THE Australian Baseball League playoff picture is set after 10 weeks of action.
For a trio of teams it is season over, but for Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane the ultimate prize is up for grabs.
The Bite and Bandits were the last sides to clinch postseason action, but they are also the most in-form ahead of their best-of-three ABL Preliminary Final Series this weekend.
The Aces await the winner.
Here are six things we learned from week 10 of the ABL season:
1. BRISBANE IS IN PEAK FORM: The Bandits looked flat through most of December but the injection of some new faces – including David Rodriguez, Ty’Relle Harris and Trent Oeltjen – has helped the titleholders surge into a second-straight playoff series. Brisbane went 10-5 in January and won three of four to steal the third and final postseason berth from Canberra. They have done it on the back of an offensive surge, leading the league in runs and batting average since January 1. Rodriguez, a Tampa Bay prospect, has been instrumental. The 20-year-old has hit safely in all 19 ABL games and mashed six home runs (behind three players with seven) and driven in 25 runs (fifth in the league). It is kind of scary to think what his full season numbers would have been and where Brisbane would have been with him.
2. PITCH PERFECT: Adelaide finished 2016 at .500 and were allowing close to five runs per nine innings. Opponents has scored 135 in 24 games, and the Bite 131. There had been shootouts and rallies and it barely looked like a playoff calibre pitching staff. But in 16 games since Adelaide has allowed only 49 runs (while scoring 75 of its own). Since the start of 2017 the Bite have an ERA of 2.41 – lowest in the league. In their past five wins the starter has been responsible for the ‘W’ and in the last two rounds their relievers allowed three runs across 29.1 innings. A low-scoring playoff tussle now looks like Adelaide’s comfort zone.
3. ARE THE ACES FOXING? They may have only clinched the minor premiership and home advantage in the ABL Championship Series over the weekend, but Melbourne have been way out in front for so long. Now the Aces have won only three of their past 10 and a number of players are struggling for form it leaves several questions. Are they foxing? Is it just a result of the hunger being down and will that come back now they have everything to play for? Or, are they seriously in a rut? They have hit .189 in their past 10 and allowed 3.83 runs per nine innings. During their 12-1 run in December they were hitting .280 and averaging 5.3 runs per game, while posting an ERA of 2.14.
4. THE CAVS CHOKED: The sat in the top three basically all season but it is hard to argue Canberra should be in the playoffs after falling 3-1 to Brisbane on the weekend. As hot as the Bandits have been lately, the ball was still in the Cavs’ court. They had the advantage and put up a pretty drab performance at home. The offence dried up on the home stretch and the errors – particularly in the final two rounds – proved costly.
5. THE TWO BLUE SOX: Starting and finishing the season against the same opponent showed how far ABL teams had come from November. In Sydney’s case it showed just how different a side they are on the road. After defeating the Bite 3-1 on Opening Weekend, the Blue Sox surrendered meekly at Adelaide Shores after winning the opening game. They finished 4-15 on the road a season after going 8-21 away from Blue Sox Stadium. The three playoff teams finished at .500 or above on the road this season, and until the Blue Sox can find away form their task of finally claiming the Claxton Shield is that much harder.
6. WHERE ARE THE RUNS? Perth showed grit against Melbourne to take two games and finish a disappointing campaign with some positives. Pitching was a big problem across the season but a lack of run support also hurt. For only the second time in the current ABL the Heat averaged fewer than four runs per game. To be exact, they averaged 3.95 – marginally better than the 3.82 they averaged a season earlier but well down on the 6.4 they produced each game in 2011. Run production is an area that needs addressing for Perth and will take pressure off the pitching.
What did you learn from week 10 of the ABL season? Comment below …