Only three weeks into the 2012/13 ABL Season, and already we are asking ourselves 'can anybody stop the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat winning the championship for a third time this season?'
The two-time reigning champions of the Australian Baseball League have shown in their six games that they have played against their last two grand final opponents in Adelaide and Melbourne just how much they have grown over the offseason, which is scary for teams like Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney who are yet to play them.
The pitching stocks of the Heat have been vastly improved since last season. The "Zen Master" Virgil Vazquez, who joined the Heat last season during the championship series, has joined the Heat for the full season, whilst former New York Yankees Anthony Claggett has also joined the team, and shown in his two outings in the ABL and his outing during the Asian Series in Korea that he is a great asset for Steve Fish's team.
However, the one I am looking forward to seeing throughout the season is Tim Kennelly. Tim led the hitting with an average of .374, and won the League MVP for his efforts during last year's championship winning team. Over the American summer, The Philadelphia Phillies asked Tim to change things up and try his hand at pitching in the hope of making a major league call-up, and since then has been pitching some great numbers, and we all hope he is able to do the same in his hometown of Perth.
The Heat showed how good their pitching stocks are in the first two games of the most recent series against the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces. Vazquez pitched all nine innings allowing just three hits in a 3-0 shutout game against players from Melbourne like Carlo Testa, Elliott Biddle and Shota Nakata to pick up his second win of the season Friday night, and Claggett allowed just three hits during his seven innings on the mound in 9-4 win over the Aces on Saturday night.
However, the third pitcher in the starting rotation is something that needs to be looked at. ABL Pitcher of the Year for season 2011/12 Warwick Saupold is still to come back to the Heat for this season, and until that point, it would seem that the Heat don't have much in the way of a third-game starter, and could therefore fall back to the pack a little bit. Scott Mitchinson started last Sunday, but he got belted for six hits and six runs (two earned). Relief Pitcher Daniel Schmidt feared even worse lasting two outs allowing six runs on six hits with only three of the runs earned.
The Heat at the moment are at 5-1 with a one and a half game lead over the Brisbane Bandits, who are in second place with a 3-2 record and a washed out game against Canberra still to be played. Even this early in a 45 game season that the ABL is, it's a nice cushion to have over your opponents.
If one of the other teams in the ABL were to challenge the Heat, who would it be? At the moment, it looks like the Brisbane Bandits, and with four players, namely Logan Wade, Andrew Campbell and Joshua Roberts all hitting at a .333 average, and Hirotoshi Onaka hitting at .381, they might pose a threat to the Heat's pitching staff.
The Heat meet up with the Brisbane Bandits for the first time this season at home on December 7, playing a four game series, including a double header on the Saturday. Things may well have changed by that point, but this could be an early top of the table clash.
The Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces also look to be up there and challenge the Heat again this year. They managed to take a game off the Heat on Sunday afternoon with a 12-2 victory, thanks to Carlos Testa's 4 RBIs on three hits.
Aces pitcher Sam Gibbons grabbed the win on Sunday with help from his teammates in the bullpen, who didn't allow a hit once Gibbons' outing ended after five innings pitched.
At this early point in the season it seems like a three horse race in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne. Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide may make a move in the month of December to make things interesting going into the All-Star break.