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 7

Stuart Capel

17 December 2014

 

Following Wednesday night’s remarkable All-Star Game - in which Team Australia came from a long way back to defeat the World All-Stars 11-8 - attention turns to Week Eight of the Australian Baseball League season. 

 

The bottom-two teams do battle, with the Aces finals chances hanging by a thread and Perth needing wins to keep pace with the top four. Adelaide and Sydney face-off in a return fixture from last week, while Canberra visits Brisbane knowing that a series win could potentially see the Cavalry rise into a top-two position.

 

MELBOURNE ACES (8-15) vs PERTH HEAT (10-13)

 

It was another series of matches and another series of could-have-beens for the Melbourne Aces, who had their chances to win all four matches in Canberra, but could only come away with one win, with the team finding ways to surrender late innings leads or ties to lose the other three matches.

 

Under no circumstances could the 1-3 weekend at Narrabundah be attributed to the starting rotation, with the quartet of Sam Gibbons, Cody Buckel, Makoto Aiuchi and Kentaro Fukukura combining for 26.1 of the 33.2 innings thrown by Aces pitchers over the weekend, but conceding just three earned runs. In throwing just 7.1 innings, the bullpen conceded five earned runs.

 

The Aces again struggled with the bats, with the hitting line-up managing just twenty-seven hits over four games, while they were struck out more times (40) than had either walks or hits (38). 

 

With a .206 average for the week, it was no surprise that the entire line-up struggled mightily aside perhaps from the improving Dylan Cozens (5-14, including two doubles and a home run). Adam Engel had three hits in the series opener but only one hit for the rest of the series. A recent Player of the Week, Kellin Deglan was just 3-16, Josh Davies only 2-13, with Scott Wearne struggling even more at 2-16.  Josh Hendricks was 1-7 while seeing his first action for the season, Ryan Dale was 0-6, striking out four times while making a two-run error that gave the Cavalry the lead in Game Four.

 

Perth on the other hand had their chances to win their home series against the high-flying Brisbane Bandits, winning two games, losing a game in extra-innings and losing the series finale late in the game. While the series ended at two-wins apiece, the way the team played would have given manager Steve Fish and his staff enough positives that the team can venture over to Melbourne for the second time in December and come away with a series victory in what is a five-game set.

 

Like Melbourne, Perth’s rotation was solid throughout the series with only rookie hurler Ben Shorto having a short outing. The return of Allan de San Miguel to catching duties certainly cut-out the majority of Brisbane’s running game, with Australia’s number one backstop gunning down four of seven would-be base stealers.

 

Luke Hughes returned to the Perth line-up and had five-hits for the series, including three in the fourth game of the series. Sam Kennelly played his first game of the season, while the running game was in full working order, with the Heat stealing seven bases for the series without being caught once. 

 

Joey Wong (3-17) and Tim Kennelly (2-15 and hitless in final three games of the series) again struggled, although the return of Hughes to the line-up, de San Miguel behind the plate and a full series from Tim Smith and the return of Sam Kennelly can only help Perth become a better team over the second-half of the season.

 

With five games to be played in the series to make-up for the Sunday rain-out a fortnight ago, rosters will be expanded by two-players for both sides. 

 

Look for the Aces starting rotation to change slightly, with Nick Blount - whose number was not called once by Tommy Thompson in Canberra - likely to return to the starting rotation, with Eric Kline, who played under former Melbourne Aces pitcher Freddy Flores at Fargo-Moorhead in the American Association in-line to start his first game for the club.

 

With former Milwaukee Brewers reliever Mike McClendon showing promise in two long relief outings against Brisbane in which he conceded just three hits and no runs in 6.1 innings pitched, Perth’s most recent former Major Leaguer wouldn’t be the worst addition to what would be a five-man rotation, with Tom Bailey and perhaps Scott Mitchinson the other contenders for the fifth-starter position.

 

The Aces took what was a three-game series a fortnight ago, but while they took a step backwards in Canberra, Perth showed enough signs to be something Melbourne are not – in contention for a finals berth, with their efforts last weekend.

 

While it won’t be all Perth’s way, the Aces simply are not playing with any confidence and they were visibly shattered after last Sunday late-innings defeat to expect an immediate turnaround.

 

Series Prediction:   Perth 3-2

BRISBANE BANDITS (14-10) vs CANBERRA CAVALRY (12-12)

 

While the Heat could lay claim to having the chance to have swept their series, so could the Brisbane Bandits, who - at least from the outside looking in - attempted to leave Barbagallo BallPark with a minimum of two wins before the series began.

 

If that was the case, it was mission accomplished for the Bandits, who won the series opener and series finale, however had kept their two in-form starters, Chen-Hua Lin and Ryan Searle for the second and third-games of the series. Best laid plans and all that perhaps?

 

Brisbane’s hitters enjoyed a solid week, with the Bandits line-up recording double-digit hits in all four matches, with Granden Goetzman enjoying his best weekend with the Bandits, going 8-20 with a home run, five RBI and two stolen bases, earning ABL Player of the Week honours in the process, while Tommy Coyle had five hits before going hitless in the finale, a game the Bandits eventually won. With three players, Coyle (.359), Maxx Tissenbaum (.328) and Andrew Campbell (.311) all hitting over .300, it is perhaps not surprising that the Bandits are second in the ABL in hits (221) and batting average (.269).

 

The team that they trail in both categories is the Canberra Cavalry, who took three games from their four-game set at home against the Melbourne Aces, though the Cavalry had to rely on the group used more out of necessity than desire – their Australian hitters.

 

Series vs Melbourne

Australian Hitters:     16-59 (0.271)

Import Hitters:     14-71 (0.197)

 

The series proved to be the best so far for Adam Silva, with the former Aces rostered outfielder enjoying a 6-13 weekend. Robbie Perkins had a hit in every game, while Scott Hillier (3-8) and Jason Sloan (3-11) both came up with timely hits against the Aces. While Kieran Bradford (0-11) somewhat came down to earth, his average is still a healthy .311 and he did draw the bases-loaded walk that saw the Cavalry walk-off on Thursday night.

 

Given the form the Australian hitters are enjoying for the Cavalry, it is a surprise that the coaching staff has continued to use a loophole in the rules to maximise the production from their imports.

 

The existing rule that allows for only five imports on the field is largely adhered to by all teams, but the Cavalry used a loophole in the rules for consecutive innings on Sunday, and then in the final innings brought in import pitcher Dustin Crenshaw and replaced DH Jack Murphy with Kieran Bradford, who never saw any game time, as the Cavalry closed out the game.

 

While the gameplan is within the rules, the ABL will certainly be looking closely at how the rule is written for future seasons to ensure that all clubs are not abusing the intended spirit of the rule and close any loopholes.

 

Following their 1-5 start to the season, the Cavalry visits AFA Stadium this week having clawed their way to a .500 record at 12-12, though arguably face their toughest challenge this week.

 

The series will be a home coming for Canberra starters Tristan Crawford and Aaron Thompson, while draftees Scott Hillier and Kieran Bradford will also benefit from a return to their home state. With Thompson rumoured to be leaving the club to venture overseas for a time, he will be even more keen to put one over his former team, and if the import hitters can match the Australians output of last week, the Cavalry will be hard to stop.

 

For the Bandits, they welcome an opposition other than Melbourne for the first time in over a month, and with the Cavalry and Blue Sox just a couple of games behind in the standings will need a split to stop from falling behind both the Cavalry and Blue Sox this weekend.

 

In what is an unusual series as far as this season is concerned, with a previously scheduled double-header on Saturday to allow those playing in the All-Star game the time to return to Brisbane following Wednesday night’s extravaganza in Melbourne, look for the two teams to win a couple of games each in what should be an evenly contested series.

 

Series Prediction:   Series tied 2-2.

 

ADELAIDE BITE (15-9) vs STDNEY BLUE SOX (12-12)

 

A game clear on top of the ABL table, the Adelaide Bite begin their home series against the Blue Sox having almost swept the Sydneysiders in Blacktown last week, though this series may not be as clear-cut as what occurred in Week Seven.

 

Like the Melbourne Aces in Canberra, the Bite produced outstanding pitching, with the four starters combining for a 1.06 series ERA, with staff ace Craig Stem - who was traded to the Miami Marlins back home this week from the Los Angeles Dodgers - giving up all three. Wilson Lee, Morgan Coombs and Matt Williams threw a combined 18.2 innings in the final three starts of the series and did not give up a single run, earned or unearned.

 

With the bats, the form of Brandon Dixon - who had three multi-hit games in the series - would have pleased Brooke Knight, who has stuck with the Los Angeles Dodgers affiliated infielder in the lead-off position, while the bottom two positions, which have come to life in Adelaide’s surge up the ABL table, were once again solid in the three wins (7-22 .318) but quiet (1-7 .142) in the extra-innings defeat.

 

Sydney’s bats were largely quiet throughout the series, hitting just .196 (25-127), with several players having poor series.

 

Tyler Bortnick had a disastrous four-games, going 1-15, striking out three times, caught stealing twice, while being picked-off at third base and making two errors. He can only improve in Adelaide this week. Trent Oeltjen was 2-16 and like Bortnick can only look forward to better numbers this week, while Will Swanner, who was largely relieved of the catching duties last weekend by Guy Edmonds, is still only hitting .212, sixth lowest of all qualified hitters in the ABL. Edmonds - in his first series since the Australian U21 team returned from Taiwan - raised his average to .158, the same mark as infielder Jacob Younis.

 

On the hill, the Blue Sox had perhaps their worst week as a staff, though Aaron Sookee continues to dominate out of the Blue Sox bullpen, having given up just three hits and no runs in his past 11.2 innings pitched. While the temptation will be to continue with Sookee in the bullpen, Manager Jason Pospishil will certainly have entertained the idea for the right-hander to replace Lachlan Wells at the back-end of the starting rotation. Certainly if Todd Van Steensel was in the bullpen at present, the move would be more of a chance to occur.

 

For the Blue Sox to enjoy a better series against the Bite, the starting rotation will need to get back to its early season form, but they did keep the big bats of the Bite relatively quiet last week, with Aaron Miller just 4-18 and Mitch Dening 3-13 on his return to his old home ballpark. Tom Brice (2-14) also struggled as did Ben Lodge (3-14) though Stefan Welch was solid and Corey Lyon continued to prove a gem of a find for the Bite, raising his average to .317, good enough at present for the top-ten in the ABL.

 

Adelaide is slightly vulnerable this series, as they have reportedly lost Rocky Gale for the rest of the season, with the AAA backstop rumoured to have headed home. Craig Maddox is a solid receiver and can take his place, which does free up an import position. There will also be a watch put on Craig Stem’s tenure with the club given his recent trade. He should play this week but will the Marlins want to shut him down soon? Could the ghosts of Ryan Beckman be returning to Coopers Stadium to haunt the Bite anytime soon?

 

Gale is a big loss, both behind the plate, where he caught three base stealers and picked off Bortnick last week, and in the batters box, where after a slow start, he has hit .400 over his past ten matches. His absence evens the playing field for the Blue Sox, who will almost certainly get better pitching out of their starters this weekend while it will be tough for Adelaide’s starting four to be better than last weekend.

 

If Sydney can get a bit more production from the top of their order and some better starting pitching, they certainly won’t leave Adelaide empty handed. With the two teams above the Blue Sox playing each other in Brisbane this weekend, a big series by Sydney who have been solid on the road this series, could see them head back into the top-two by the time they head for home on Sunday evening. 

 

It may be a bit too much of an ask however to ask them to take a series victory from the ladder-leaders, who possess the home advantage.

 

Series Prediction:   Series tied 2-2.