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 6

Stuart Capel

10 December 2014

 

Six weeks of the ABL season are in the books. The bottom-two placed teams from last year - Adelaide and Brisbane - share a tie for the lead, while Sydney remains third despite having had a week-off. 

 

Canberra escaped Adelaide with an unlikely Game Four victory to avoid the sweep, while the Perth Heat and Melbourne Aces prop-up the table, with Melbourne claiming a series victory in their rain-shortened set at Melbourne Ball Park over the weekend.

 

WEEK SEVEN PREVIEW:   SYDNEY BLUE SOX vs ADELAIDE BITE

 

The Blue Sox enjoyed a week away from ABL action last weekend, playing two matches against the touring JABA All-Star team from Japan, although both games were shortened, with one ending in a tie and the other because of inclement weather.

 

While the JABA All-Stars left the Australian shores undefeated, Jason Pospishil would not be disappointed with his team, as he used the games to give some lesser-used players some game time for the run towards the ABL playoffs, and tinkered with the line-up.

 

The Blue Sox start the weekend with an 11-9 record, just a game the leading duo of Adelaide and Brisbane, with their win-loss record one that could be better had they not split four of their five series to date, having held leads in all four series before losing the final game of the series.

 

SYDNEY STARTING PITCHER          WIN/LOSS         ERA

Markus Solbach                                             4-0               2.62

Craig Anderson                                              2-3               3.00

Luke Wilkins                                                  2-2                2.78

Game Four starter                                        1-1                 6.57

 

If Manager Jason Pospishil and his pitching coach Darian Lindsay can get the fourth starter right - and for now they appear to be backing seventeen year-old Lachlan Wells who has shown promising signs in his two starts without many of the results thus far - there is little doubt the Blue Sox will possess the best starting rotation in the ABL. Certainly at present, with Solbach, Anderson and Wilkins all throwing well, they have the most playoff ready starting trio in the competition.

 

While the Solbach-Anderson-Wilkins trio has been excellent, the bullpen aside from Dae-Sung Koo (0-0 2sv 2.16 era) has struggled to lock down any lead the Blue Sox starters have earned:

 

BLUE SOX STARTERS (ERA)             3.58

BLUE SOX RELIEVERS (ERA)           7.68

 

Although the fourth-starter is an issue, to win a championship the Blue Sox will need to remedy their bullpen woes, they simply won’t be able to overcome a bullpen that concedes over two-and-a-half runs per three innings.

 

The good news for Pospishil and his staff is the improved hitting the Blue Sox have shown this season, with their team average of .260 their best in the ABL to date and only the second time the mark has been over .246. 

 

Josh Dean (.352), Trent Oeltjen (.309), David Kandilas (.291) have all performed well, while the Blue Sox have also received surprise contributions from Alex Howe (.279) and Michael Lysaught (.267).

 

If over the second half of the season he can get more out of Zach Shepherd (.227), Will Swanner (.216) and Trent D’Antonio (.212), then Pospishil will be holding a strong hand at the playoff table come February.

 

Just over a year ago, the Adelaide Bite was almost forced to remove new Manager Charlie Aliano, with the club at the base of the ABL table.

 

Heading into Week Seven this season, the Bite - now under Brooke Knight - occupy the top of the ABL table, albeit in a tie with the Brisbane Bandits, but it’s an excellent effort for the Bite who less than two years ago were seeking import exemptions in order to put a contending team on the diamond.

 

The Bite could have held top position on their own heading into the Sydney series, although a ninth innings bullpen capitulation in the series finale saw the Cavalry score nine runs and escape the City of Churches having prevented a four-game sweep.

 

Leading the way for the Bite has been a pitching staff that has quietly worked its way to the best ERA in the ABL (4.65), and also possesses the most strikeouts (180) in the competition.

 

Continuing his conversion from the bullpen to the starting rotation, Craig Stem (2-1 2.96 era) has performed admirably as the staff ace, while Morgan Coombs (3-1 3.42 era) has been excellent and was an unlucky loser to Sam Gibbons for Week Six Pitcher of the Week honours. While Matt Williams (4.50 era) has been solid as a fourth starter, finding a second local starter has proven an issue with Wilson Lee (0-2 7.88 era) having struggled in his first elongated chance at becoming a dependable ABL starting pitcher.

 

Chin-Hui Tsao of Taiwan was supposed to fix all that, however his registration has been withdrawn by the ABL, with the Taiwanese league still unwilling to forgive Tsao for previous indiscretions.

 

Out of the bullpen, Tyler Brunnemann (1-1 3sv 5.02 era 0.91 whip) has been outstanding aside from his one poor innings last weekend, while Josh Tols continues to find a way to win games, and is now 4-0 0.61 for the season.

 

Complementing the teams pitching has been some improved hitting, with several players having improved their average over their eight-game stand against the Cavalry, which netted the Bite a total of forty-five runs.

 

PLAYER                      PRE-CAVALRY AVERAGE           POST-CAVALRY AVERAGE        +/-

Rockey Gale                                 0.121                                                      0.258                          +147

Stefan Welch                               0.214                                                     0.319                           +105

Corey Lyon                                  0.233                                                     0.294                            +61

Craig Maddox                             0.360                                                    0.400                            +40

Aaron Miller                              0.354                                                     0.383                             +29

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Bite’s team average is second in the league at .273, which represents the clubs highest team average in the five years of the ABL.

 

The Bite and their strong left-handers however come up against a different outfit this weekend in Sydney, which has a rotation that is strong against left-handed hitters.

 

Southpaws are hitting just .150 against Markus Solbach, Craig Anderson has always been tough on left-handers, Luke Wilkins’ batting average against is better against left-handers (.238) than it is against right-handers (.268), and leftys are struggling against Lachlan Wells too (.167). Throw in Dae-Sung Koo in the bullpen and the easy pickings for the Bite’s left-handed brigade appear scarce.

 

The Blue Sox have never lost a series to the Bite in Brisbane (12-5 record over four years) and it’s hard to see them losing here. Give the advantage to the Blue Sox for this series. 

 

Series Prediction: Sydney 3-1

PERTH HEAT vs BRISBANE BANDITS

 

The Heat returned to Perth on Sunday night having lost their first series to the Melbourne Aces in eleven meetings, and they still find themselves fifth on the ABL table.

 

Perth’s 8-12 record not only marks their worst twenty-game record, but is also the first time they have been anything other than six or more games over .500 after twenty games, and at four-games under .500, they face what is starting to become a race against time to push for a fifth successive finals berth.

 

SEASON                              RECORD 20 GAMES                   FINISHING POSITION

2010-11                                                13-7                                            Second

2001-12                                                16-4                                            First

2012-13                                                13-7                                            Third

2013-14                                                13-7                                            First

2014-15                                                8-12                                            ???

 

The series against Melbourne could have been better, as the Heat lost two one-run games, but could have been worse as they only managed a win thanks to yet another Aces bullpen meltdown despite being no-hit for six innings and being 5-0 down with just three innings to play.

 

On the positive for Perth, Daniel Schmidt threw well, Brian Baker showed signs of improvement, though two long-balls hurt his numbers, while Jorge Marban (5ip 1h 7k) had another scoreless weekend on the hill. Michael McClendon made his first appearance for Perth, and while the former Major Leaguer was no Mike Ekstrom, he was no Sean Tracey either.

 

Hitting wise, Tim Smith only started one game through injury, Brian Pointer was 0-13 for the weekend, Nick Rulli 0-6 and Steel Russell moved to 0-10 for the season.  Allan de San Miguel had one RBI in fourteen plate appearances, Joey Wong was just 2-11 and Luke Hughes again did not play. All in all, for all this to happen, to lose two games by a run suggests that once things turn around, so might the Perth Heat fortunes.

 

Not too many people had the Brisbane Bandits being co-leaders after six weeks of the ABL competition, and perhaps after two games of the season even less people had them topping the charts at this point. However they have taken advantage of three series against bottom-placed Melbourne to pad their record, and did enough against fellow ladder leaders Adelaide to ensure they didn’t lose any ground to the Bite. With a whisper going around that the Bandits may receive a boost to the line-up in a few weeks time, could this indeed be the season the Bandits break-through for a position in the ABL finals?

 

Perhaps surprisingly for a team with a 12-8 record, the Bandits are actually minus-seven (105-112) in run differential, however that is largely due to their 23-3 loss to Adelaide on the opening weekend of the season. Take that result out and the Bandits go from conceding 5.60 runs per game to just 4.68 runs per game.

 

Like the Blue Sox, the Bandits are enjoying their best season at the plate average wise, and that has resulted in an improvement in the teams run scoring abilities:

 

SEASON                                      TEAM AVERAGE                               RUNS PER GAME

2010-11                                                      0.257                                                    4.75

2011-12                                                      0.257                                                    4.77

2012-13                                                      0.247                                                    3.77

2013-14                                                      0.237                                                    3.50

2014-15                                                      0.262                                                    5.25

 

 

Diminutive second baseman Tommy Coyle leads the club with .373 average, a mark that would be a new club record should he retain the average for the rest of the season, while after just twenty games, he is exactly halfway to Josh Roberts record for hits in a season. Roberts had fifty-six hits in 2011-12.

 

Complementing Coyle are Andrew Campbell - with the former Indians farmhand quietly putting together a .326 season - with Maxx Tissenbaum hitting .321 while improving all the time behind the plate. While the trio have been getting on base regularly, Johnny Field (six), CJ Beatty and Granden Goetzman (both five) have certainly been providing plenty of power along the way.

 

Pitching-wise, a majority of the arms who have inflated ERAs so far this season have found themselves off the roster for the moment, with their starting rotation serviceable and the bullpen now finding its feet.

 

Starters Chen-Hua Lin (4.45era), Ryan Searle (2.81), Masaki Takashio (2.45) and Jaspreet Shergill (2.57) have combined for seven victories, or as many victories as the Melbourne Aces have for the season, while Masato Goto (11) and Justin Erasmus (10) have proven to be reliable arms from the bullpen. If the Bandits can just lock down the closer role, then they will be genuine contenders for a top-three finish come the end of the season.

 

In the Bandits’ quest for more respect, and more victories, a win over Perth at Barbagallo Ball Park - where they have never won a series and were indeed swept last season - would go a long way towards accomplishing both, and would subsequently move them closer to that ever-elusive finals berth.

 

The Bandits have targeted Games Two and Three of the series, moving Chen-Hua Lin back for Friday night and keeping Ryan Searle on his more favoured Saturday evening schedule, and manager David Nilsson may indeed be happy in taking a series split away from their longest road trip of the season.

 

Perth, on the other hand, simply need a series win to get their season back on track.  The addition of McClendon will help, and a further reinforcement is on the way, however to beat Brisbane they simply need several players who were expected to contribute this season in Brian Baker, Brian Pointer and Nick Rulli to start stepping up and contributing to the Heat’s push to a fifth-successive finals campaign.

 

A touch of luck and Perth could have taken a series sweep of the Aces in Melbourne instead of returning west with just one victory. If they are to make a solid run at the top three, look for them to start making their move this weekend against the Bandits.

 

Series Prediction: Perth 3-1

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY vs MELBOURNE ACES

 

Entering the last innings of Sunday’s series finale in Adelaide and facing Tyler Brunnemann - who had already registered two saves in the series - it appeared that the Cavalry was about to be swept in a series for the first time this season. However Canberra sent fourteen-hitters to the plate in that ninth innings, scoring nine runs as the Cavalry salvaged a victory from the jaws of defeat, which may be handy come the end of the season.

 

The win has been disputed, with the Adelaide Bite lodging a protest over Canberra having an import pitcher in the game and five imports in the batting line-up, seemingly in contravention of the rule which allows for a maximum of five imports being in the game at any given time.

 

Canberra believes that by replacing an import in the bottom of the innings and not the top of the ninth is sufficient to comply with the rule. At the time of publication, no decision on the ruling was forthcoming from the ABL Head Office.

 

The controversy of Game Four, and the size of the Cavalry’s ninth innings somewhat masked Canberra’s otherwise poor series, one in which their bats, which had been so excellent in recent series, largely floundered. Taking out the final innings of the final game, the Cavalry hit just .222 (28-126) as a team, and just .200 (6-30) with runners in scoring position.

 

There were some positives however, with Jack Murphy extending his hitting streak to twelve games to hit safely in fifteen of sixteen games for a .397 average. Kieran Bradford’s double-digit game hitting streak came to an end but his average is now .377 with safe hits in thirteen of fifteen games. With Christian Lopes (.343) and Robbie Perkins (.291) also performing well, the Cavalry are leading the way in the ABL with a .278 team average.

 

Melbourne bounced back somewhat with a rain-shortened series victory over the Perth Heat. However, once again, the Aces were left lamenting another game that got away in the opening game, letting a 5-0 lead slip away to lose the opening game of the series.

 

While the Aces have now won seven games, they have lost seven games by two-runs or less, a vast majority of them due to bullpen implosions. Starters Cody Buckel (2-1 3.00 era), Sam Gibbons (2-0 1.29 era) and Makoto Aiuchi (0-1 4.25 era) have been solid, but the senior arms in the bullpen have largely struggled.

 

Nick Blount was demoted to the bullpen last week and struggled in both outings and is now 0-4 7.36. Tim Brown continues to show signs of being solid but a 7.71 era is a 7.71 era.  Isamu Sato has pitched twice, both times poorly, and has a 10.80 era and 2.70whip, while Ben Henry was sent to local ball after not having his number called through the three games of the Perth series and would not have pitched in game four.

 

Saving the bullpen from total annihilation are two unlikely sources in locals Matt Wilson and Hayden Godbold.

 

A former Baltimore affiliated player, Wilson pitched a couple of times for Canberra last season and started the year as the Aces fourth-starter. However, following a rough outing in Brisbane, he was sent to the bullpen and has responded brilliantly, throwing nine innings without giving up an earned run, allowing just two hits and striking out seven hitters in six outings. 

 

Godbold, a player sourced from the team’s open tryouts at the start of the season has a 3.21era over seven appearances, including one start where he allowed just two runs against a strong Sydney line-up in a game the Aces came back and won. The 5’9” right hander appears to have earned the trust of Tommy Thompson and earned the win with two innings of excellent relief in extra innings against Perth on Saturday evening.

 

With the bat, Dylan Cozens showed signs of promise with five hits in three games, Josh Davies and Brad Harman improved their averages to .385 and .306 respectively, while teenager Jared Cruz continued to show signs of improvement and is now hitting .250 to compliment his solid fielding.

 

It’s a given to say that the Melbourne Aces have never seen Narrabundah Ball Park as a happy venue, as the Aces continue their streak of futility on the road, with a record twenty-eight consecutive interstate sojourns having ended without a series victory.

 

While they are currently improving, to all of a sudden turn on a big series in Canberra is a difficult ask - although the Cavalry is yet to win a series at home this season, having dropped three games to the Blue Sox, and then the final two to Adelaide, allowing the Bite to square their series.

 

With a better batting line-up however, look for Canberra to take advantage on Melbourne’s weak bullpen, and take the series, though expect the Aces to find a way to hold one lead for a ‘W’ in the series.

 

Series Prediction: Canberra 3-1