even first place if other results fall favourably.

 

Josh Collmenter delivered what he was recruited for with a great outing against Canberra and former Major Leaguer John Holdzkom will no doubt challenge the Sydney hitters. Young tyro Kyle Glogoski is now well over halfway into his pitching allocation and I hope Tuatara manager Steve Mintz is on the phone to Philadelphia to stretch it for another 10-15 more innings, because he’s fantastic to watch.

 

Sydney’s getting great hitting from Michael Campbell, Alex Howe and Jacob Younis and import Dwayne Kemp has started his year with a bang.

 

Blue ribbon recruit Gift Ngoepe went 6-17 with four homers and plenty of aggro against Brisbane. It’s the obvious statement of the week to say that he’ll be a key figure this series.

 

Blue Sox reliever Ty’Relle Harris is in some rare form - he’s allowed just one hit from 22 batters faced and he’s struck out half of those 22.

 

Prediction: Split

 

The Tuatara are not to be trifled with at home, just ask last year’s ABLCS participants. These are their last home outings across the ditch for the season and they’ll want to go out on a good note. As for Sydney, they showed plenty of fight and grit in Brisbane and it could be reasonable to think of them as contenders… But let’s give it one more week.