Jan 27, 2011

Micro review of Game One - Blue Sox versus Heat

So, I headed out to BOP tonight to watch the Blue Sox vs Heat in the first game of the ABL playoffs. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:
  • the crowd was disappointingly small and quiet (only 1000), probably due to the Thursday night thing. I expect they will be better tomorrow
  • it was a game for the pitchers. They burned through the innings faster than Novak Djokovic loses his temper - the game time was a tick under two and a half hours
  • the Blue Sox did not show a lot of discipline in the batting box tonight. They swung at way too many first pitches, and that allowed Schmidt to get ahead and get through a number of innings very quickly
  • Welch was unlucky (again). The first runs from Perth were a direct result of an amateurish collision in right field between Mitch Dening and David Kandilas (in which Kandilas was lucky not to end up hurt). After that, Robbie Widlansky should have been caught stealing, but a slow throw from Kingman meant that Lysaught put it down and Widlansky was safe at second. He then went on to score.
  • In looking at the box score - I am amazed that the Blue Sox were only charged with one error. The error they were charged with was a dropped foul by Pat Maat. It was a catch that should have been taken, and Maat made a meal of it. But....there were two other (in my mind) clear errors. David Kandilas gloves the ball, Dening runs into him, he drops it - de San Miguel gets to third. That is NOT a triple. Secondly, Mark Holland got his glove to a difficult, heavy spinning and high bouncing grounder, I think from Mitch Graham. I can't believe these weren't scored as errors (not that it really matters, just feeling negative I suppose)
  • Matt Kennelly had a good night for the Heat. He made an absolute pearler of a play to end the sixth inning; diving full length to cut off a hard hit ball from Trent D'Antonio. He then hit a Chris Oxspring pitch in the ninth inning over the left field wall to take the game away from the Blue Sox.
  • The Blue Sox didn't seem to show a lot of passion or motivation - they were flat, whereas the Heat were fired up and keen.
  • As a Blue Sox fan, I can console myself by thanking my lucky stars I am not a Melbourne Aces fan.
Oh well, looking at it optimistically - we should hopefully get a third game in Sydney this weekend. But the Sydney side are going to need to pull their [Blue] Sox up a bit I reckon

OzMLBPlayers 2010 ABL All Star Team: Part One - Starting Pitchers

Now that the regular season of the inaugural ABL season has been completed, its time to look back and pick the All Star team. Over the next week or two, I will be picking what I think represents the best team that could be picked across the ABL. Today, we start with pitchers.

Starting pitchers
1. David Welch
From day one of the ABL, it was clear that the Sydney Blue Sox had a particularly strong pitching rotation. The rotation was spearheaded by Chris Oxspring, who was the obvious leader and number one starter. While Oxspring won the early recognition and started the season with a bang (he went 2-0 through the first month, including a seven inning one-hitter against Brisbane ), David Welch quietly put together very solid numbers. He led the league in ERA (1.44) and WHIP (0.93), was second to Oxspring in strikeouts (59 to Oxspring's 71), and had the very solid record of 5-0, which included two complete games. Also quite remarkable is the fact that he walked just nine hitters, which gives him a strikeout-walk ratio of 6.55.

Welch is a good pitcher to watch, he works quickly and throws with plenty of power and aggression, but also works some great offspeed pitches. He had some reasonable success through 2008 and 2009 playing in the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system. In 2010 he played a short AAA season in Mexico, and then moved to a AA Independent League with the Sioux City Explorers.  He had 17 starts with the Explorers, and went 8-6, with a 3.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 94 strikeouts and 31 walks. At the age of 27, and playing in an independent league, it is probably unlikely that Welch will find himself on a major league roster any time soon, but if he is able to continue his ABL form into his time in the States this year, he may find some opportunities arise for him.  Until then, he is sure to make a solid contribution for the Blue Sox in the finals series.

2. Chris Oxspring

It would not be understating things to say that Chris Oxspring personifies the success of the inaugural ABL season. He represents all the good things about the League and the opportunities it presents. He is an Aussie who has tasted some success at the major league level, but probably didn't quite make it as far as he would have liked. He is returning from a serious injury, and still has some legitimate potential to pitch at the top level. The League has given him the opportunity to fine tune his arm and get some genuine game time. And on top of all that, taking on the role of pitching coach enabled Oxspring to give back to the game by passing on his knowledge and experience to some of the young Sox pitchers.

Oxspring's overall numbers on the season are not quite as dominant as Welch's, but they are still strong. He went 4-2 for the season, with an ERA of 2.23. He struck out 71 and walked 14. Oxspring appears to have recovered well from his elbow surgery, and has demonstrated very effective command and control throughout the season. Undoubtedly, the opportunities provided through the ABL have enabled Oxspring to showcase his abilities, and with nearly all the MLB teams sending scouts to Australia, doors were opened for Oxspring at the Detroit Tigers.

3. Brandon Maurer
Brandon Maurer is a 20 year old US import from Costa Mesa, CA who once pitched a perfect game in a Little League All Star game. Maurer has played a few seasons in the Seattle Mariners system and has improved his numbers over time. Like a few other MLB clubs, the Mariners chose to send some players to the ABL, and Maurer was sent him to the Adelaide Bite, where he has pitched well. He has pitched in nine games, with a 5-1 record, and an ERA of 3.00, with 51 strikeouts and 12 walks. At the age of just 20, he already clocks more than 90mph on his fastball, and presumably he still has a bit of improving in him. Maurer has been an important asset in the Bite bullpen, and his season concluded with an important shutout win over the Brisbane Bandits last week, in which he allowed just one hit over seven innings, while striking out 8. It will be interesting to see how Maurer develops over the next season, and to see whether he can become a genuine major league prospect.

4. Daniel Schmidt
The Perth Heat have not boasted a particularly strong starting pitching rotation this year, and they have relied on some of their relievers to get the job done. One pitcher who has been consistently good is Daniel Schmidt, who went 6-3 over 10 starts. He struck out 47, while walking 11.

5. Myung-Ho Jin
At first glance, Myung-Ho Jin's numbers do not jump out as an outstanding season. In his nine games for the Canberra Cavalry, he posted a record of 0-2. But, take a deeper look at the numbers, and you see that Jin was a strong pitcher - undoubtedly the weak offense of Canberra did him no favours. Through 31 innings, he held opposing hitters to an average of .189, while compiling an ERA of just 1.74. He struck out 29 hitters and walked 16. Taking a look at his two losses - on 20 November, the Cavalry lost 3-1 to the Aces, and on 9 December he gave up three runs to the Heat in a 7-0 loss. With a little more run support, he could easily have racked up a few more Wins.

Jan 22, 2011

Thoughts from the Blue Sox vs Cavalry game

The Blue Sox played the Cavalry in the second game of four last night and it was my first trip to an ABL game outside of Blacktown Olympic Park. The Cavalry have a bit of a reputation for putting on a really good show, so I was keen to see it first hand. On the field, the Blue Sox have the chance to secure a home final if they notch up a few wins. The Cavalry don't have as much at stake, but are looking to add some annoyance value to things and to put on a good show for their final homestand. With all that in mind, your intrepid correspondent made the trek to the Nation's capital to report on the action.

Firstly, some thoughts on the Fort Narrabundah experience. The playing surface and overall feel of the park is great, and although the stadium is not as big as Blacktown, there are plenty of bleachers and viewing areas on both first and third base lines. Sitting on the bench seating was a less comfortable way to watch the game, and the layout of the stands could improve with some more entry points and more user-friendly steps on the bleachers. But overall it was a good place to watch a game.

The Canberra crowd was vocal (some might say rabid) and they were ripping into the Blue Sox from the get go. Chris Oxspring, whom the Cavalry managed to beat on Thursday, and Alex Johnson, the Sox DH, were fave targets. The best line of the night goes to the Canberra fan who labelled Johnson 'the worst number 23 since Michael Clarke'. That was about as witty as it got though. A traveling contingent from the
Sox Draw made sure the Sydney team got plenty of support.

The ground announcing and between inning activities were comparable to Sydney's. Best walk up music goes to Canberra catcher Michael Collins; daggy-turned-retro-cool Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight'. The crowd participated well in the game, really chanting in unison 'HWA!!!' and 'WOO!!!' when the Cavs' Korean imports came up. There seemed to be quite a few 'new to baseball' spectators. I heard a few people discussing the rules and the usual questions - 'are they called referees or umpires', 'what is an error' - and so on. This is surely a good sign for the League. Last home series of the season, nothing really for the home team to play for, but they still drew a crowd of 1400.

On the field, the Blue Sox turned to David Welch to steer the team to victory, while the Cavalry tossed the ball to Chris Morgan. Both pitchers were pretty effective through five innings. The Sox picked up their two two runs through a double smacked down the third base line from the increasingly reliable Trent Schmutter. In the bottom of the 5th, the Cavalry hit back with three runs of their own.

Welch, who i have really enjoyed watching (and who I think shows a lot of promise) was a little unlucky as the Cavalry picked up their runs through some good fortune. Didi Gregorious drove in a run through what should have been a regulation grounder to 1B, but which became a double to right field due to a NASTY hop that nearly took Josh Dean's head off. Further to this, Gregorious reached second and was met with a tag from Michael Lysaught that should have been the second out. However, much to the chagrin of Lysaught, Welch, and Sox manager Glenn Williams, the ump called him safe. Later in the inning with two out and two on, Welch got deep in the count against Michael Wells. Wells then hit a deep fly ball to right centre, which Mitch Dening put down, allowing two runs to score. Welch eventually got out of the inning by drawing a fly out from Tom Vincent.

It didn't look good for the Sox from that point, as they struggled to compile any sustained offensive pressure. However, in the 8th and 9th innings they managed to pile on some rallies and get runs on the board. Hits by Josh Dean and Michael Lysaught in the 8th inning brought in two runs. Then in the ninth, a timely loaded bases double to Pat Maat brought in two more runs, before a Josh Dean single and a Michael Lysaught homer brought in another four runs. By this time the Cavalry were flat on the canvas. Koo came back and mercifully stopped proceedings without fuss.

All up, it was a good night at the ballpark and a much needed win for the Sox. The Perth Heat also won last night, so Sydney is still in second place in the standings. They will look to pick up another two
wins tonight.

Jan 3, 2011

Wrap up of Weekend Series - some standout performances

So with seven rounds/series of ABL action in the books, we are starting to see the standings shape up.
Each of the three series that took place over the weekend were of great importance to the overall jostling for position.

Adelaide v Canberra: Someone call the Cavalry, Adelaide have put the Bite on Canberra

In front of some very decent crowds (around 1300 to three of the five games), the Adelaide Bite put the Canberra Cavalry to the sword over the weekend, and surged back into strong contention in the ABL. After losing 7 of their 11 games in December, the Bite brought dominant pitching and strong hitting to the series and claimed the it 4-1 (they played one catch-up game).

The highlights for the Bite were solid hitting from imports James McOwen (.412 AVG, 4 RBIs, one double) and Quincy Latimore (.375 AVG, 6 RBIs, one double, one triple), which was backed up by Adelaide local Scott Gladstone (0.385 AVG, 1 RBI,  one double). In addition to some strong offence, the Bite were impressive on the mound. Over the five games, their team ERA was 1.23. They struck out 48 Canberra hitters and walked only ten. Excellent outings were turned in by Mildren (nine strikeouts, no walks, in an eight-inning shutout), Maurer (seven strikeouts, one walk, in a six-inning shutout). Fidge and Ruzic also chipped in with solid outings.

On the other side of the ledger, there weren't too many highlights. The Cavalry managed to scrape together just 20 hits for the series (eight of which were in the first game, which they won), with a team average of .137. From a defensive perspective, they gave up five home runs, while walking 37. One bright spot was Korean import Jun Hyeok Heo, who pitched six scoreless innings, giving up just three hits.

Following the demolition, Adelaide moves to second behind the Blue Sox by 1.5 games. They now hit the road to play series against the Aces and the Blue Sox, before returning home to close out the season against the Bandits - with whom they are due to play two washed out games. How will they fare in these games?

Well, they smashed the Aces in the opening series of the ABL. But things have changed since then. Firstly, the Aces have come a long way with their offence. Secondly, this series is at Melbourne, and the Aces have learned how to hit homeruns down there. My tip: Drawn Series (2-2).

Then on the road to Sydney, against whom they split their series last time round. Given that the Blue Sox have been particularly strong at home, one would think that the best the Bite could hope for would be a split series. This could change if for instance Chris Oxspring sits out a game. All things being equal, my tip is this would be two games to Adelaide, two games to Sydney.

Then, the return to Norwood for a (potentially six game) series against the Bandits. The Bite would have to be confident of taking the at least 4 out of 6 against against Brisbane.

This would see the Bite go to 23-17.

The mauling by the Bite pretty much spells the end of any chance the Cavalry have of making the playoffs. They face eight games against the Bandits, four in Canberra, and then four in Brisbane, before returning home again to close out the season against the Blue Sox. A few things could go in their favour - they have a pretty good home record, and they have eight games against the Bandits, who have also struggled. It is entirely possible that they clean up the home series against Brisbane 4-0, and then take another couple of games in Brisbane, and even a couple off Sydney. If they did manage those results their record would end up 18-22.

Brisbane v Melbourne: Melbourne hold all the Aces, but the Bandits hold their own.

The Aces and Bandits have faced off for the last eight games, but it was the Melbourne side who came out on top - winning six of the eight games. However, in the series just passed, Brisbane picked up two vital wins. It was a pretty level series, with no real standout performances.

Melbourne's record now stands at 15-12. They now host Adelaide for a four game series - in which they should take at least two games, before facing the Heat for eight games - four home and then four away. It is really anyone's guess as to how the series against Perth will go. You would expect the Aces to take all four games at home, but who knows what will happen in Perth. If  the Aces come away with two games there, their record would end up 23-16.

For the Bandits, they have eight games against Canberra, and then four (plus two catchups) at Adelaide. It looks likely that the Bandits will take somewhere between two and five games against Canberra, and probably no more than 2 against the Bite. This would take their record to 17-21.

Perth v Sydney: Heat can't take the Blue Sox hot hitting and pitching

There were some remarkable statistics coming out of the Heat vs BlueSox series.

Coming in to the weekend, the standings looked were headed up by Sydney and Perth in equal first with a record of 14-10, Melbourne was in third with 13-10 and Adelaide fourth with 11-11. Then came Canberra with 10-14, and Brisbane brought up the rear with 8-14.

Following the games on the weekend, there has been a lot of change. Sydney and Adelaide have surged, both going 4-0 in the series, Melbourne and Brisbane shared their series 2-2 and both consolidated the ladder positions.

Jan 1, 2011

ABL TV coverage on Foxtel

Hello Aussie Baseball fans, and welcome to 2011.

As I kick back this evening watching the excellent online coverage of the Perth Heat vs the Sydney Blue Sox, I was pleased to hear the announcers mention that Foxtel will be covering the three game final series in the ABL (!!!). The ABL has made some good strides this year in establishing some media coverage, and there has been plenty of interest from fans wanting to see TV coverage, either on Foxtel or One HD. Getting some coverage - even if it is only on pay TV, and even if it is only the final series - is another great step towards cementing baseball in the Australian sporting landscape.

At this point, there does not seem to be any indication on the Foxtel website to confirm this, however the deal was attributed to an interview with ABL CEO Peter Wermuth a few weeks ago. We will keep an eye out for any further news and will bring more details as they come to hand.