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The week in ABL 12:  last round struggle for the playoffs

Stuart Capel

21 January 2015

 

While the Adelaide Bite has secured home field advantage for the Championship Series, positions two and three on the ABL ladder are still up for grabs. 

 

Can Perth secure second position? Will Brisbane surprise the competition and sneak back into second position, or will the Bandits miss out all together, with one of the Blue Sox or Cavalry making the latest of charges?

 

The next four days will answer all those questions, but we will most likely have to wait until Sunday afternoon for the answers.  

 

PREVIEW:   PERTH HEAT (24-20) vs BRISBANE BANDITS (21-21)

 

Playoff Scenario

 

Perth:   Split the series against Brisbane and they are in. Win three and they host the Preliminary Final series.

 

Brisbane:   Will host the Preliminary Final series with a sweep or win three games so long as neither Sydney nor Canberra sweeps their series. Will make the playoffs with a series split against Perth so long as the Sydney-Canberra series ends in a split.

 

Aside from one bad innings to start the third game of the series, the four games in Canberra against the Cavalry was somewhat of a procession for the Heat, who outscored the home side forty-five runs to fourteen, propelling the home side to a league-leading batting average of .278, while leaving the Canberra bullpen in disarray, with the Cavalry relievers combining for a series ERA of 16.08.

 

With a series average of .337, the Heat bats started hot and finished hot and continually came up big in the clutch, as their series average of .355 with RISP would attest to. Led by Joey Wong (9-17 1 HR 4 RBI, 9 R 4 BB 1 SB), Tim Kennelly (7-19 1 HR 8 RBI 4 R 2 BB) and Luke Hughes (7-18 2 HR 7 RBI 7 R), the Heat scored the most runs in an away series since amassing forty-six in Sydney back in the 2011-12 series.

 

While the bullpen was outstanding (1.12 series ERA) and Mike McClendon was unstoppable (five-hit complete game shut-out), the form of the other three starters would be of some concern to coach Fish.

 

Warwick Saupold lasted just 3.2 innings and has made it through four innings just once. Mike McCarthy managed to get just nine outs and has been, at best, a five and fly pitcher since he has been with the Heat, while Dan Schmidt managed to work through 3.1 innings, and opponents are hitting .329 off him, the highest figure of any of the qualified pitchers in the league.

 

Saupold and McCarthy appear set to be the Game two and Three starters for Perth in the playoffs, should the team get that far, but how often can the bullpen continually bail the starters out, and what if McClendon has a poor outing and the bullpens need to work for four or five innings of relief of him?

 

Brisbane’s series split at home to the Sydney kept the Bandits ahead of the Blue Sox and Canberra Cavalry heading into the final series of the season, but having never beaten the Heat in a series at Barbagallo BallPark, they will need any advantage they can lay their hands on in order to keep ahead of the chasing duo as the Queenslanders seek their first finals appearance in the ABL.

 

Logan Wade’s excellent series against the Blue Sox (8-20 1 HR 5 RBI 2 R) was supported by a host of solid efforts from the four imports from the Tampa Bay Rays. However the bottom half of the order combined for an 8-39 (.205) series, a figure that will need improvement in order to win a minimum of two games in Perth this weekend.

 

Pitching-wise, the Bandits were solid, with all four starters making it through five innings, although only Ryan Searle made it any further, and even then by a solitary out, leaving the bullpen - which has been busy throughout the 2014/15 season - with plenty to do. Fortunately, the ‘pen did well, and were indeed better in the Bandits losses (1.12 ERA) than in the Bandits victories (7.04 ERA).

 

Given Perth’s rotation appears somewhat set, how the Bandits set their foursome will be pivotal to the outcome of the series. 

 

Do the Bandits stick with Ryan Searle as their number one starter and put him up against McClendon, or does David Nilsson move someone such as Drew Naylor up a rung or two and keep Searle and Chen-Hua Lin for the back-end of the series?

 

For the Bandits to take a split as a minimum reward, they will not only need the pitching to be spot-on, they will need one of their hitters to stand-up and have a big four-game set in order to keep the scoreboard spinning.

 

With only two left-handed pitchers in the Perth squad, Maxx Tissenbaum - who has hit .333-8-25 against right-handers and .190-0-1 against southpaws - looks most likely to be the Bandits talisman for the coming series. Should the infielder-turned-catcher have a big series, Brisbane will fancy their chances of getting a split. 

 

But would that be enough to get them into the playoffs?

 

Series Prediction: Perth Heat to win 3-1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREVIEW:   MELBOURNE ACES (14-28) vs ADELAIDE BITE (29-15)

 

Playoff Scenario

 

Melbourne:   Can sweep the series or be swept in the series – they will still finish sixth.

 

Adelaide:   Can sweep the series or be swept in the series – they will still finish first.

 

Having salvaged Game Four of their series at Coopers Stadium, the Aces avoided being swept for what would have been the first time in a series of more than two games this season, somewhat of a statistical anomaly given the Melbourne franchise possesses a 14-28 record with four games to be played this season.

 

Aside from Kellin Deglan’s sixteen home runs, there’s been little to write home about this season for the Aces, who are last in average (.238), on-base percentage (.302), slugging (.384), and ops (.685) with the bats, whereas pitching wise, the Aces are also last in ERA (5.24), whip (1.57), while walking 196 and hitting thirty-one hitters, both unwanted league marks. 

 

The win against Adelaide last Sunday did provide Adam Engel with his first two stolen bases in sixteen games as manager Tommy Thompson somewhere along the line mysteriously stopped running his speedy lead-off man, which is a threat that has been important to the club in recent series:

 

Aces record since 01/12/2014

When Adam Engel steals a base        4-0

When Adam Engel DOES NOT steal a base     5-17

 

A far superior team from top to bottom, the Bite did what they needed to against the Aces at Coopers Stadium to win the three games required to clinch home field advantage through the Championship Series, and perhaps more importantly, ensure that they did not have to rely on results this weekend to shore up top billing on the ABL table.

 

With a series average of .310 to Melbourne’s .181 and a starting pitching ERA for the four-game set of 1.63, the news was good for Brooke Knight on both sides of the ledger, though the six errors would have disappointed him, especially as the Bite have just four games together to prepare for the Championship Series.

 

It would surprise few that the line-up largely stays the same, although Troy Scott’s six-game suspension does leave a void which Darren Fidge will fill, while Virgil Vasquez appears set to make his Bite debut after being on the roster for the past two series, but being absent on duty with his team in the Mexican League Championship Series.

 

While there’s little on the line aside from personal pride and statistics this series, look for the Bite - who will still be tinkering with their roster and resting players who require resting - to take the series and consign Melbourne to equalling their 15-31 mark from two seasons ago.

 

Series Prediction: Adelaide Bite to win 3-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREVIEW:   SYDNEY BLUE SOX (20-22) vs CANBERRA CAVALRY (20-22)

 

Playoff Scenario

 

Sydney:   Will make the finals with a series sweep of the Cavalry, or winning at least two games against the Cavalry, with one more victory in the series over Canberra than the Bandits register against Perth.

 

Canberra:   Will make the finals with a series sweep of the Blue Sox, or with a 3-1 series victory over Sydney, and Brisbane winning a maximum of two games in their series against Perth. 

 

The ABL announcement that the pair of postponed matches would not be replayed arguably hurt the Blue Sox more than either the Brisbane Bandits or Canberra Cavalry given the Sox - based on the current ladder positions - had the hardest fixture in the ABL, having played three series against the ladder leading Adelaide Bite, and just a series and a half against the Melbourne Aces.

 

To put it another way, the Blue Sox begin the final series of the season a game behind Brisbane, who plundered nine wins from twelve starts against the Aces, while the Blue Sox, who appeared en route to a series sweep of the Aces a couple of weeks ago, had won four from six, whilst losing ten of twelve against Adelaide. While the club will not use it as an excuse should they finish outside the top three at the end of the weekend, the unbalanced schedule will have certainly played its part in determining Sydney’s fate.

 

Joshua Dean’s Player of the Week efforts (8-14 2 HR 5 RBI 3 R) helped pace a Sydney offense that otherwise hit .232, and they will need another solid week from Dean, plus a continuation of the form of David Kandilas - who is 11-33 (.333) with five doubles and seven RBI in eight games against the Cavalry - in order to have any chance of taking the series from Canberra, although they will most likely require just a series split to advance to the playoffs given their head-to-head advantage over both the Bandits and Cavalry.

 

Aside from Luke Wilkins, the ERAs of starting pitchers Markus Solbach, Craig Anderson and Jaspreet Shergill all rose during the series at AFA Stadium, with Shergill lasting just 3.2 innings against his old team. In two starts for the Blue Sox, Shergill’s ERA is 10.60 and in all likelihood, the playoff chances of the Blue Sox will come down to the fourth and final game of the series. Will manager Jason Pospishil be handing the ball to Shergill with any great confidence?

 

Ironically, should he start Game Four, Shergill - a discard from the Brisbane Bandits - will be starting against either Tristan Crawford or Aaron Thompson, who are both with the Cavalry after being discarded by the Brisbane Bandits. Small world!

 

For the Cavalry to be alive for Game Four, they will have had to win two of the first three games of the series as a minimum, meaning they will need an immediate improvement out of the bullpen, which posted a 16.08 ERA for the series against Perth, with a 2.29 WHIP and batting average against of .389.

 

They will also need a return to the field from LB Dantzler (back/hip), who has not played in either of the Cavalry’s last two series, and Crawford, who left his start on Sunday with an injured knee. Both are still in doubt for the series, although the Cavalry did have some good news on the injury front with Anthony Alford (head) cleared to play, while Jack Murphy has proven his fitness after complaining of a sore elbow during the series against Perth.

 

Having not beaten Sydney in a four-game series since December 2012, the Cavalry will have to do a small re-write of history in order to take the series, which is what they require to figure in post-season play. Against a pitching staff that is wobbly and a hitting line-up that is by average the second worst line-up in the ABL, the Cavalry will certainly fancy their chances, but can they take three from four against the Blue Sox who have home field advantage, and will it come down to Shergill versus Crawford or Thompson?

 

Battered and bruised both in body, on the scoreboard - and on the road - it would take a special effort for the Cavalry to win the series. While Brooke Knight has a deserved stranglehold on Manager of the Year honours, if Canberra can beat the odds and advance to the playoffs, then Michael Collins will have a polite discussion with the Adelaide coach on just who was the better manager this season. 

 

Series Prediction: Series Split 2-2