The week in ABL 8:  more festive for some

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

25 December 2014

 

Christmas came early for the fans of Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra, with the three sides occupying places in the ABL’s top-three, though the Cavalry could be left ruing an infringement of the rules come the end of the season. Their misdemeanour in Brisbane saw the Bandits salvage a series split and a two-game lead over the Cavalry.

 

Down in Melbourne, the home side threw away a golden opportunity to start their climb towards .500, dropping three of five to the Perth Heat, while the brooms were out in Adelaide, where the Bite swept the Blue Sox, the first time that Sydney has been swept away from home since a five-game whitewash in Canberra in 2011-12.

 

Week Nine presents another pivotal round of ABL match-ups as we head towards the New Year.

 

PERTH HEAT (13-15) vs MELBOURNE ACES (10-18)

 

While they once again had their chances to win a majority of the games in their most recent series - as has been their wont this season - the Melbourne Aces yet again succumbed more often than they held firm, dropping their five-game home stand 3-2 to the Perth Heat, keeping the Aces anchored to the bottom of the ABL table.

 

Again, little blame could be directed at the starting rotation, which had lost Cody Buckel to soreness and had to find an extra two starters, with the starting quintet posting a series ERA of 1.45, giving the Aces starters a 1.63 ERA in their eight home games against the Heat. However their 4-4 record in those matches was due in part to a staggering batting line-up, but a woefully thin bullpen which the club has yet to adequately address.

 

For the five-game series, the bullpen gave up eleven hits and a damaging eighteen walks in just 11.1 innings for a series WHIP of 2.73, and twelve earned runs for a series ERA of 9.52, conceding two leads and blowing a save in the process.

 

Over the course of the season, the Aces bullpen has a 5.77 ERA and 1.76 WHIP, both figures representing the highest marks in the ABL for season 2014/15, while from the seventh innings on, the club is conceding 1.89 runs per game. No wonder visiting teams to Melbourne Ball Park always feel like they are in with a chance against the Aces!

 

The line-up itself had its moments against Perth, with a series average of .299, raising their season mark from .233 to .245 in the space of five matches. Adam Engel had his best series with the bat, going 10-22 with a home run, a double and three RBIs, although he scored just three runs for the series and has stolen just two bases in his last two series (nine games). He’d stolen ten in his previous nineteen matches.

 

Kellin Deglan had seven hits and hit three home runs, with two of his hits coming off bunt singles when Perth vacated third base in an attempt to put a shift on over on the right-side of the infield. He was the other hot bat for the Aces against the Heat.

 

Strangely, for a team that hit well for the week, there were several strugglers. Brad Harman was just 2-17, Josh Davies, who entered Canberra hitting .385 has hit just .200 since, while youngsters Jared Cruz, Ryan Dale, Darryl George, Ben Leslie and Aaron Sayers combined for an average of .233.

 

Perth on the other hand hit just .220 for the week, their starting rotation had a 5.04 ERA and scored just five runs in the final four games of the series, but they somehow managed to win three of the five games in the series.

 

That’s largely due to their bullpen, which had an excellent series, posting a 2.25 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the five-games, and snuffing out the occasional rally by posting a K:9 ratio of better than 10:1.

 

Several of the Heat’s better hitters struggled for the series, with Joey Wong (3-16), Tim Kennelly (3-21) and Allan de San Miguel (4-17) all failing to fire, and it was not as if the Heat were dynamite when it came to converting with RISP, with the series tally of 9-41 (.219) looking better than the figure in the two losses (0-13). 

 

What did help the Heat was the fact that - after all - they are the Perth Heat and there is a reason why the have won three ABL titles and have an overall winning percentage of .624 and are fifty-one games over the .500 mark. They simply know how to win and, more often than not, find a way to get across the line.

 

For the teams’ third series meeting of the season - and only clash at Barbagallo Ball Park in the 2014-15 competition - look for Perth to make the most of their home advantage and scouting of their opposition to hold them in good order for the series.  Allan de San Miguel has seen the Aces hitters from behind the plate now and will use his expertise to marshal his pitchers, while the Aces are still yet to break the away hoodoo that hangs over them. With a bullpen that inspires everything but confidence, the Aces will again be reliant on their starting rotation and for how long can the starting foursome keep the quality starts coming?

 

On the cusp of the top three - given Canberra’s self-inflicted coming back to the field - look for Perth to take advantage of a struggling opposition and take a trio of games from the Aces to get their record back to .500 for the first time since they were 5-5 earlier this season.

 

Series Prediction: Perth to win 3-1

SYDNEY BLUE SOX (12-16) vs BRISBANE BANDITS (16-12)

 

Largely outplayed for the their home series against the Canberra Cavalry, the Brisbane Bandits earned a sweep of the series after the ABL awarded their Friday night match to the Bandits after the Cavalry twice infringed the rule regarding the number of imports allowed on the field.

 

The ‘win’ allowed the Bandits, who were tied with the Cavalry with a 15-13 record, to take a two-game lead over Canberra into Week Nine, and with finals positions having been tie-breakers in the past, every victory is vital during the ABL season.

 

Brisbane’s ten-run explosion in the series finale somewhat covered for what was an otherwise anaemic series by the Brisbane line-up, which hit .227 (10-44) with RISP for the series. Johnny Field (2-12) and Thomas Coyle (3-12) appeared somewhat jaded and were even given the third game of the series off by Manager David Nilsson. 

 

The top order struggled, with positions one and two in the batting order failing to score in the first three games, but scoring four times in the Sunday fixture.  Fortunately, Andrew Campbell had an excellent series, going 8-11 when hitting in the middle of the line-up - and he was 9-16 for the entire series - while Maxx Tissenbaum had five RBIs for the series and was hitless in just one game.

 

Of concern for Manager Nilsson and his coaching staff would have been the pitching staff, which allowed forty-seven hits for the series, including eleven home runs, giving the Bandits pitching staff the unwanted title of having conceded the most home runs in the ABL this season.

 

Home run totals (pitching) 2014/15

Team                           Home runs conceded          % of home runs of total hits

Brisbane                                  44                                                 17.8

Melbourne                              31                                                  13.9

Adelaide                                  29                                                  11.5

Canberra                                27                                                   10.7

Sydney                                    23                                                    9.3

Perth                                       13                                                    5.0 

 

Perhaps fortunately for the Bandits pitchers, they visit Blue Sox Stadium and the Sydney Blue Sox this week, with several members of the home side struggling to hit with any consistency at this point of the season.

 

The series sweep at the hands of Adelaide at Coopers Stadium was hardly the fault of the pitching staff, which conceded just thirty-one hits for the series, including two games where the Bite tallied just five hits. However the hitting personnel could only manaGE .182 (23-126) for the series, and an anaemic .142 (4-28) for the series with RISP, which led to the Blue Sox leaving a total of thirty-nine runners left on base. 

 

Adelaide on the other hand left just twenty-six runners on base.

 

Over the four-game series, it appeared too much was being asked of too few Blue Sox hitters, with Joshua Dean - who leads the team in batting average with a .340 mark -  asked again to lead-off in the batting order. Previous to the beginning of the season, Dean had never led off for the club. David Kandilas (.288) and Trent Oeltjen (.284), who had two of just four multi-hit games for Sydney in Adelaide are upholding their side of the bargain, but the rest of the hitting line-up is really struggling.

 

Sydney's struggling Blue Sox (by batting average):

Alex Glenn                            0.245

Alex Howe                             0.235

Trent D'Antonio                   0.212

Will Swanner                        0.212

Tyler Bortnick                      0.208

Zach Shepherd                     0.203

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, five of the hitters above had poor weeks in Adelaide. Glenn and D’Antonio were actually the best of the quintet that played - with 3-14 weeks - while Bortnick (2-14), Howe (1-14) and Shepherd (1-12) really struggled for any consistency. The sixth player, Will Swanner, never even made the trip to Adelaide.

 

The trials and tribulations of the hitting line-up have a flow-on effect to the pitchers, especially the big starting three of Markus Solbach, Craig Anderson and Luke Wilkins, who have put in some excellent performances but who don’t have the records that reflect their efforts.

 

Wilkins owns a losing record (2-3) which does not go with a 2.98 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over the course of 45.1 IP. Wilkins is ranked second in innings pitched behind teammate Craig Anderson who, despite his 3.15 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, has a 2-5 record, largely due to a distinct lack of run support.

 

Since the opening week, where the Blue Sox shelled Perth’s Shawn Sanford, decent run support for the 34 year-old left-hander has been effectively non-existent:

 

Craig Anderson Run Support 2014/15

versus          innings pitched          earned runs          Sox score                   result

Perth                        6                              3                              9                                 W

Canberra                 6                              2                              2                                  L

Canberra                 9                              0                             2                                  W

Melbourne              6                              4                             2                                   L

Perth                        6                              2                             2                                   L

Adelaide                  7                              2                             0                                   L

Adelaide                5.2                             3                             2                                    L

Anderson's average run support:   2.71

Anderson's average run support (Week Two onwards):   1.66

 

Given that their starting rotation - especially their top three starters - are continuing to perform, then the Blue Sox only need their hitters to respond in order for this week’s home side to resurrect their season.

 

Manager Jason Pospishil and his team will welcome the visit of the Brisbane Bandits, who looked exposed pitching wise against a red-hot hitting Cavalry team last week. However the Blue Sox bats will have to hope that their pitching stays constant, and come up with a game plan to conquer the Brisbane pitching staff, never an easy task when taking on a team for the first time in a season.

 

Though there are enough question marks over both teams despite Brisbane’s lofty-status on the table, it’s hard to see the visitors taking the majority of wins away from the series, but with the Blue Sox on a 5-13 run after a fast start, how can the home side be relied upon with any confidence to take the series?

 

The answer likely falls somewhere in the middle, with a series split.

 

Series Prediction: Series Split 2-2

CANBERRA CAVALRY (14-14)  vs ADELAIDE BITE (19-9)

 

Adelaide could have been forgiven for having some issues in their first week at home as the number one ranked team in the ABL, however a series sweep of the Sydney Blue Sox not only put any fears of being ‘the hunted’ to rest, but gave the Bite a two-game lead atop the table after Brisbane’s forfeit-enriched series split with Canberra.

 

The Bite’s excellent series at home saw Australian outfielder Ben Lodge kick-start his season, his average rising forty-one points to .278 after a 7-14 series that included a double, two home runs, five RBIs and four runs scored. Brandon Dixon continued to improve with a couple of multi-hit games, while Chan Moon’s series included a four-hit game.

 

One again, Aaron Miller had another excellent week for the Bite, going 6-15 with two home runs, four RBIs and four runs scored, and the 27 year-old converted pitcher continues to pace Brooke Knight’s squad and - in the process - is most likely leading the way in the thoughts of those who select the Helms Award winner at the end of the season:

 

AARON MILLER:   2024/15 ABL SEASON

Category                           Average or Total          ABL season Ranking

Average                                      0.380                                second

Home Runs                                   8                                    second

RBIs                                               22                              equal second

Stolen Bases                                  8                                 equal fifth

Runs Scored                                 26                                     first

Hits                                               41                                      first

Extra Base Hits                           15                                 equal first

Total Bases                                  71                                      first

On Base Percentage                0.398                                seventh

Slugging Percentage               0.632                                    first

OPS                                            1.030                                   first

 

Backing up the hitters was an excellent pitching staff which used a couple of unconventional moves during the series, one being somewhat of a regular occurrence, while the other was certainly one that isn’t included in any pitching manual.

 

Game Four starter Matt Williams again threw an innings in relief before making his start, while in the ninth innings of the series finale Manager Brooke Knight replaced Josh Tols with Troy Scott, but placed Tols in left-field, and brought the left-hander back to the mound after Scott had thrown to two-hitters. While Sydney ended up tying the game, the Bite made a winner of Tols and the Bite on Lodge’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth innings.

 

The starting rotation only threw nineteen innings for the series, however kept the Bite in every game, posting a 1.89 ERA for the series, while the bullpen, which churned through thirteen pitching changes (fourteen if you include both of Tols’s tours of duty in Game Four), registered three wins and a save.

 

Adelaide this week visits Canberra for the second time for the season, with the home side coming off a three-win week that was reduced to two victories after the ABL adjudged the Cavalry breached the import rule for the 2014-15 season when Alex Hudak replaced Adam Silva in the line-up.

 

Lost in the Hudak-Silva switch was that in the thirteenth innings, Markus Lemon replaced Scott Hillier on the field following the Cavalry’s seven-run thirteenth innings, which alone could have constituted a breach of the import rule.

 

The loss of an extra-innings victory on forfeit took the gloss off what was otherwise an excellent series for the Cavalry, though the forfeit loss put the Cavalry two games behind the Bandits on the ABL table with a 14-14 record instead of level pegging with Brisbane, who are now two-games ahead at 16-12.

 

Canberra’s hitting line-up - which leads the league with a .276 batting average and a .348 on base percentage - had another excellent week, banging out a total of forty-seven hits, eleven of which were home runs. In their previous twenty-four matches, the Cavalry had hit just fourteen home runs.

 

The top-four positions in the batting order led the way for the Cavalry at AFA Stadium, going 28-74 (.378), hitting seven home runs, while registering seventeen RBI’s and seventeen runs scored. The combination however was short of what was required for Player of the Week honours, which went to catcher/outfielder Robbie Perkins.

 

Perkins, who’d hit three home runs in his previous sixty-four ABL matches, hit three in three games during the series in Brisbane, going 6-14 with three walks, four runs and six RBIs to go with his three home runs.

 

Tim Atherton continued to lead the pitching staff, recording his fifth win of the season to go with an excellent 1.98 ERA, while Tristan Crawford had his best start for the Cavalry, giving up just three hits and striking out six in a season-long seven innings.  The bullpen was also excellent, giving up just two earned runs in 15.2 innings, with the two runs being conceded by Ian Marshall in Game Four - when the contest was already beyond the reach of Canberra.

 

Canberra’s juggling of their Australian pitchers has become a touch more difficult this series, with Aaron Thompson, who was so excellent in his start against Melbourne before being rocked last week by his former club, having ventured overseas to Canada. Thompson replaced Gaby Hernandez in the rotation for Week Six after Hernandez had struggled in the rotation (7.46 ERA), though the big right-hander had somewhat of a resurrection out of the bullpen (three appearances, 1.23 ERA). It will be interesting to see whether Hernandez is inserted back into the starting rotation or whether Manager Michael Collins reverts back to Hernandez or chooses to rely on another starter.

 

Unless Canberra unveils a new signing, whoever they include will almost assuredly be to the detriment of the bullpen. With Adelaide’s pitching line-up solid, look for the Bite to take a couple of games from their second sojourn to Narrabundah for the season. 

 

It might be a stretch for them to win three matches, but at worst, they will leave the nation's capital with a couple of victories.

 

Series Prediction: Series Split 2-2.