THE Australian Baseball League season reached its midway point on the weekend and the middle of the ladder remains as congested as it did a week ago.
With Melbourne streaking out in front and Perth faltering at the bottom it looks like four teams will spend the second half of the season battling for two playoff spots.
Here are six things we learned from round four of the ABL season:
1. FOUR INTO TWO DOES NOT GO: With the Melbourne Aces way out in front and the Perth Heat falling off the pace, four sides in the middle are battling for two playoff berths at the midway point of the season. While Melbourne could falter or the Heat surge, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney are in the thick of a battle to see postseason action. The Cavalry took pole position with a 3-1 series win over Perth on the weekend. The Cavs sit a game clear of the Bite and two ahead of the Bandits and Blue Sox. They take on the last-placed Heat in Perth after the Christmas break with a chance to take further control of their own fate.
2. ROAD WINS ARE A MUST: Sydney’s top-of-the-table series with Melbourne could not have gone much worse for the Blue Sox. They were outscored 21-6 in the four-game sweep at Melbourne Ballpark. Alarmingly Sydney’s away record this season dropped to 1-7, a year after going a league-worse 8-21 (including one postponed home game played in Adelaide) on the road last season. With only two home series to come – against top sides Melbourne and Canberra – in the second half of the season the Blue Sox need to find a way to win on their travels.
3. THE ACES ARE THE HOTTEST TEAM IN A WHILE: Melbourne has bolted out to a handy lead at the top after winning 11 of its past 12. The Aces are arguably the hottest ABL team since Perth started the 2011/12 ABL season 11-0. Melbourne’s pitching has been its biggest asset across its past 12 games, allowing 2.06 runs per nine innings over the past three rounds. The Aces’ offence has played its part in Melbourne outscoring opponents 65-22 over that stretch, batting .292 with 13 home runs.
4. EXTRA REAL ESTATE IN ADELAIDE: Adelaide’s second home series at Adelaide Shores produced a combined 36 runs, up from 23 first time out against Melbourne, and is proving to be quite friendly to hitters. While it might not be as friendly as Norwood, the extra space does have have its bonuses. Eight games at Adelaide Shores have produced six triples. Last season 30 games at Norwood saw just three triples with far less space in the outfield. On the weekend four homers were hit, to make it five all up after eight games at the venue.
5. STARTING LIFT: Brisbane shook off its recent struggles to earn an important series-split in Adelaide. The Bandits will return home to play the Bite again after Christmas and could gain the upperhand in the playoff race with a series win. Daniel Nilsson was outstanding on Saturday night as Brisbane won 3-0 to ensure it left Adelaide with at least a split. The right-hander recorded his first career win, tossing five hitless innings. The 23-year-old struck out three and walked three as the Bandits’ pitchers combined for a shutout. With Rick Teasley struggling of late it was an important start from Nilsson which will could lift his teammates.
6. THE HEAT SHOWED SOME FIGHT: Perth still sits precariously at the foot of the ABL standings and needing to create history to make the postseason. Against the league’s most lethal offence at home it at least showed some fight. The Heat lost late in game one of Saturday’s double-header before striking back late to force extras in game two. Sam Kennelly drove in the go-ahead runs as Perth held on. Their under siege starting pitching did reasonably well to contain the Cavs and they head home for an all-important series against Canberra with a little more confidence.
What did you learn from week five of the ABL season? Comment below …
Follow David Penrose on Twitter at @David_Penrose