MLB has packed a real punch this year.
Week three of the Australian Baseball League is upon us.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s series across the country.
Adelaide Bite (4-4) at Canberra Cavalry (4-4)
Adelaide landed in Canberra on Thursday ahead of a key series, with manager Steve Mintz happy with his club’s form so far.
Speaking after the Bite’s 3-1 series win over the much-hyped Melbourne Aces, Mintz said that “all in all it was a great weekend – we pitched a tonne better than we did in Sydney (in week one) and we’re very happy with that.”
The hosts are coming off an up-and-down 3-1 series win against the Sydney Blue Sox, a result topped by the madness that was the inaugural ‘Wollongong Classic’ – a game that finished 21-11 and featured five Cavalry home runs.
Canberra leads the competition in the major offensive categories, including runs (48), hits (82), home runs (13) and total bases (137).
But the Bite is second best for runs conceded (28), boasting a team pitching ERA of 3.10, and only allowing an average of 6.8 hits each game.
Mintz is confident his team knows what they need to do to shut Canberra down.
“We’ve got our information, we’ll prepare our guys for them. We know quite a few of the players – some of the imports we might have some limited information on – but we’re working on that and trying to get all the information we can going in there.”
This is a classic battle of high-octane attack against quality shutdown pitching. I can’t see one side dominating the other. Maybe on one particular night, but not over the whole weekend.
Prediction: Series Split 2-2
Melbourne Aces (4-4) at Brisbane Bandits (5-3)
The big match-up of the round pits the 2016 champions against this year’s appointed challengers. Brisbane top the table but have some concerns with pitching relief, while the Aces were stifled in Adelaide by the Bite in week two.
Brisbane split an away series in Perth and there were some hairy moments, with a disastrous seventh inning in game three which saw the Bandits bullpen spray six walks, hit one batter and give up a 7-3 lead to eventually lose 9-8.
Reliever Zac Treece was off track after a promising start to the season, while Matt Timms had control issues.
There’s no doubt that while Bandits manager Dave Nilsson will be happy with taking two road wins, he’ll be hoping the looseness was a once off.
The Aces have troubles of their own, particularly with the bat.
They sit last for runs (29) and hits (56).
The Melbourne squad is too talented to be kept quiet for long though, particularly with the form of recruit Allan De San Miguel, and consistent hitting from outfielders Roman Collins and Cody Jones. There’s also 18-year-old Venezuelan sensation Ronald Acuna.
If you get a chance to get to an ABL game this year that Acuna is playing in, do it.
He is a serious talent with speed to burn, swiping five stolen bases in his first eight professional games – including an incredible steal home against Adelaide to score the decisive run in game one.
Melbourne is notoriously bad away from home and Brisbane’s Holloway Field is where a visiting team’s hopes go to die.
But I get the feeling Melbourne will be able to sneak two. I can’t say why; I just do.
Prediction: Series Split 2-2
Perth Heat (3-5) at Sydney Blue Sox (4-4)
The Perth Heat head to Sydney to meet the Blue Sox, who are still stinging after last Sunday’s craziness in Wollongong.
Blue Sox Manager Jason Pospishil was quick to put the whole bizarre episode behind him.
“Sunday’s game was a bit of an adventure, one that definitely got away from us”, said Pospishil.
“The first two games we played really well, the last two not up to our standards and that cost us the chance to win or level the series. But we’ll turn the page quickly.”
Pospishil said his side won’t be taking Perth lightly.
“They’ve got a younger line-up this year than they have in the past, but they still have a few of their solid core guys in Luke Hughes, Tim Kennelly and Matt Kennelly as the player/manager.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough series.”
Perth manager Matt Kennelly was happy with his side’s efforts against Brisbane and comes to this series heartened by his young side’s work.
“There’s a lot of positive signs, we’re looking forward to heading to Sydney and hopefully taking a few more games.”
While Perth’s relievers have been sensational in the first fortnight, Perth’s starting pitching hasn’t been able to lay a solid base.
They’ve given up a stack of early runs, including six in the first three innings in games against Melbourne and Perth. Another 4-run first inning in Melbourne left a hole too deep to climb out of.
“The biggest goal this week is to get out to a lead early, then our bullpen has been pretty lights out this season so we’ll turn it over to them,” said Kennelly.
“That’s the plan, get out to a lead and our bullpen will come in and shut the door.”
Sydney will be looking to outfielder Malik Collymore (11 RBI) and young imports Tucker Neuhaus and Stone Garrett to keep their early form going.
One player to watch for is Perth’s 18-year-old outfielder Ulrich Bojarski. A monster at the plate, he’s an offensive force – third in the league for RBI (9) and recently signed with perennial Major League playoff contenders, the Detroit Tigers.
Both managers are full of praise for how Bojarski has kicked off his professional career.
“He’s come up in some big situations for us and there’s going to be a lot more situations when we need him later in the season as well, so hopefully he keeps coming up clutch for us.” said Kennelly.
Pospishil worked with Bojarski at the Major League Academy, so he knows how alert his Blue Sox will need to be over the weekend.
“He’s got a bright future,” said Pospishil. “He brings some power and speed to the table, he’s definitely one we’ll have to look out for this weekend”
Perth is starting to show signs of life as the team gels, but Sydney has a potent attack that can put runs on fast. That, combined with Perth’s starting pitching troubles, should see the home side get the job done.
Prediction: Sydney 3-1
What do you think Roarers? Who do you like in ABL season 16-17?