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 5

Stuart Capel

3 December 2014

 

With Brisbane (12-8) and Sydney (11-9) enjoying this coming weekend off, second-placed Adelaide (9-7) will play host for a four-game set against Canberra (8-8), while cellar-dwelling Melbourne (5-11) will be at home to Perth Heat (7-9) in what shapes as a season-defining series for both clubs.

 

As the ABL season approaches the half-way stage, supporters are urged to book their seats for the All-Star Game at Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday 17 December.

 

Another series victory over the Aces saw the Bandits return to the top of the ABL table, with the Aces remaining anchored to the bottom of the table. Can Melbourne get their first series victory of the season this weekend at home to Perth, who used an unlikely fourth-starter to split their series in Sydney? Having split their series last week, the Bite and Cavalry get set to do it all again this weekend, this time at Coopers Stadium.

 

PREVIEW:     MELBOURNE ACES vs PERTH HEAT

 

Despite taking the fourth and final game of their series in Brisbane by ten runs, the win could barely paper over the cracks of what was otherwise a dismal series at AFA Stadium for the Melbourne Aces, who are entrenched at the base of the ABL table with the lowest winning percentage of any team over the five seasons of the new ABL

 

Over the first two-games of the series, the Aces failed to have a single at-bat with a runner in scoring position, the first time a team had endured back-to-back games without a single RISP. Indeed the Aces had to wait until pitch 217 they had faced in the series to progress a runner as far as second base. The Bandits had only wait until their seventh pitch.

 

While twelve runs and fifteen hits came on the Sunday against Jaspreet Shergill, who has not gone past the fifth innings all season, the Aces batting average and on-base percentage of .299 both represent the lowest marks seen so far in the five seasons of the ABL.

 

BA in ABL (lowest)                                  Team                  

     .241                          Melbourne Aces 2012/13 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .237                         Brisbane Bandits 2013/14 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .234                         Canberra Cavalry 2010/11 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .233                         Adelaide Bite 2013/14 (missed playoffs-finished fifth)

     .233                         Melbourne Aces 2014/15 (???)

 

OBP% in ABL (lowest)                           Team

     .314                         Adelaide Bite (missed playoffs-finished fifth)

     .313                         Brisbane Bandits 2013/14 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .303                        Melbourne Aces 2012/13 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .302                        Canberra Cavalry 2010/11 (missed playoffs-finished last)

     .299                        Melbourne Aces 2014/15 (???)

 

In keeping the glass half-full, Tommy Thompson will have most likely been telling his charges that the Sunday result could be a season changer. Howeve, all the numbers don’t back-up such a thought pattern.

 

In MLB terms, over 162-games, the Aces are currently on pace to finish 50-112, which would be the worst finishing record since the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119) and in a month’s time when the Japanese trio of Makoto Aiuchi, Kentato Fukukura and Isamu Sato depart, there doesn’t appear to be much aside from John Hussey (albeit at a reduced capacity) that is expected to be of assistance.

 

Pitching-wise, while Cody Buckel has been excellent, Nick Blount has been at best inconsistent, and Ben Henry and Kyle Heckathorn most disappointing out of the bullpen. Heckathorn has left for home already, while Henry is averaging less than four outs per series (a low number for a non-affiliated import pitcher) and possesses a 9.64 ERA and a WHIP ratio of 2.79, numbers which don’t attract too much confidence in an immediate turnaround.

 

The visit of the Perth Heat, who are 13-3 on their visits to Melbourne, somewhat bizarrely represents a welcome relief for the Aces, who will fancy their chances of their first ever series victory against Perth. For the Aces to have any success, however, their more experienced hitters will have to lead the way – something they have not always done against the Heat at Melbourne Ball Park:

 

Batting Average vs Perth Heat at Melbourne Ballpark

Player                      Hits/At-Bats                  Average

Justin Huber                 5-22                               .227

Brad Harman               5-26                               .192

Josh Davies                   4-24                               .166

Scott Wearne                1-15                                .066

Aaron Sayers                0-9                                .000

 

Such numbers for Melbourne’s leading hitters will provide a welcome relief to Perth manager Steve Fish, who has worn out the grass between the dugout and pitchers mound as he has struggled to find a consistent starting pitcher.

 

Such a problem this time last year would have been considered laughable for the Heat, who finished with an ABL record low 2.63 ERA, which was in part due to the outstanding Mike Ekstrom, although the rest of the staff played their part as well.

 

This season, however, the starting pitching has looked the polar-opposite to what was produced last season:

 

Pitcher                         ERA (as starter)

Shawn Sanford                  5.95

Daniel Schmidt                 7.04

Brian Baker                        7.62

Tom Bailey                       18.00

Cameron Lamb               27.00

Total                                   8.75

 

With their season somewhat on the line, the Heat turned to an unlikely starter in Ben Shorto, an infielder who had been released earlier in 2014 by the Cleveland Indians.  After a couple of at-bats earlier in the season, Shorto was called-upon as the third-reliever used by Steve Fish in the fourth game blow-out against Canberra and he impressed enough to be inserted into the rotation in place of Tom Bailey for the series in Sydney.

 

Against a solid Blue Sox line-up that was hunting for their first series victory at home this season, Shorto kept the Sydney hitters off-balance all game, and when he was replaced for the seventh innings, he had given-up exactly one-hit and had not conceded a run.

 

With Shorto now likely to be given several more starts and the bullpen largely doing a good job, Fish needs just to get his top-three starters in Baker, Schmidt and Sanford firing in order for Perth to start climbing their way up the ABL table.

 

Throughout the pitching dilemmas the Heat have been enduring, the hitting has remained solid, with Joey Wong (.371), Tim Smith (.345) and Jordan McDonald (.327) leading the team, which is averaging .281, up slightly from last year’s figure of .275, though they will need more production with RISP (.233 since their opening series at home to Sydney), and from Tim Kennelly, who is hitting just .142 since his five-hit game against the Blue Sox in the Heat’s big comeback.

 

Perth has swung something of a surprise, with former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike McClendon joining the roster for the series. A right-handed hurler, McClendon was 5-0, 3.88 ERA with the Brewers between 2010-12 and has spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Colorado Rockies in the minor leagues, along with a short stint with the York Revolution in the Atlantic League.

 

McClendon is joined in the squad by teenagers Tom Bailey and Jake Turnbull - with McKenzie Acker and Liam Baron not travelling - while Luke Hughes will not play this series.

 

For the Aces, they have left Jon Kennedy out of the squad, with club import Tim Brown - who pitched on Wednesday night for his club side - and development-listed pitcher Jeremy Young having been included by Tommy Thompson.

 

On Sunday, the Aces won 12-2 away from home with Sam Gibbons picking-up the victory. The Aces most recent ten-run victory came two seasons ago when they defeated the Perth Heat 12-2 with Sam Gibbons the winning pitcher. The Aces finished last.

 

Will this be a case of history repeating?

 

While a third of the season has been played, it may be too early to write the Aces off completely. However, they are yet to win a series, and while they keep talking about honourable losses and winnable games, the losses keep mounting. If the Heat can get their starting pitching in order - given they possess a solid batting line-up and competent bullpen - expect the Aces wait to win a series against the Heat to last a little longer

 

Series Prediction: Perth 3-1

 

Melbourne Aces Squad.

 

Pitchers:   Makoto Aiuchi, Nick Blount, Tim Brown, Cody Buckel, Kentaro Fukukura, Sam Gibbons, Hayden Godbold, Ben Henry, Isamu Sato, Matthew Wilson, Jeremy Young.

 

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.

 

Perth Heat Squad.

 

Pitchers:   Tom Bailey, Brian Baker, Alex Burkard, Jorge Marban, Michael McClendon, Scott Mitchinson, Chad Robinson, Shawn Sanford, Daniel Schmidt, Ben Shorto.

 

Catchers:   Allan De San Miguel, Matt Kennelly, Steel Russell, Jake Turnbull.

 

Infielders:   Matt Dixon, Tim Kennelly, Jordan McDonald, Taishi Nakagawa, Joey Wong.

 

Outfielders:   Brian Pointer, Nick Rulli, Tim Smith.

PREVIEW:     ADELAIDE BITE vs CANBERRA CAVALRY

 

The second match-up of Week Six is the return leg of a series played last week, with both the Bite and Cavalry having walked away from Narrabundah Ball Park with two wins apiece, the second successive series between the two teams which finished square after Canberra had won the first two matches.

 

Having won the first two games in the nation’s capital last week through solid pitching and timely hitting, the Cavalry were largely inconsistent over the last two games, with the half of the order seemingly being relied upon to provide a majority of the heavy lifting.

 

Final two games                                 At-Bats                RBI

Import hitters - Canberra                       39                      12

Local hitters - Canberra                          41                       2

 

While it is a small sample, the bottom of the order failure to complement the efforts of the top of the order did play its part in costing the Cavalry a couple of games. However, sixteen-games into the season, there’s little doubt manager Michael Collins would be anything but pleasantly surprised in the output from his locals.

 

Kieran Bradford, who has waited patiently for his chance to play in the ABL, is hitting .421 and has hit safely in all of his eleven games, Robbie Perkins is at a career high of .273, while Sam Thornton (.226), Scott Hillier (.214) and Adam Silva (.206) have all stood-up at various times thus far.

 

For Adelaide, they are still looking for consistency with the bats with their Week One effort in Brisbane, where they averaged a shade under ten runs per game (9.5) having been followed by a dozen games in which they are averaging under five runs per game.

 

The lead-off position has been a major headache for manager Brooke Knight, with Brendon Dixon and Chan Moon combining for a .095 (4-42) average at the top of the batting order, while Mitch Dening, who started the season on fire recently endured a 1-29 streak. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was in the midst of the Bite revival in Canberra, cranking out five hits in the last two games – both Bite victories.

 

Tom Brice is hurt and is off the roster this week, so Stefan Welch’s presence does help protect Aaron Miller, one of the ABL’s leading hitters (.385-5-12-4), although Ben Lodge (.229) and Angus Roeger (.158) are still yet to really make an impact on the new season.

 

The Bite this week lose Brice through injury, with local infielder Tyrone Hambly - a product of the West Torrens Baseball Club and who played collegiate baseball with Oklahoma State late last decade - receiving his first call-up to the Bite. Development players Jordan McArdle and Mason Pickard have also been selected.

 

Troy Scott loses his position in the bullpen, and has been replaced by former MLB pitcher Chin-Hui Tsao, who pitched with the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers. Tsao, who has been out of baseball after being a part of game-fixing scandals in his native Taiwan is making his comeback to baseball, and has reportedly been hitting mid-90s in simulated games. He looms as a major wildcard for the Bite.

 

Canberra returns a familiar face in Sean Toler, who will make his season debut in what is his third tour of duty with the Cavalry. He replaces Ian Marshall (14.73 ERA) who has been largely ineffective out of the bullpen in his four appearances.

 

The Cavalry has never ended a season with a winning record against the Bite, and while they have another series at Narrabundah later in the season, a series win here would go a long way towards securing another first for the Canberra franchise.    Although the two teams shared the spoils as far as wins and losses went at Narrabundah, Canberra would perhaps have taken a touch more away from the series, and they will be stinging from letting such an excellent position (8-6) turn into a .500 level within forty-eight hours.

 

For the Bite, losing Brice is a blow. However, if they can get some solid production out of the top-two in their order (Dixon/Moon and Dening) and set the table for the red-hot Miller and his mates in the heart of the order, they will be a tough match-up for a Canberra rotation that is most inconsistent at present. How Tsao and Toler throw will be intriguing and it may well be whichever throws the better gives his side the edge, but it’s impossible to tell which arm will be more match-ready.

 

Less than a week ago the two teams fought to a series split and neither forced its way into outright favouritism for this series. Look for the series end result to be the same.

 

Series Prediction: Split 2-2

 

Adelaide Bite Squad.

 

Pitchers: Tyler Brunnemann, Morgan Coombs, Colin Feldtman, Darren Fidge, Kyle Hooper, Wilson Lee, Will Mathis, Craig Stem, Josh Tols, Chin-Hui Tsao, Matthew Williams.

 

Catchers: Rocky Gale, Jordan McArdle.

 

Infielders: Brandon Dixon, Tyrone Hambly, Corey Lyon, Craig Maddox, Chan Moon, Mason Pickard, Stefan Welch

 

Outfielders: Mitch Dening, Ben Lodge, Aaron Miller, Angus Roeger.

 

Canberra Cavalry Squad.

 

Pitchers: Tim Atherton, Jake Brown, Tristan Crawford, Dustin Crenshaw, Brian Grening, Gabriel Hernandez, AJ Holland, Ian Wayne Ough, Aaron Thompson, Sean Toler.

 

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.

 

 

Image:  Australian Baseball Alumni

 

 

Image:  Australian Baseball League