SYDNEY, NSW -- It all comes down to this weekend.
With four (potentially five) games left to play in the 2016/17 Australian Baseball League regular season, only the ladder-leading Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces have officially clinched a coveted spot in the postseason while Perth and Sydney are eliminated from the playoffs. The rest of the picture will be decided this weekend in Round 10.
BRISBANE (18-17) at CANBERRA (19-17)
We've said it once and we'll say it again: this is the series to watch this weekend. Both sides are on the verge of a playoff berth; both sides have significant pull on the final ladder standings.
The two teams opened the season with four games in Brisbane, and the Bandits won the set 3-1. The two teams have developed significantly since then, into sides with similar strengths and similar weaknesses. They're tied for the league lead with .289 team batting averages, and have scored 209 (Brisbane) and 178 (Canberra) runs this season, two of the top three totals in the ABL this season. The Cavalry have been particularly strong at home, with a 10-6 record at The Fort at MIT Ballpark, but the Bandits enter the series on a five-game winning streak.
Moral of the story? This is anybody's series, and will be a close one.
Players to watch: Mitch Nilsson (BRI), Aaron Whitefield (BRI), Brian Grening (CAN), David Kandilas (CAN)
Series prediction: Series split, 2-2
Reason: This year has been nothing short of wacky, and this series will be the same.
Thursday: Rick Teasley (2-3, 5.40) at Brian Grening (0-0, 5.00)
Friday: Kramer Champlin (2-3, 4.71) at Louis Cohen (3-0, 2.88)
Saturday: Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-0, 5.54) at Sean Guinard (4-2, 2.64)
Sunday: Simon Morriss (0-0, 4.38) at Scott Cone (0-2, 6.75)
SYDNEY (14-21) at ADELAIDE (20-16)
Though the Blue Sox will have to wait until next year to play for the Claxton Shield, the Bite could be just two wins away from their third-straight playoff berth.
The two teams started the 2016/17 season on opposite trajectories, with the Blue Sox beginning the campaign strong before struggling and the Bite starting slow but picking up significant speed down the stretch. Sydney won the Round 1 series 3-1 at Blacktown International Sportspark.
Adelaide enter the final round of the regular season on a five-game winning streak, after sweeping Melbourne last weekend. The Bite are tied for second with 178 team runs scored on the season, and also rank second in the league with a 4.12 team ERA. Sydney, on the other hand, have struggled at the plate, with a league-low .239 team batting average.
The Bite are 9-7 at Adelaide Shores Baseball Complex this season, and this is their series to lose.
Players to watch: Stone Garrett (SYD), Josh Dean (SYD), Jack O'Loughlin (ADE), Jordan Cowan (ADE)
Series prediction: Bite win, 3-1
Reason: Adelaide are a stronger team than they were at the beginning of the season, and that's why they'll make the playoffs.
Thursday: Trevor Foss (2-3, 3.33) at Jack O'Loughlin (3-2, 2.92)
Friday: Craig Anderson (4-2, 4.24) at Sean Callegari (0-2, 9.72)
Saturday: Luke Wilkins (3-3, 3.99) at Devon Barker (0-0, 5.06)
Sunday: TBD at Steven Chambers (1-3, 5.63)
MELBOURNE (24-12) at PERTH (12-24)
The Aces are one win away from clinching the Minor Premiership; the Heat are no longer in the running for a playoff spot.
Melbourne won the season-opening series against Perth 3-1 in Melbourne, and their dominance on the diamond this season means that there is little reason to doubt that they will win at least one game against the Heat this weekend to win the Minor Premiership.
As much as this year has been a technicolor dream for the Aces, the 2016/17 season has been a learning experience for a Heat ballclub in the midst of a transitionary period. New skipper Matt Kennelly's efforts this season deserve nothing but praise, and there's no doubt that with his experience and leadership, along with the omnipotence of the WA baseball pipeline, there are good times ahead for the Happy Heaters.
Players to watch: Mark Hamburger (MEL), James Beresford (MEL), Tim Kennelly (PER), Matt Kennelly (PER)
Series prediction: Series split, 2-2
Reason: Let's call this one a wild card.
Friday: Mark Hamburger (5-0, 1.97) at Lex Rutledge (2-1, 1.80)
Saturday, G1: Virgil Vasquez (2-1, 3.52) at Tom Bailey (1-5, 5.19)
Saturday, G2: Josh Tols (3-2, 1.14) at Mike Lee (2-5, 5.60)
Sunday: TBD at Nick Veale (1-4, 6.15)