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TravelStream Round 8 Preview
Melbourne Visit First-Place Brisbane for Five Crucial Games
01/09/2018 9:20 PM ET
 

Round 8 is just around the corner, and time is running out for the Aces as they try and seal their place in the 2018 ABL Postseason. Melbourne has not won a series since Round 3 when they took all three of the playable games at home against Brisbane. They are hoping to build off that past success and end a skid that has seen the club lose seven of their last twelve. It will be no easy task for the Aces as the Bandits sit atop the standings with a 19-7 record. Here's what to expect when these two teams battle in Brisbane in the TravelStream Round 8 Preview.

 

In Round 7

 

In some ways, the Aces were unlucky not to earn a series split against Canberra in Round 7. Mark Hamburger's outing in the opener was one for the ages as the right-hander punched out a franchise-best 16 batters in his complete-game effort while not allowing a walk. The Aces lost that game 2-0, and the first run he allowed was unlucky, while the second-a solo homerun by David Kandillas-was ruthless by the Cavalry right-fielder. That effort deserved a win, and had it not been for Brian Grening's dueling complete game shutout, the win would've been Hamburger's.

 

On the other hand, the Aces were dominated in Saturday's and Sunday's performance, having been outscored by Canberra 23-9. That score line suggests that perhaps the Aces were handed what they deserved, and have some regrouping to do as a squad. The Aces have shown glimpses of a team that can hang with the best the ABL has to offer. But then there are also nights like Saturday, when manager Jon Deeble is flat out of options and has to try and find a way to navigate through seven innings with the bullpen because his starter couldn't get out of the third inning.

 

It seems that the Bandits took that series loss to Melbourne personally, and have unleashed their fury on the rest of the ABL. Since that Round 3 defeat, the Bandits have won 13 of their last 16 games and are scoring at will. It is a foregone conclusion that the Bandits will be playing for a Claxton Shield, the only question is whether they will clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. What is also helping the Bandits is Perth right behind them in the standings. Any letting the foot off the gas could allow the Heat to swoop in and win the regular-season title. Combine that with the fact that Brisbane were held winless in Melbourne and we should see a very motivated Bandits squad throughout Round 8.

 

Pitching Edge: Brisbane

 

The numbers speak for themselves. As a team, the Bandits have the lowest ERA (3.69) in the ABL, and it's not close (second-best Canberra, 5.14). They have allowed 66 fewer runs than the Aces, and have a WHIP of 1.33 compared to Melbourne's 1.64 (worst WHIP in the league). Outside of Hamburger's gem on Thursday, Melbourne's starters underperformed, which doesn't bode confidence heading into Brisbane. However, despite all of that evidence, the fact is that when these two teams last met, the Aces held the Bandits to a total of three runs over the three games, and that history cannot be overlooked.

 

Hitting Edge: Brisbane

 

This is a much closer head-to-head matchup than people think. Melbourne's offense is finally rounding into form. Over their last two series, the Aces are averaging close to six runs per contest. The problem is that Brisbane has the second-best team average (.293) and have scored the second-most runs in the league (198). In their previous series against the Blue Sox, Brisbane scored 42 runs (10.5 rpg). Keep in mind, this is the same Sydney team that took six of eight from the Aces this season. This series should feature plenty of runs, but like most baseball series, whichever team's pitching can stand the longest will ultimately decide the victor.

 

Players To Watch For

 

Melbourne: Delmon Young is striking out less, hitting for a higher average and for power. His demolished a grand slam on Sunday and has a four-game hitting streak for Melbourne. Holloway Field has been known as a hitter-friendly park, and this is the perfect opportunity for Young to add to his homerun total, especially when the Aces could be tangled in a slugfest.

 

Brisbane: 1B Donald Lutz is quietly putting together an MVP season for the Bandits. Lutz is tied for the most homeruns in the league (9), third in RBIs (29), and is fifth in slugging (.667). He is hitting .400 over his last five games, and during that stretch has three homeruns and ten RBI. Mitch Nilsson deservedly gets a lot of attention for Brisbane, but don't sleep on Lutz or you might miss a couple homeruns and a half dozen RBI.

 

Prediction: For whatever reason, the Aces seem to play their best against Brisbane. Look for the same to happen here as the visitors return from Brisbane with a 3-2 series win.

 

*A makeup game will be played due to the rainout on 12/2.

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.