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TravelStream Round 10 Preview
Aces Postseason Berth On the Line
01/24/2018 8:25 PM ET

The Aces control their own playoff destiny with one final series yet to be played. They don't need much to seal their place in the postseason, but beating the Perth Heat will be no easy task especially on the road on the other side of the country. How fitting it is that the Aces will face the same team they opened the season with this time to close out the 2017/2018 regular season. For the final time, here is the TravelStream Round 10 Series Preview.


In Round 9


The Aces rebounded nicely after opening 2018 in abysmal form. Having won once in their previous nine games, the Melbourne side came home and looked sharp against the struggling Adelaide Bite. The offense-who performed well despite losing all five games to Brisbane-continued to roll against the Bite as they scored above their season average in three of the four games. Michael Crouse hit a grand slam in the opener, and Allan de San Miguel pumped out a two-homer game in the finale.


The bigger story for the Aces was the pitching, which was considerably better since the Brisbane series. Perhaps it was a combination of pitching at home and slightly inferior competition (Brisbane has scored 92 more runs than Adelaide this season); still, the Aces staff looked confident and dangerous on the mound. Scott Shuman pitched 2.2 scoreless innings over two appearances striking out six and touching 98 mph with his fastball. Matt Larkins finally looked like his old self, hurling seven innings and allowing just one earned run. Even Mark Hamburger returned to his winning ways despite moving to the third spot in the Aces rotation. The important number to consider is that the Aces conceded 45 fewer runs in Round 9 than they did in Round 8.


Perth found themselves in a heavyweight showdown at Holloway Field in Round 9 as they did well to earn a series split against the high-flying Bandits. Jake Fraley set an ABL record for stolen bases in a season with a series in hand as the Tampa Bay Rays prospect has now collected 36 steals out of 40 attempts. Michael Brousseau has increased his batting average to .427 (second-highest in the league) while Tim Kennelly's hitting a respectable .353. Brisbane's pitching kept the ABL's highest-scoring offense in check but couldn't stop the Heat from take 2-of-4 on the road in a potential preview of the Championship Round. Perth still has a chance to finish the season with the best record in the league but they cannot afford to drop many games against the Aces if they want to snatch the regular season title away from the Bandits.


Pitching Edge: Perth


Upon closer inspection, Perth pitching could be a considered a weakness compared to the other pillars that hold Perth up against the league's best. The Aces and Heat both have two starters inside the top-14 when it comes to the lowest ERA. The only problem for the Aces is that Alex Boshers (fifth) and Nick Veale (tenth) rank higher than Josh Tols (eleventh) and Mark Hamburger (fourteenth). While the bullpen looked much better in the previous round, the Aces only have three relievers who have thrown at least six innings with an ERA of 3.00 or better. Compare that to the Heat who have four pitchers with those numbers.


It should be a close pitching affair, but give Perth the slight edge especially with the home-field conditions.


Hitting Edge: Perth


No contest here. Perth has scored the most runs in the league (by far), have the best team average (by far) and have the most stolen bases in the league (they have twice as many as second place Brisbane). Among players with at least 13 games played, The Heat have 10 players hitting over .300 and five guys hitting over .400. Luke Hughes and Garrett Whitley are having outstanding seasons and help round out one of the dangerous lineups the league has ever seen. The Aces, while playing considerably better from an offensive standpoint, are not in the same hitting league as Perth.


Players to Watch For


Michael Crouse (MEL) is an outstanding center fielder who can hit for both average and power, can steal bases, and is above average when it comes to defensive coverage. It is shocking that an MLB team has not yet signed the 27-year old given the way he has played this season. He should turn out another productive series against Perth and begs fan to ponder what this Aces team might've looked like had he been here since Round 1.


Jake Fraley (PER) already owns the single-season steals record in the ABL with four games still to play. The LSU graduate has already proven that he is a five-tool player, and the only question that remains before the postseason is how many steals will here finish with. Forty seems like it's in the bag but how much more can he swipe beyond that?


Prediction: The Aces are trying to hang on while the Heat are gunning for the top seed in the playoffs. I suspect the home side will slug their way to a 3-1 series win while Melbourne hangs on for the fourth and final playoff spot.

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