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The Heat at the midpoint
The rare perfect trip is shaping up
12/19/2017 8:36 PM ET
Michael Brosseau - Photo: Ben Southall | SMPIMAGES.COM / ABL Media - Round 5, Game 1 between the Canberra Cavalry and Perth Heat - Australian Baseball League (ABL) 2017-18. Match was played at 'The Fort' at MIT Ballpark in Narrabundah, Canberra, ACT, Australia on Thursday 14 December 2017.
Michael Brosseau - Photo: Ben Southall | SMPIMAGES.COM / ABL Media - Round 5, Game 1 between the Canberra Cavalry and Perth Heat - Australian Baseball League (ABL) 2017-18. Match was played at 'The Fort' at MIT Ballpark in Narrabundah, Canberra, ACT, Australia on Thursday 14 December 2017. (Ben Southall)

PERTH - It is the holiday season and a time to enjoy the joys of travel. We have all been there. The late flights, the late arrivals, and of course the lost baggage. It is the the not-so-fun part of your journey. At the midway point of the Australian League Baseball Season, the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat and their journey back to relevance in Claxton Shield discussion is far from not so fun.

The Heat's success feels much like that rare trip you take that departs on time, arrives ahead of schedule, and comes with an upgrade that you never expected. They are the rare find in a world of run here and go there. They have been the hotel room ready earlier than expected. They are the view that looks better than described in the brochure. They are perhaps a year early with first-class results that if things keep up to pace, just might be toasting the end of the season with the upgrade to first class.

"We wanted to be playing above .500, and we are. That has given us the opportunity to set ourselves up for the second half," said Heat Manager Andy Kyle.

The team arrived at the departure gate early, playing the kind of baseball that had not been seen for two seasons in the west. It might have been easy to say it was just good luck to win two of three at Melbourne against last season's minor premiers and ace, Mark Hamburger. It was done with an "out ace" like performance for Alex Boshers, who in his five starts has been the better ace four times and the equal ace another.

Boshers has been the solid innings eater the Heat hoped the club would have when the two parties agreed last September to come to an agreement for this season. He has a 2.79 ERA in 29 innings, and in the last 15.1 innings, he has issued only one walk. He issued six in his start at Sydney on the first of December but has only four more walks his other five games combined with over 28.1 innings pitched. He is fourth in ERA in the ABL and fourth in innings pitched with 29. His walks-to-hits-to-innings pitched (WHIP) is fourth with a 1.17.

"It is fun. It is probably one of the more fun experiences I have had playing this game," said Alex Boshers. "If you are having fun, it just translates. If you are having fun, it makes it a whole lot better. If you do bad, you think about where you are and realize it could be a lot worse."

Fellow import Kyle Simon, the last Heat import to arrive just one day before the flight to Victoria in round one, has found his form after rounds four and five. There was some worry with Simon early. He surrendered 10 earned runs in his first 4.1 IP of work. Simon had an ERA at 20.77 going into round three at Sydney. He was much better and was able to hang in the game for four innings and four earned runs.

The next two outings, the real Kyle Simon has taken command on the mound. He looked to be in major trouble after giving up five first inning runs against Adelaide, but 12.1 consecutive innings of scoreless baseball followed with Simon giving up one earned run on 13 frames.

The team really struggled in what became a re-building year last year. It was the nightmare like when someone finds out that the fancy resort is not so great, but they have to stay there. As much as fans looked and the front office looked, the journey was one you would soon just forget. It became a steady plan to take your lumps with your young guys and next wave of talent. It was growing pains, the last place finish, the worst seat on the flight, or even worse, no seat at all.

At the midway point last year, the Heat sat at 6-14 and were nine games behind Melbourne. Perth had lost four of five to welcome Santa to WA and were 3-7 their last 10. The Heat were last in runs scored (70), fifth at the plate (.249), and an on-base percentage of .333, good for fifth. The team record on the road was 3-9. Unfortunately, the break did not help the Heat out last season. Perth finished the season last in runs scored, fifth at the plate and OBP, and would win only one more road game the rest of the way.

This season, however, the Heat are 12-7 with an 8-3 record on the road. That is one win shy of the season win total and already more road wins than last season's total.

Where the difference may be felt the most is in the numbers at the plate. Perth leads the ABL with a .292 team average. The team leads the ABL in runs (143) and it tops on OBP (.380). The club has stolen a league leading 32 bases and has clubbed 30 homeruns-both best in the ABL.

The arrival of the Rays farmhands may have pushed up the timeline for another run at a Claxton Shield, but the pairing of those imports with Tim Kennelly and Luke Hughes have put the Heat right there at the heels of the Bandits where they can see the possibility of the shield.

Hughes leads the league in home runs (7) and is getting on base, leading the league in walks with 19. Hughes is batting .269, but he has driven in the third most runs in the league with 17. His .437 OBP is good for eighth in the circuit. Kennelly is sixth in the league with .371 average and sixth in RBI with 14. The pair are having the kind of season that make you pause and remember just how great these two have been over the years. Hughes's home run total is his highest total in the ABL, and "TK" is on pace to have his second highest single season RBI total in his ABL career.

The pair are joined by Jesse Williams, hitting .300 and scoring 15 runs, which puts him seventh on that list. The second-year man has 21 hits and is tied for ninth. The youngsters are not being asked to carry the team but are providing a spark to the lineup card toward the bottom. Last season rookie Ulrich Bojarski was the RBI leader of the club with 16, but this season, after a year with the Detroit Tigers system, he is not being asked to be the difference maker.

That role belongs to the affiliated imports from Tampa. Last year the team had two solid imports from the Baltimore Orioles in lefties Will Dennis and Lex Rutledge to help the pen, but there was not solid help at the plate to add that missing ingredient. Welcome Tampa Bay!

They are the nice little surprise on the journey this year. They have come along at a time where the Heat were still another year away. But they have taken the pressure off the young guys and have become complementary pieces to the Heat veterans.

Teams can decide how they want to work around the ABL leader in RBI in Mike Brosseau. Go ahead; Luke Hughes waits right there behind him. Brosseau gets aboard and Hughes sees better pitches and hits one in the gap, or the opposition walks him, working himself into an even bigger spot.

Sitting there behind Hughes is the bat of first-round pick Garrett Whitely. He is second in the ABL in walks (16) and ninth in OBP (.414). The New York state native is hitting a solid .282.

The lead off batter Jake Fraley is on pace to break several ABL and team marks. The one that gets most of the attention is the stolen base number. He leads the league in stolen bases with 17. The next closest in the race is 10 back. Fraley is the tops in runs scored and his six home runs make him second. He is fifth in OBP (.462) and second in hits at 30.

Having Fraley in front of Tim Kennelly means if you screw around and walk or allow Fraley to come home, you are asking for trouble. Kennelly-with his 23 hits that place him sixth in the league and his other top 10 numbers-is a pitcher's next challenge. Should a pitcher get through that, there is always Brosseau and his league-leading 32 hits and 29 RBI.

All these successes make for a good trip so far, exceeding the dreams of even the biggest fan. Does it have the makings of a dream season? We are halfway to finding out. "Realistically we have set ourselves up for a shot at the top two. If we can get a top two finish and then could get a home final, that is where we are eyeing now," said Kyle.

Sit back and enjoy the ride, folks. We will look at the Heat fans Christmas wish list next week!

Dan Vaughan teams up with Paul Morgan as the Heat media team and will join Morgan on air as the Heat play-by-play broadcast due for all home and away games in 17-18. Follow him on twitter @DanVaughanJr This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.