The week in ABL 11:   the pressure is on

While responsibility for coverage of the Australian Baseball League quite properly will be taken up by the league itself, by Baseball Australia and its state associations, Australian Baseball Alumni will strive to offer another layer of reporting to help deliver the baseball message to the widest possible audience and in a variety of formats. For full schedule, rosters, box scores and news, visit the ABL website.

Stuart Capel

14 January 2015

 

All six teams remarkably remain mathematically in the race for the playoffs, and while Adelaide needs just a handful of wins or opposition losses to clinch home field advantage for the Championship series, only three victories separate the four sides chasing second position on the table. 

 

With those four teams in combat with another of the chasing foursome this weekend, the outcomes of the weekend’s matches may not settle the top three, but it will certainly set-up an enthralling final round of the season.

 

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PREVIEW:   CANBERRA CAVALRY (19-19) vs PERTH HEAT (21-19)

 

While they lost two games of their series against a suddenly struggling Brisbane Bandits team to rain, the Cavalry accomplished everything they could have wanted in just two games.

 

Perhaps, aside from staying injury free.

 

An emphatic victory to open the series, followed by some clutch situational hitting combined with strong pitching throughout both games propelled the Cavalry from two games behind the Bandits to level with the Brisbane side at 19-19, while the two rain-outs will have given Gaby Hernandez, coming off back-to-back outings of season-high six innings, and Tristan Crawford, coming off an equal season high seven innings, and extra break which could prove vital over their last two regular season starts.

 

The only negative for the Cavalry would be the injury to Christian Lopes, the Blue Jays middle infielder who sustained a season-ending hamstring injury while running the bases in the Friday night game against Brisbane.

 

On the back of hitting .243 at A+ Dunedin, Lopes has been dynamic for the Cavalry, leading the team in hits (46) and average (.371) while being equal with Jack Murphy on six home runs and second in runs and RBI (both 24). Patient at the plate, Lopes is one of just two players (Maxx Tissenbaum is the other) who is hitting .300 or better while walking more times than striking out.

 

The loss of Lopes will mean Markus Lemon will play a more day-to-day role in the line-up, while the likes of Alex Hudak (.254), Mitch Walding (.213) and Alex Alford (.203) will have to step up if the Cavalry wish to have any chance of defending their Asian Series title next year.

 

A few weeks ago, the Perth Heat were holding up the rest of the ABL ladder aside from the Melbourne Aces and they were having trouble securing a series victory of any note.

 

Since then, Adelaide has lost Rocky Gale and Aaron Miller, Brisbane hasn’t won a series since beating Melbourne for the third straight series, Canberra has lost Christian Lopes, while LB Dantzler and Alex Hudak are coming off injuries. Sydney is still looking to make up lost ground after missing two games due to rain against the Aces, while Melbourne is…well, Melbourne.

 

During this time, the Heat have regained the catching services of Allan de San Miguel, Warwick Saupold has returned to the mound, while former MLB pitcher Mike McClendon and AAA hurler Mick McCarthy have joined the squad.

 

Add in the fact that if they finish second, they could host a Preliminary Final series against a team that has had to play make-up games after the final round and everything points to one thing –

 

Advantage Heat!

 

Taking three from four against Adelaide, something which no other team has done this season certified the Heat as contenders last week as Steve Fish’s team roared into outright second position on the ABL table.

 

In all, seven Heat players had multi-hit games, with Luke Hughes leading the way, having a season best four-game set, going 8-15 (1HR 3RBI 6R 3BB for the series), while Joey Wong ended the series with three multi-hit games, including an important three hits in the series finale.

 

Pitching wise, following a poor outing in Brisbane, Mike McClendon was back to his best, throwing a series best seven innings for one run, Daniel Schmidt gave up the one earned run in 6.1 innings on the Sunday, and while neither McCarthy or Saupold were strong, they kept the Heat in both games. Fish would have been happy with what he saw out of the ever-improving Scott Mitchinson, while Chad Robinson’s return to form would also have been pleasing.

 

The Perth rotation is far different to what it was when the two sides did battle at Barbagallo BallPark, with only Daniel Schmidt managing to retain his position in the starting foursome, though the trio of McClendon/Saupold and McCarthy is certainly an upgrade of the Baker/Sanford and Bailey combination that Schmidt teamed-up with two months ago, when Canberra - who dropped the opening game - stormed back to take the final three games, as well as the series.

 

Winners of thirteen of their past twenty-one games (.619), the Heat visit the nation’s capital looking for a repeat of the second meeting between the two clubs at Narrabundah last season where the Heat took three from four en route to claiming top billing on the ABL table. With Lopes out of the line-up, the Heat will not be without a chance of completing a similar series scoreline this time around.

 

Against a starting rotation that possesses a 3.17 ERA at home, that may not be easy to complete, and while a key import in Lopes misses, the Cavalry does have the reserves in stock to cover his absence - a luxury several teams would not be able to avail themselves of.

 

The fourth game of the series, a battle of veteran pitchers Tristan Crawford (Canberra) and Daniel Schmidt (Perth) may not be a glamour match-up, although the outcome of the game will be pivotal to the two teams’ finals chances and it may yet prove to be the best game of the series.

 

Result wise, it’s simply too hard to pick a winner, and a series split would be the percentage option here.

 

Series Prediction: Series Split 2-2

 

Canberra Cavalry Roster

 

Pitchers: Tim Atherton, Jake Brown, Tristan Crawford, Dustin Crenshaw, Brian Grening, Gabriel Hernandez, AJ Holland, Steven Kent, Ian Marshall, Aaron Thompson, Sam Thornton, Sean Toler.

 

Catchers: Kieran Bradford, Jack Murphy, Robbie Perkins.

 

Infielders: LB Dantzler, Liwi Huang, Markus Lemon, Jason Sloan, Mitch Walding.

 

Outfielders: Anthony Alford, Aaron Cheng, Scott Hillier, Adam Silva.

 

Perth Heat Roster

 

Pitchers: McKenzie Acker, Brian Baker, Jorge Marban, Mike McCarthy, Mike McClendon, Scott Mitchinson, Chad Robinson, Warwick Saupold, Daniel Schmidt, Ben Shorto.

 

Catchers: Jake Bowey, Allan De San Miguel.

 

Infielders: Luke Hughes, Matt Kennelly, Sam Kennelly, Tim Kennelly, Joey Wong.

 

Outfielders: Jordan McDonald, Brian Pointer, Tim Smith, Rene Tosoni.

PREVIEW:   BRISBANE BANDITS (19-19) vs SYDNEY BLUE SOX (18-20)

 

The inability to execute hampered the Brisbane Bandits in their rain-shortened series in Canberra, with the team’s inability to capitalise on the important moments of the series costing them a stand alone position in the ABL top three for the time being at least.

 

For the two games, the Bandits hit a paltry .100 with RISP (3-30), with their Game One effort of 3-21 demonstrating that while they fell behind early by a substantial margin, they did indeed have their chances to get back into the game.

 

Early in the game, the Bandits had two runners on base, only to ground out and fly into double plays in back-to-back innings, while with a runner on third in the fourth - catcher Kuan-Wei Yang - popped out to the catcher. In the fifth, following a lead-off double to Mitch Nilsson, the next three hitters left him stranded on second. Had these chances been taken, the late innings would have been a serious battle of the bullpens.

 

Game Two saw both sides devoid of run-scoring opportunities early. However, in the seventh innings, import Jeff Lorick came in to relieve Chen-Hua Lin, assigned with the task of getting one hitter, Markus Lemon, out. He failed to do so and the go-ahead run scored for the Cavalry.

 

While the Bandits would almost have been relieved to escape Canberra after two games, it would have been the opposite for the Sydney Blue Sox who- after two drubbings of the Melbourne Aces - would have been eyeing off a series sweep which would have improved their season record to 20-20 and have them right in contention for a playoff berth.

 

As it stands, the Blue Sox find themselves a win behind the Bandits and Cavalry on the ABL table. The Blue Sox would be devastated should at the end of the year they find the games against Melbourne not be replayed and the Bandits - who have played the Aces a dozen times - make the playoffs at the expense of the Blue Sox, who have played the bottom-placed side on just six occasions.

 

Still, the Blue Sox would have achieved everything they could have in two games, hitting .417 (33-79), with Trent Oeltjen contacting for the cycle in the series opener en route to ABL Player of the Week honours. Alex Glenn had five hits and six RBIs, David Kandilas had five hits of his own while Jacob Younis had a four-hit game on the Thursday evening, his first four-hit game for the Blue Sox.

 

Craig Anderson was the pitching triumph for the Blue Sox, with an 88-pitch, two-hit shut-out on the Friday evening - the thirty-four year-old’s second complete shut-out for the season.

 

Far from being the hardest thrower in the league, Anderson improved to a record of 22-18 with the Blue Sox by maintaining excellent control throughout his performance, with only one hitter - Kellin Deglan - forcing a three-ball count on one occasion.  Deglan promptly struck-out on the next pitch, one of three punch-outs for the Canadian on the evening.

 

After managing just one ground ball for the first five innings, the Aces changed their approach for the rest of the game, with only one fly ball throughout the final four innings (after ten fly ball outs during the first five innings). However Anderson and new catcher Tyler Baker kept the ball in the strike zone and in the infield, with the Aces managing two well spaced-out hits on a night where the Blue Sox managed thirteen hits of their own.

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Anderson was awarded ABL Pitcher of the Week honours.

 

Heading into this series - with Brisbane having been beaten in both games last weekend and Sydney having emerged victorious from their two-game set with Melbourne - the momentum would appear to be in the Blue Sox favour. However the Aces travel curse suggests Brisbane has a solid opportunity to win or draw the series at AFA Stadium this weekend.

 

So how do the Melbourne Aces figure in all of this?

 

In all, there have been four occasions when a team has taken to the road following a series either at home or at Melbourne Ball Park against the Aces, and none has managed to win the series:

 

TEAM                                  OPPONENT                  SERIES RESULT

Brisbane Bandits               Adelaide Bite                 1-3

Brisbane Badits                 Perth Heat                      2-2

Canberra Cavalry              Brisbane Bandits          2-2

Perth Heat                          Brisbane Bandits          2-2     

 

The only team to host a full four-game series after playing the Aces, the Blue Sox could only manage a 2-2 series tie, and while Canberra had an excellent chance last weekend - leading Brisbane two games to nil - the weather gods intervened to continue the curse for at least another week.

 

While you have to go back to 2011-12 for the last time the Bandits beat the Blue Sox in a four-game series, and back to 2010-11 for the Bandits to square the season ledger at four-wins apiece, there is enough evidence to suggest the home side can get a series split at the minimum, and perhaps even press for the series win.

 

Of the Sydney starters, Markus Solbach has a 6.95 ERA over his last six starts, Craig Anderson gave up ten hits in his start immediately after his most recent complete game effort, while Luke Wilkins is in unchartered waters innings-wise this season. While he will most likely benefit from the week’s rest, his starts have been getting shorter over the past month. Fourth starter Jaspreet Shergill is a known commodity to the Bandits as well. Will this help or hinder him in his start, especially against someone like Maxx Tissenbaum a hot hitter who would know him well from catching him during much of the season.  

 

And can you rely on the Sydney hitting to be strong two weeks in a row, even in a hitters park like AFA Stadium?

 

Will the curse continue?  We’ll see over the next few days, although backing against a curse is not advisable late in the season.

 

Series Prediction: Series Split 2-2

 

Brisbane Bandits Roster

 

Pitchers: Daniel Cooper, Justin Erasmus, Masato Goto, Sam Holland, Jason Jarvis, Chen-Hua Lin, Jeff Lorick, Drew Naylor, Ryan Searle, Masaki Takashio, Matt Timms.

 

Catchers: Ryan Battaglia, Maxx Tissenbaum, Kuan-Wei Yang.

 

Infielders: CJ Beatty, Thomas Coyle, Mitch Nilsson, David Sutherland, Logan Wade.

 

Outfielders: Andrew Campbell, Johnny Field, Granden Goetzmann, Karl Hoschke, Connor MacDonald.

 

Sydney Blue Sox Roster

 

Pitchers: Craig Anderson, Todd Grattan, Dae-Sung Koo, Steve Landell, Wayne Lundgren, Jaspreet Shergill, Markus Solbach, Aaron Sookee, Todd Van Steensel, Luke Wilkins.

 

Catchers: Tyler Baker.

 

Infielders: Tyler Bortnick, Trent D’Antonio, Joshua Dean, Ray Frias, Wes Patterson, Zac Shepherd, Jacob Younis.

 

Outfielders: Alex Glenn, Alex Howe, David Kandilas, Trent Oeltjen.

PREVIEW:   ADELAIDE BITE (26-14) vs MELBOURNE ACES (13-25)

 

Despite losing their series in Perth 3-1 to the Heat, it was far from doom and gloom for the Bite, who retained a solid lead atop the ABL table and possess the opportunity to clinch home field advantage for the ABL Championship Series with a solid weekends showing against cellar-dwellers Melbourne.

 

The Bite had an interesting week in Perth, going in a pitcher short given Virgil Vasquez was included on the roster in order to be finals eligible despite being in Mexico for the Mexican League’s Championship Series. This forced Brooke Knight into some tinkering, again throwing his Game Four starter Morgan Coombs early in the series before making his scheduled start in the finale. 

This was the second time that Coombs had relieved before starting and after 59.2 innings this season, perhaps the double-duty was the reason his start at Barbagallo was in some respects his poorest of the season.

 

While the Bite would have gone over hoping for a couple of wins, Knight did start tinkering with his twenty-one man roster with the playoffs in mind, though the results were largely mixed.

 

Tony Vocca may have recently signed as a RHP with the Florence Freedon in the independent Frontier League. However Knight tried him in the outfield for the first three games of the series, and while he went 2-9 he raised his season average to .118.  With Rocky Gale and Landon Hernandez gone, Knight tried Conner O’Gorman - the former Brisbane Bandit - behind the plate, with the Heat responding by stealing six bases in O’Gorman’s two matches in that defensive spot. In their other thirty-eight games, the Heat have stolen just twenty-eight bases, although it’s been a character trait of the Heat since their days under Knight that if they sense a weakness in either member of the battery, they exploit it to its fullest extent. 

 

O’Gorman, who also conceded a passed ball in the second game of the series and had just one hit in six plate appearances, was replaced by Chris Adamson (season average .190) for the final two games of the series.

 

In one of his longest outings for the season, Wilson Lee’s 5.2 innings pitched in the series opener was the longest outing for any Bite starter in the series, meaning the bullpen, which was also an arm short without Vasquez, had to pick up the slack.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the bullpen were involved in three of the four decisions, with Josh Tols hanging on for his new ABL record ninth win, while Wil Mathis continued to struggle, losing both his appearances for the series. Mathis possesses a 7.71 ERA on the season, now above his season lowest figure of 6.52.  Knight will need improvement out of his lefty from New Mexico for him to be an important factor in the Championship Series.

 

While Brooke Knight may have the occasional headache about Wil Mathis, Aces coach Tommy Thompson surely has a migraine about his whole pitching staff, which was weakened after the loss of the Japanese pitchers, but decimated by the Sydney Blue Sox at Blue Sox Stadium last weekend.

 

Fortunately for the Aces, the weather intervened on the series - much like a boxing referee would intervene in a fight where one combatant is being overwhelmed to prevent them from further punishment - though not before the Blue Sox won two games, adding another notch to the Aces unwanted record of consecutive road series without a series victory.

 

Aside from a solid debut by teenage pitcher Lachlan Madden, there was nothing to champion from the Aces perspective in the series as they were largely uncompetitive throughout. It took until the eighth innings of Game Two for the Aces to set the Blue Sox down without a baserunner as the pitching staff gave up hits in all but four innings of the season.

 

With the bats, the Aces hit .158 for the two games, including the two hits gathered off Craig Anderson during his gem coming from Josh Hendriks and Aaron Sayers, the two Aces players who also made errors during the game as the Aces finished the series with a season batting average of .244 - last in the league - and a team ERA of 5.15, a figure that is also only good enough for last in the league.

 

No need to spend much time thinking about this one. Needing a combination of four wins or four Perth losses, look for the Bite to take the four-game set with a solid series victory. The Aces may sneak one of the games but it would have to be a Bite side well off its game or Knight tinkering with his men for that to happen.

 

Series Prediction: Adelaide Bite 3-1

 

Adelaide Bite Roster

 

Pitchers: Tyler Brunnemann, Morgan Coombs, Colin Feldtman, Kyle Hooper, Wilson Lee, Will Mathis, Troy Scott, Craig Stem, Josh Tols, Virgil Vasquez, Tony Vocca, Matthew Williams.

 

Catchers: Chris Adamson, William Thorp.

 

Infielders: Brandon Dixon, Corey Lyon, Craig Maddox, Chan Moon, Stefan Welch.

 

Outfielders: Tom Brice, Mitch Dening, Ben Lodge.

 

Melbourne Aces Roster

 

Pitchers: Adrian Berka, Nicholas Blount, Tim Brown, Cody Buckel, James Darcy, Hayden Godbold, Matthew Wilson, Alfonso Yevoli, Jeremy Young.

 

Catchers: Kelin Deglan, Chace Numata.

 

Infielders: Jared Cruz, Ryan Dale, Josh Davies, Darryl George, Brad Harman, Aaron Sayers, Scott Wearne.

 

Outfielders: Dylan Cozens, Adam Engel, Josh Hendricks.