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.
The week in ABL 4
26 November 2014
Notwithstanding an imbalance in the number of games played, Australian Baseball League is at an intriguing stage with Adelaide Bite (7-5) heading the standings and sixth-placed Melbourne Aces (4-8) not far off the pace with games in hand.
This week will see Canberra (6-6) playing host to Adelaide and Sydney (9-7) at home to Perth (5-7) – with both series starting on Thursday – while Melbourne makes a second trek to Brisbane (9-7) for a four game set starting on Friday evening.
Adelaide shot to the top of the ABL table at Brisbane’s expense. Canberra unexpectedly soared up the ABL table with Perth slumping to an unfamiliar position towards the base of the table while in Melbourne it was frustrations aplenty for both the Aces and Sydney Blue Sox, who were left reflecting on what might have been.
WEEK FOUR REVIEWS
PERTH HEAT vs CANBERRA CAVALRY
Game One: Perth defeated Canberra 12-11 (Box Scores)
Game Two: Canberra defeated Perth 9-4 (Box Scores)
Game Three: Canberra defeated Perth 5-4 (Box Scores)
Game Four: Canberra defeated Perth 11-2 (Box Scores)
After losing game one of their Championship Series replay at Barbagallo Ball Park on Matt Kennelly’s walk-off single, the Canberra Cavalry - whose losing streak had reached eight games in the west - completely dominated the rest of the series, sweeping the final three games and improving their record to 6-6 after twelve games this season.
Canberra’s thirty-six runs represented the most in any series by an opposing side at Barbagallo, beating the Cavalry’s thirty-three run effort of their Championship winning season in 2012-13, and it represented the first time that the Heat had conceded eleven runs or more in two games of a home series.
While Canberra has relied upon imports to do much of the damage over the past couple of seasons, Manager Michael Collins would have been delighted by the contributions he received from his Australian players over the series, especially away from home and in the backyard of the defending champions.
Canberra Series Batting Average:
Imports 0.361 (26 for 72)
Australians 0.343 (23 for 67)
Canberra Series ERA:
For the Heat, their pitching - for so long the envy of five other teams in the competition - was woeful throughout the series, with the staff combining for an ERA of 8.20 over the four games, and blowing out the season ERA to 5.63, nearly half-a-run more than Brisbane’s 5.19. In all, the Heat allowed seventy-three baserunners for the series, with the Heat WHIP of 1.61 being the second worst of all-time over the past five series to Canberra’s 1.70 in season one.
The hitting was better, but only slightly, and while Brian Pointer improved his hitting streak to six games and Tim Smith to five games after a six-hit series, Tim Kennelly, who hit in the three-hole throughout the series had his average drop 134-points from .394 to .260 after an 0-17 series. With runners in scoring position, the Heat was 8-17 (.470) in the victory on Thursday night, however a paltry 4-23 (.173) for the rest of the series.
ADELAIDE BITE vs BRISBANE BANDITS
Game One: Adelaide defeated Brisbane 14-6 (Box Score)
Game Two: Adelaide defeated Brisbane 6-5 (Box Score)
Game Three: Adelaide defeated Brisbane 5-2 (Box Score)
Game Four: Brisbane defeated Adelaide 7-2 (Box Score)
It was a case of whoever got the early momentum went on to win the game in all four matches of the series at Coopers Stadium, as Adelaide took three of the four games and ended the round atop the ABL table.
With Ben Lodge returning from the 21U World Cup and Stefan Welch making his season debut, the Adelaide line-up reignited from their ten-run effort in the series against Perth the week before to bang out fourteen runs in the series opener en route to thirty-two runs for the weekend, their most runs in a series at Coopers Stadium since scoring forty-three in four games against Melbourne in December 2012.
Although both Lodge and Welch had below-par series by their own standard - both going 3-14 - it did allow some protection for the likes of Aaron Miller who had a 7-15 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R week that saw him just miss out on the Player of the Week award to Kellin Deglan of the Melbourne Aces, who had two more RBIs, but also had two more at-bats.
The real bonus for the Bite was the hitting they received from their eight and nine hole hitters. The two positions combined for a 1-36 series against Perth, however against the Bandits, the bottom of the line-up certainly stood tall for Brooke Knight’s side:
8-9 hitters vs Perth: 1-36 (0.027)
8-9 hitters vs Brisbane Games 1 -3: 8-20 (0.400, with 2 HR and 7 RBIs)
8-9 hitters vs Brisbane Game 4: 0-6 (0.000)
Brisbane were left lamenting a trio of slow starts in the first three games, and while they finished all three games strongly, they threatened to leave Adelaide without a victory until Jaspreet Shergill threw five-scoreless innings in the series finale and C.J Beatty gave the Bandits a lead on the back of a two-RBI home run that handed the Bandits the lead for good.
On the positive for the Bandits, Johnny Field kept his fine hitting going, extending his hitting streak to nine games. C.J. Beatty’s hitting streak extended to eight games and the bullpen was solid, however the Bandits did end up losing their top-billing at the head of the ABL table, but with Sydney having dropped two-games in Melbourne and Canberra winning the series in Perth, the Bandits will start Week Five in second position, just percentage points behind the Bite.
MELBOURNE ACES vs SYDNEY BLUE SOX
Game One: Sydney defeated Melbourne 5-3 (Box Score)
Game Two: Melbourne defeated Sydney 4-2 (Box Score)
Game Three: Sydney defeated Melbourne 12-8 (Box Score)
Game Four: Melbourne defeated Sydney 10-4 (Box Score)
While the series was split two games apiece, both sides would have left Melbourne BallPark with the thought that had a couple of things gone their respective way then they could have easily won, or even swept the series.
Two walks, two inexplicable errors and a Trent Oeltjen home run was enough to see Sydney take Game One despite registering only two hits for the game. Markus Solbach was strong for the Blue Sox against his former club, scattering five hits over six innings.
Melbourne took Game Two behind Cody Buckel’s Pitcher of the Week effort, running out 4-2 winners, however Sydney had their chances late as Ben Henry and Kaz Miyata combined to walk five hitters in the final two innings of the ball games.
Buckel’s 97-pitch effort included a staggering thirty called strikes and he walked just one hitter against a dozen strike outs.
“I definitely had a feel for everything,” said Buckel following his performance, also noting the influence catcher Kellin Deglan had on his game: “Kellin and I were on the same page and we know each other inside and out and it’s good to have that out here,” he said.
Melbourne looked the goods in Game Three, leading 8-4 after seven innings. However the Blue Sox tied the game in the ninth, and took the game in the eleventh after scoring four runs with two outs off Jon Kennedy.
The series finale saw Sydney score three times in the first dozen pitches against Hayden Godbold although he and Miyata limited the Blue Sox to just one run the rest of the way. A five-run sixth innings, started by a disputed Justin Huber two-RBI double that saw Sydney manager Jason Pospishil ejected, propelled the Aces to a 10-4 victory, farewelling General Manager Windsor Knox in style.
Aside from the third game of the series, where they had fifteen hits and six home runs, the Blue Sox largely struggled, registering just sixteen hits for the rest of the series, as several regulars battled for offensive production.
Alex Howe (seven hits) and Josh Dean (six hits) were largely the exceptions to the rule as Will Swanner (2-19) saw his average plummet to .180, Tyler Bortnick 2-15 as his .300+ average dropped to .270, while Michael Lysaught’s fast start to the season came to a halt with a 0-10 series.
David Kandilas was the big surprise, being held to a 1-16 series, striking out six times as his average dropped sixty-three points to .297. Kandilas did not play in the series finale.
Melbourne had their own issues, with Adam Engel going 3-17 (two of his hits were bunt singles), Scott Wearne 2-16 and Aaron Sayers 0-7. However Kellin Deglan proved to be a dangerous bat yet again, with a 7-17 (2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 BB) series en route to winning the Week Four Player of the Week award, while Josh Davies was 7-12 in the last three games of the series. There was also somewhat of a surprise in the form of Jared Cruz, who had three hits for the series in the number nine position of the order and was impressive defensively.
Come the end of Sunday’s finale however, both teams were left ruing a split series as bullpen implosions by Melbourne on Saturday night and Sydney on Sunday afternoon cost their sides a vital series victory.
Image: Australian Baseball League
AROUND THE ABL THIS WEEK
Perth Heat reliever Jorge Marban has had his contact purchased from Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League by Boston Red Sox.
The twenty-five year old has been the best reliever in the new ABL season to date, and is yet to give up a hit in nine-innings pitched while striking-out nine hitters.
The Tampa Bay Rays have added Justin O’Conner (Brisbane) to their 40-man roster, a high honour for any player.
A majority of MLB teams have made 40-man roster additions over the past couple of days to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, and O’Conner is now one of three catchers on the Rays 40-man roster, after the club designated Jose Molina for assignment.
Melbourne’s Darryl George, who has hit .218 over 114 games with the Aces, has been released by the Tampa Bay Rays.
George hit .255-4-29-9 with Bowling Green in the Midwest League this season before undergoing season-ending wrist surgery. His release does come as somewhat of a surprise after a .286-0-18-9 season in 2013 at Hudson Valley and he’d been placed on the Aces restricted list before his injury ruled him out of the ABL season.
WEEK FIVE PREVIEWS
BRISBANE BANDITS vs MELBOURNE ACES
Game One: Nick Blount vs. Chen-Hua Lin
Game Two: Makoto Aiuchi vs. Masaki Takashio
Game Three: Cody Buckel vs. Ryan Searle
Game Four: Sam Gibbons vs. Jaspreet Shergill
Brisbane returns home for their third home series of the season, and will meet a most familiar foe, the Melbourne Aces for their third series of the season, and their second meeting at AFA Stadium.
It will be a somewhat different looking Melbourne line-up, who have bid farewell the Japanese duo of catcher Komei Fujisawa (.300, home run) and LHP Kazuki Miyata (2-0 1sv 3.63era 1.15whip), who leaves the ABL tied for the league lead in appearances (10), and having logged 17.1 innings of the Aces 46.1 innings chewed-up by Tommy Thompson’s bullpen this season.
Miyata’s departure leaves the Aces woefully thin in the bullpen, with the only two successful relievers to date having been the Japanese left-hander and Cody Buckel, who is now in the starting rotation.
Bullpen ERA: Buckel and Miyata: 2.41 ERA
Rest of the Bullpen: 7.51 ERA
On the positive for Manager Thompson, he loses a pitcher and catcher in Miyata and Fujisawa, and picks up two more arms from the Seibu Lions, but again, Thompson will have only a short time to determine what their best roles will be.
Kentaro Fukukura was Seibu’s seventh round draft selection in 2013, and a solid year at Ni-Gun (3-4 3.38era, 1.32baserunners per innings, 31 strike outs in 61.1 innings pitched). The right hander is more a control pitcher (eighteen walks in 61.1 innings pitched in 2014), however that does come at a cost to his strike out tally, which was just 4.54 per nine innings pitched.
Fukukura will be joined in the Aces weak bullpen by Isamu Sato, who was a late addition to the list of Seibu players that were added to the Aces roster, replacing bullpen catcher Taichi Yoshimi who was originally slated to replace Fujisawa.
While Sato was chosen two rounds ahead of Fukukura in the 2013 draft, the left-hander did not enjoy the same level of success, struggling his way to a 1-6 record with a 4.95 ERA and allowing 1.77 baserunners per innings. In just sixty-one innings, Sato managed to hit eleven batters, leading all pitchers at Ni-Gun level in 2014.
The third change sees twenty year old Sam Gibbons, a player on Melbourne’s Protected List, join the squad for the first time this season in place of Tim Brown.
Although the Aces starters have been better than expected, the bullpen really needs to lock-down their opposition in order to ensure rallies can be made and leads safely and securely maintained, although the Aces line-up cannot lay claim to being a solid late innings team if the numbers are to be believed. Breaking it down to simple statistics, the Aces are the lowest scoring team in the ABL from the seventh innings onwards, and the numbers also include a total of six innings of ‘extra innings’ baseball.
Aces runs in seventh innings or later: 11
Aces average runs per game seventh innings or later: 0.92
Brisbane returns to AFA Stadium where they have won five of their last six matches and will be hoping their momentum gained from their victory in the series finale in Adelaide will roll into the four-game set against the Aces.
Unlike the Aces, the Bandits have been at their dangerous best late in games, having scored at least two runs from the seventh innings onward in ten of their past eleven matches.
Bandits runs in seventh innings or later: 32
Bandits average runs per game seventh innings or later: 2.00
The recent run of late innings scoring isn’t a surprise to C.J. Beatty, who noted that the Bandits were priding themselves on their performances from the seventh to ninth innings, but noted that the Bandits would have to refocus for the coming series.
“We’ve got to take control early and set the tone early”, said Beatty. “Melbourne is a young side and relies on leaders like Scott Wearne and Brad Harman and feed off them. If we give them an inch, they’ll take a mile so we have to take advantage of them early.”
While the starting pitching aside from Jaspreet Shergill struggled in Adelaide, the return of Ryan Searle will significantly boost the Bandits rotation, and the traditional Game Three starter is joined as an inclusion in the Brisbane rotation in place of Steven Chambers, while Matt Timms replaces Szu-Hau Huang, who has been removed from the active roster after compiling a 8.59 ERA.
With the Bandits strong at home and having demonstrated they can score runs when the pressure is on late, they would have to be favoured to take the series against a Melbourne side still looking for its first road series victory after twenty-seven tries and possessing a bullpen of question marks and an offence that struggles to score in the back third of games.
Series Prediction: Brisbane 3-1.
Pitchers: Daniel Cooper, Justin Erasmus, Masato Goto, Sam Holland, Jason Jarvis, Chen-Hua Lin, Ryan Searle, Jaspreet Shergill, Makasi Takashio, Matt Timms.
Catchers: Ryan Battaglia, Maxx Tissenbaum, Kuan-Wei Yang.
Infielders: C.J. Beatty, Thomas Coyle, Mitch Nilsson, David Sutherland, Logan Wade.
Outfielders: Andrew Campbell, Johnny Field, Granden Goetzmann, Karl Hoschke, Connor McDonald, Josh Roberts.
Pitchers: Makoto Aiuchi, Nick Blount, Cody Buckel, Kentaro Fukukura, Sam Gibbons, Hayden Godbold, Ben Henry, Jon Kennedy, Isamu Sato, Matthew Wilson.
Catchers: Kellin Deglan, Chace Numata
Infielders: Jared Cruz, Josh Davies, Brad Harman, Justin Huber, Aaron Sayers.
Outfielders: Dylan Cozens, Adam Engel, Josh Hendricks, Ben Leslie, Scott Wearne
SYDNEY BLUE SOX vs PERTH HEAT
Game One: Brian Baker vs. Markus Solbach
Game Two: Daniel Schmidt vs. Craig Anderson
Game Three: Shawn Sanford vs. Luke Wilkins
Game Four: TBD (McKenzie Acker) vs. Lachlan Wells
The two teams began the season four weeks ago at Barbagallo BallPark, and had they not conceded the last fifteen runs of the final game, the Blue Sox would have left Perth with a 3-1 series victory.
While it is still early in the season, Sydney looks the most playoff-ready team at the moment, with three excellent starters in the trio of Solbach, Anderson and Wilkins. The Game Four starter is a concern for manager Jason Pospishil, with Sydney just 1-3 in the fourth game of a series, and 8-4 in all other games.
Anderson and Wilkins struggled according to the numbers during their starts in Melbourne, however Anderson was the victim of some small ball, followed by some swinging bunts and he couldn’t overcome Pitcher of the Week Cody Buckel, while Wilkins threw on a rare day where the wind blows out, with the two teams combining for ten home runs on the day. That won’t happen at Blue Sox Stadium this weekend.
With Alex Howe able to spell Will Swanner behind the plate, James Philibossian’s position in the line-up was expendable. He has been replaced by Jacob Younis, who returns after being with the Australian 21U World Cup team. A career .202 hitter in the ABL, Younis leads all active players in games played (eighty-nine) without hitting a home run.
Graeme Lloyd’s pitching staff had perhaps the worst series ever experienced by a Perth Heat team, with no numbers coming out on the positive for the three-time ABL Champions.
In all, Perth conceded thirty-six runs in the series, allowing seventy-two baserunners and sixty-three Canberra at-bats with runners in scoring position, both four-game series high’s for the Heat. Even outfielder Ben Shorto had to spend time on the mound in game four.
Fourth starter Tom Bailey has been left-out of the travelling squad, with import McKenzie Acker, recently picked up by the Rockford Aviators of the Frontier League, replacing Bailey after coming to attention with an impressive outing against the Heat in a pre-season trial game.
Luke Hughes returns and will add a potent bat to a line-up that was missing a bit of spark in the latter part of the Cavalry series. Hughes returns in place of Jake Turnbull, while reliever Cameron Lamb has not made the trip easy to tackle the Blue Sox.
The Heat started last weeks series on a seven-game winning streak at Barbagallo Ball Park against the Cavalry, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly start this week's series with a six-game winning run at Blue Sox Stadium. However, after such a poor series at home - and Sydney still lamenting their inability to take a series win down in Melbourne against the Aces - it is near impossible to envisage Perth leaving Blacktown with a series victory.
Expect the likes of Oeltjen, Kandilas and Swanner to pick it up this week and the pitching staff to get back on track with a solid series victory. While Hughes will make the Heat line-up stronger, to expect them to take the series after such a disastrous week at home against the Cavalry is just too much to ask.
Series Prediction: Sydney 3-1.
Pitchers: Craig Anderson, Tim Cox, Josh Guyer, Vaughan Harris, Dae-Sung Koo, Steve Landell, Wayne Lundgren, Markus Solbach, Aaron Sookee, Lachlan Wells, Luke Wilkins.
Catchers: Will Swanner.
Infielders: Tyler Bortnick, Trent D’Antonio, Joshua Dean, Michael Lysaught, Zac Shepherd, Jacob Younis.
Outfielders: Alex Glenn, Alex Howe, David Kandilas, Trent Oeltjen
Pitchers: McKenzie Acker, Brian Baker, Liam Baron, Alex Burkard, Jorge Marban, Scott Mitchinson, Chad Robinson, Shawn Sanford, Daniel Schmidt, Ben Shorto.
Catchers: Allan De San Miguel, Matt Kennelly, Steel Russell.
Infielders: Matt Dixon, Luke Hughes, Tim Kennelly, Jordan McDonald, Taishi Nakagawa, Joey Wong.
Outfielders: Brian Pointer, Nick Rulli, Tim Smith
CANBERRA CAVALRY vs ADELAIDE BITE
Game One: Craig Stem vs. Brian Grening
Game Two: Wilson Lee vs. Tim Atherton
Game Three: Morgan Coombs vs. Gabriel Hernandez
Game Four: Matthew Williams vs. Tristan Crawford
Six-games into the new ABL season and there is little argument that the then 1-5 Cavalry were struggling, especially with their hitting. However, halfway through their series in Sydney something clicked and the Cavalry’s last six-games have seen them register at least ten-hits in six consecutive matches, something the club couldn’t muster in their Championship series of 2012-13.
Cavalry first six games: 0.197 (38 for 192)
Cavalry last six games: 0.348 (75 for 214)
The recent improvement was no surprise to the players however, with Scott Hillier noting, “The attitude in the club house was always confident though, was just a matter of time till it all clicked for us.”
Having scored an ABL high twenty-three runs in the opening week of the season against Brisbane, Adelaide’s Darren Fidge acknowledged that the Bite had enjoyed “a couple of games where we absolutely crushed everything in sight” but that last week’s efforts by the bottom of the order were a positive sign for the future.
“The sign of a good team is it can produce runs anywhere through the lineup. While the top was struggling – (Angus) Roeger, Rocky (Gale) and (Corey) Lyon picked up some key hits and spurred the others on. It's nice to know that there's guys up and down the line up that have the ability to impact a game.”
While the signs of an offensive break-out like Canberra’s may not be far around the corner for the Bite, the Cavalry still holds the edge when it comes to the offensive side of the equation at present.
Where the Bite have the advantage however is with their pitching, with their team 4.24 ERA leading the league by over six tenths of a run per game. The Bite also leads the league in WHIP ratio (1.36) and are averaging a strike-out per innings, with their total of 108 strike-outs for the season matching the Sydney Blue Sox, who have played in four more matches.
While Canberra’s bullpen is solid - and will only get stronger when Steve Kent and Sean Toler join the roster - there are still some issues with the starting rotation.
Brian Grening (7.47 ERA) is throwing like he did in the Atlantic League this season, Gabriel Hernandez (7.63 ERA) is showing signs he is slower in adjusting to the league that Michael Collins would have wanted, while Tristan Crawford (6.28 ERA) is still transforming from closer to starter after a couple of arm surgeries.
So long as the bats keep firing for Canberra, there will be some leeway, especially while Tim Atherton (3-0, 1.69 ERA) keeps firing, however eventually, Michael Collins will need his other three starters to produce if the team is to be a legitimate threat at the business end of the season.
Returning home for their second home stand of the season, expect the Cavalry to be strong, but this Adelaide team is different to the one we have witnessed over the past couple of the seasons. They are a tighter unit, will use the series on the road to gel a little further, and play a tougher brand of baseball under Brooke Knight than seen at the beginning of last year. A series split is not an unrealistic outcome for the series.
Series Prediction: Split 2-2
Pitchers: Tim Atherton, Jake Brown, Tristan Crawford, Dustin Crenshaw, Brian Grening, Gabriel Hernandez, AJ Holland, Ian Marshall, Wayne Ough, Aaron Thompson.
Catchers: Kieran Bradford, Jack Murphy, Robbie Perkins.
Infielders: LB Dantzler, Markus Lemon, Christian Lopes, Sam Thornton, Mitch Walding.
Outfielders: Anthony Alford, Scott Hillier, Alex Hudak, Adam Silva.
Pitchers: Tyler Brunnemann, Morgan Coombs, Colin Feldtman, Darren Fidge, Kyle Hooper, Wilson Lee, Will Mathis, Troy Scott, Craig Stem, Josh Tols, Matthew Williams.
Catchers: Rocky Gale.
Infielders: Brandon Dixon, Corey Lyon, Craig Maddox, Chan Moon, Stefan Welch
Outfielders: Tom Brice, Mitch Dening, Ben Lodge, Aaron Miller, Angus Roeger.
Image: Australian Baseball League