As well as being a cricket fan, over the years I’ve occasionally dived deep into baseball, particularly Major League Baseball (MLB) in the USA.
It’s time for playoff baseball!
This weekend the Adelaide Bite and Brisbane Bandits go at it over three games for the right to take on the Melbourne Aces in the ABL Championship Series.
Both teams are in red-hot form, have similar strengths and weaknesses and it’s an incredibly tough series to pick – but here’s how it’s going to play out.
All that might sound great for fans of the long ball and action around the bases, but this is the playoffs – grinding becomes a necessity and pitching usually lifts another level. Usually.
Two Australian centrefielders will prove critical to their team’s fortunes.
Adelaide have the league’s best hitter in Mitch Dening (.340, 27 RBI, 6 HR), who has fond memories of his last outing against the Brisbane pitching staff. He had a monster series, going 9-19, hitting four homers (including three no-doubters in game two) and bringing in eight runs.
Brisbane has Minnesota Twins prospect Aaron Whitefield. The Aussie young gun led the ABL in hits (53) and stolen bases (20) and ended the regular season hitting .338 with 12 Doubles. He has the wheels to get on base and to run down balls in the outfield that most others can’t.
Keeping these two quiet will be front of mind for Brisbane Manager Dave Nilsson and Adelaide Manager Steve Mintz.
If you only go by the stats, Adelaide’s pitching should be better. They finished the regular season miles ahead on ERA (3.90 to 5.10) and conceded less runs (184 to 207).
But a shorter three-game series (ABL series are usually four) means regular starting pitchers will have to work some relief so there will be no room for error – if a pitcher looks shaky, they’ll get hooked right away. That changes the bullpen outlook for both sides.
One interesting area to note is that both teams have a very similar WHIP (this means they let a similar amount of runners on base each inning).
That could prove risky for Adelaide. During the regular season, Brisbane had more extra base hits than the Bite (125 to 91) which translated to more runs batted in (215 to 189).
For me, it’s the game two starters in Brisbane who will be under the most pressure. The Bandits have scheduled Kramer Champlin (2 wins, 4 losses, 4.37 ERA) and Adelaide will send out 16-year-old Aussie phenom and Detroit Tigers signee Jack O’Loughlin (3 wins, 3 losses, 3.02 ERA).
Champlin and O’Loughlin’s game two starts will go a long way to deciding the series – if they can work deep into the game and protect a lead, they have either spared their bullpen so they’re fresh for Sunday’s decider, or they have won their club a trip to Melbourne.
With the offences both clubs have, pitchers are going to be immediately under pressure. They’ll need backup from their defence, and both defences are playing at a high level right now.
Too much quality?
Both teams have great talent, or they wouldn’t be here. But there’s a few players with that extra ‘something’ who can bust a game wide open.
Let’s look at the Bandits first.
Brisbane have the ABL’s best closer, Ryan Searle (9 saves, 2.63 ERA). He’s Dave Nilsson’s go-to man at critical points late in games, and not just the 9th inning. Searle has put in some long shifts this year and has not let his club down.
There’s also some serious hitting courtesy of second baseman Mitch Nilsson. He tied for the ABL homerun crown with seven and has been hitting consistently well all season.
The hottest of them all though is Tampa Bay Rays prospect David Rodriguez, who has lit up the ABL since his arrival in January.
Rodriguez is hitting a ridiculous .442 with 6 homeruns and 25 RBI, a beautiful set of numbers. The 20-year-old Venezuelan has only played 19 ABL games and he’s hit safely in every one of them, delivering at clutch times to drag his club out of trouble.
Throw in Major Leaguers Trent Oeltjen and Ryan Rowland-Smith and the Bandits have a bunch of big names who have been there and done it.
Adelaide have their own quality closer in the towering 7’1 form of Loek Van Mil (8 saves, 0.4 ERA). If Brisbane see him warming up, it’s time to swing harder because once he’s in, it’s pretty much goodnight.
As well as being one of the team leaders with the bat, San Diego Padres prospect Marcus Green Junior (.307, 6 homeruns, 26 RBI) is a key feature of Adelaide’s defence. The catcher has only had one passed ball in 203 innings and has gunned down 10 wannabe base stealers.
Seattle Mariners prospect Jordan Cowan (.291, 13 doubles) is a weather vane for the Bite – when he does well, the Bite do well. Cowan makes some fantastic plays in the infield and will be relied on to keep the bases clean.
There’s also Aussie hitter Angus Roeger who is in form, Josh Altmann who can hit for extra bases and cult hero Matt Williams, a critical weapon for the Bite from the bullpen.
X-factors and intangibles
Playoff games aren’t always decided by the numbers and predictable occurrences. There’s a bit of extra spice to the series – Adelaide have not forgotten losing last year’s Championship to Brisbane. And Brisbane certainly haven’t forgotten that they are the reigning Claxton Shield holders.
Both teams finished the regular season going 8/10 and are the two form sides of the league. Whoever wins this series will very much fancy themselves against Melbourne.
The Bandits won’t fear playing away for game one and they don’t hold anything back. Their offence is almost irresistible and I can’t see Adelaide being able to hold them down.
This is a genuine coin toss, but I’m leaning towards Championship experience and very, very hot bats.
Let’s get it on!
GAME ONE (Adelaide): Friday 3 February, 7.00 Adelaide time
GAME TWO (Brisbane): Saturday 4 February, 6.00 Brisbane time
GAME THREE (Brisbane): Sunday 5 February, 1.00 Brisbane time
All games are live streamed on ABLtv.com.
What do you think – who gets to load up their camels for the trek to Melbourne?