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Heat and Sox collide with ABLCS on line
Perth open title defence, Sydney seek first finals trip
01/28/2015 11:22 PM ET
Perth (left) clinched second place in Round 13 while Sydney captured third.
Perth (left) clinched second place in Round 13 while Sydney captured third. (SMP Images/ABL Media)

SYDNEY, 29 January - Since the inception of the modern Australian Baseball League in 2010, only two teams have made the ABL Postseason all five years. The playoff tales of the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat and Sydney Blue Sox, however, could hardly be different. Perth are aiming for their fourth Claxton Shield premiership in five seasons as Sydney aim to win a home Postseason series for the first time and earn their first Championship Series trip when they collide in this week's best-of-3 Preliminary Final.

As the 2014/15 season builds toward its climax, the Heat are playing their best baseball of the fixture, in classic style. Perth have won five straight games and 12 of their last 14 to climb from a 16-18 record on 3 January to a 28-20 finish to the season that netted them second place on the ladder. The league's reigning premiers have ridden their trademark strong overall game to their resurgent status, wrapping the regular season with the ABL's second-best offence (.277 team batting average) and second-best pitching staff (4.19 staff ERA).

Where the Heat have made their reputation over the last four seasons, though, has been when the records reset to zeroes for the Postseason. Perth swept Sydney during the first round of the 2010/11 ABL Postseason on their way to their first Claxton Shield title in the modern league. The Heat repeated the next season, following their 2011 ABL Championship Series win over Adelaide with a triumph over Melbourne in 2012. After being dethroned by Canberra in 2013, Perth got revenge a season ago with a sweep of the Cavalry in the 2014 ABLCS.

Now, they're back and again led by an American import with former Major League status. Mike McClendon captured the league's ERA title by going 5-1 with a 1.66 ERA in nine starts for the Heat. His efforts have been enhanced by a stingy bullpen that includes local product Ben Shorto and Boston Red Sox signee Jorge Marban. At the plate, Jordan McDonald has been a revelation for the Heat. Back from playing college ball in the United States, McDonald has batted .307 for Perth in his 47 games played.

For Sydney, the task is again a tall one. On 4 February 2011, Sydney left-hander David Welch made ABL history by throwing a no-hitter to lead his side to a series-opening win over Adelaide in that year's second round of the Postseason. The Blue Sox had just been swept by the Heat in the opening round and were looking to make amends with the Bite in town. They were, however, unable to capitalise. That home victory is the only in of Sydney's four Postseason trips. In nine total home playoff games, the Blue Sox are 1-8. Their lone Postseason series victory came in the first round of the 2011/12 playoffs at Adelaide.

Sydney didn't play their best ball to finish the season but got enough help to make their way back to the playoffs thanks to owning the tiebreaker over Canberra and Brisbane's series sweep at the hands of Perth. The Blue Sox will look to one of their revered veterans to get them started on the right note. Two-time ABL Pitcher of the Week Craig Anderson takes the ball in the series opener with the aim of silencing the Heat's powerful bats. Sydney lineup mainstays Josh Dean, David Kandilas, and Trent Oeltjen hope to carry their solid regular seasons into the playoffs, too.

The Blue Sox and Heat played eight games against each other during the 2014/15 regular season and each claimed four victories. Sydney won the first two games of Round 1 at Perth before falling in the final two. The Sox and Heat then alternated wins in four matchups to close November. Perth have claimed victories in four all-time playoff meetings between the two teams. The winner of this week's series will travel to Adelaide next week to clash with the Bite in the 2015 ABL Championship Series.

Game 1 of the 2015 Preliminary Final is set from 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Blue Sox Stadium. Saturday, the series shifts to Western Australia for a 7:20 p.m. Game 2 first pitch. If necessary, Game 3 will start from 4:05 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at Barbagallo Ballpark in Perth.

All Preliminary Final games will be streamed live worldwide this week on the ABL's official YouTube channel, ABLtv.com. Tickets are on sale now for Game 1 of the Preliminary Final in Sydney and Games 2 and (if necessary) 3 in Perth. Tickets are also on sale now for the 2015 ABL Championship Series at Norwood Oval from 6-8 February. The ABLCS will be carried live on ESPN Australia/NZ and worldwide on MLB Network and Fox Sports Asia.

Tyler Maun is the ABL's staff writer and a contributor to MiLB.com, the Official Site of Minor League Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.