The Heat were ahead of the pack throughout the season, starting off the year 11-0 en route to the top seed in their Claxton Shield title defence. They feature the deepest and most talented pitching staff in the ABL, with a team ERA a full two runs lower than that of the Aces. The Perth arms were particularly dominant against Melbourne's mighty offence, surrendering an average of just 3.3 runs over nine head-to-head games.
While Perth has the best top-to-bottom batting order, Melbourne has a "Murderers' Row" that no team can match. Brad Harman and Elliot Biddle each ranked among the league's top five in home runs while veteran outfielder and Team Australia member Justin Huber ranked second in runs scored and on-base percentage.
Finding ways to score other than by the longball will be Melbourne's biggest challenge in this series as their opponent has allowed the fewest homers in the league. Geoff Brown and Cameron Lamb have been the stingiest Heat hurlers in this regard with neither surrendering a jack in a combined 67 innings.
The Heat have dominated in head-to-head meetings between these two clubs, winning seven of nine contests this year and 13 of 17 overall. They have outscored the Aces 72-39 over the last two seasons. Perth's group of right-handed pitchers made live impossible for the Aces this year, limiting Melbourne to 14 earned runs in 62.2 innings (a 2.01 ERA). The chief culprit was Warwick Saupold who went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in his two starts against the Melbourne side.
A primary key to this series for the Aces will be finding reliable pitching behind number one starter Nic Ungs. An injury to Jason Hirsh has left Melbourne thin in the rotation, and the bullpen is sure to play a major role early in this series. Andrew Russell (2-1, 4.08 ERA) and Cameron Forbes (3 SV, 1.72 ERA) have been solid for their team all year and will need to continue in that manner to give their club a chance for the series victory.
The victor of this series will advance directly to become host of the ConocoPhillips ABL Championship Series. Game 1 between the Aces and Heat gets started at 2.00pm local time on Australia Day.