SYDNEY, NSW -- Will the Bite chomp the Bandits or will the Queenslanders fish another trip to the ABLCS?
We'll find out this weekend.
Postseason play begins this Friday, 3 February as the SA Power Networks Adelaide Bite and reigning Claxton Shield champions the Brisbane Bandits, proudly presented by WellDog, face off in the Australian Baseball League Preliminary Final presented by Ladbrokes. The best-of-three series starts with Game 1 at Adelaide Shores Baseball Complex at 7:30pm AEDT. The set shifts to AFA Stadium at Holloway Field for Game 2 on Saturday, 4 February at 7:00pm AEDT and, if necessary, Game 3 on Sunday, 5 February at 2:00pm AEDT.
ABLPF: ADELAIDE (23-17) vs. BRISBANE (21-18)
The Bandits and Bite face off in the Preliminary Final for the first time in the history of the modern ABL this year, after meeting in the playoffs for the first time in the 2016 ABLCS. Though the Bandits swept the Bite to claim the Claxton Shield last year, the two teams went an even 4-4 in eight meetings spanning Rounds 5-6 of this year, a split indicative of the fact that this weekend's series is going to be close. Both teams also enter the ABLPF riding regular-season win streaks, with Adelaide taking their final three games and Brisbane winning two in a row to close out Round 10.
Offence will be a key factor in the series. The Bandits finished the year tied with Canberra for highest team batting average (.283), and both slugged the most home runs of any club this season (42) and scored the most runs (234). Bandits mainstay Mitch Nilsson tied for the league lead in homers (7), while young outfielder and Minnesota Twins farmhand Aaron Whitefield ranked second in the league in batting average (.338). After joining the team just before 2016 became 2017, Tampa Bay Rays prospect David Rodriguez has hit safely in each of the 19 ABL games he's appeared in, a streak and performance that earned him Player of the Week honours in the final round of the regular season.
However, Adelaide ranked second in team batting average (.264), home runs (34) and runs scored (206), and finished the year just one point behind the first-ranked Bandits on the on-base percentage leaderboard (.349-.348). Team Australia slugger Mitch Dening won the 2016/17 ABL regular season batting title, hitting .340 in 39 games while also leading the league in RBIs (27) and tying for second in home runs (6).
Big bat and San Diego Padres prospect Marcus Greene, Jr. tied for second in RBIs (26) and home runs (6). Baseball tends to have a short memory because of its longevity, but it's also important to remember that Adelaide third baseman Stefan Welch had one of the most important clutch hits of the season, an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 2016 ASG that led Team Australia to its second-straight ASG walk-off win.
Pitching-wise, the Bite have a clear advantage, posting both the second-best team ERA (3.90) and the second-best WHIP (1.41) in the league this year. The Bite and the Aces were, in fact, the only two clubs to have team ERAs under 4.00. After having the best pitching staff in their championship campaign last year, the Bandits finished 2016/17 with the worst team ERA (5.10).
On top of all of that, the two teams' numbers against each other this year are equally impressive on offence and not great on the pitching front. Adelaide hit .294 against Bandits pitching while posting a cringe-worthy 6.14 team ERA; Brisbane's batters bashed at a .317 clip in the series but their pitchers allowed an average of 5.86 runs per nine innings. The Bandits did out-score the Bite 59-52 in the eight games they played against each other this year, but high ERA can easily neutralize a run-scoring advantage.
The moral of this blue and red and yellow and black postseason story? Two red-hot teams with something to prove will play baseball against each other this weekend. The rest is in the hands of the baseball gods.
Probable starters (regular season records in parentheses)
Friday (@ADE): Justin Erasmus (3-1, 4.89) at Max MacNabb (3-0, 2.76)
Saturday (@BRI): Jack O'Loughlin (3-3, 3.02) at Kramer Champlin (2-4, 4.37)
*Sunday (@BRI): TBA at TBA
Players to watch: Mitch Dening (ADE), Stefan Welch (ADE), Marcus Greene Jr. (ADE), Mitch Nilsson (BRI), David Rodriguez (BRI), Ryan Searle (BRI)
Series prediction: Adelaide win, 2-0
Reason: In terms of hunger, the Bite are sharks that haven't eaten in years. This might be their year.