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#ABLSF PREVIEW: Aces @ Bandits
Brisbane and Melbourne chase return trip to ABLCS
01/31/2018 6:23 PM ET
 

Almost 12 months since they met in the 2017 Australian Baseball League Championship Series, Brisbane and Melbourne will square off in the postseason once more.

The Bandits will be aiming to defend their fortress and earn two games - if required - at Holloway Field in the ABLCS against the winner of the other semi-final between Perth and Canberra.

Brisbane will also be looking to keep alive its attempt at a three-peat of crowns, a feat even the Heat failed to complete despite winning four of the first five ABL titles.

The Bandits welcome the Aces back to a ballpark they saw just a few weeks ago, dropping five games in a horror weekend.

Melbourne since recovered, winning five of its last eight in the regular season, to clinch a playoff spot.

Now the Aces face the biggest test in Australian baseball, Brisbane at Holloway.

The Bandits are built for the hitter-friendly ballpark, blasting 64 homers during 20 regular-season games at Holloway.

T.J Bennett led the way with 11 while Lin Chih-sheng (10) and Donald Lutz (eight) also enjoyed the comforts of home.

Brisbane scored 110 runs more than Melbourne during the regular season with only second-placed Perth finishing with more.

The Aces were one of the only teams to slow the Bandits, keeping Brisbane to three runs across three games in a rain-shortened series at Melbourne Ballpark in December.

As lethal as the Bandits' offence is, their pitching also sets the bar high.

Brisbane led the league with a 4.56 ERA, allowing a league-low 343 hits and 114 walks.

They finished with 369 strikeouts, behind only Melbourne (384).

Tim Atherton has slotted into the game one role, leaving Ryan Bollinger to start game two of the series.

Left-handed Bollinger has been one of the league's best pitchers, compiling a 5-1 record to go with an ERA of 3.48.

He tied with Aces' lefty Josh Tols for most strikeouts (75) during the regular season.

Melbourne's slated game three starter Mark Hamburger was third with 72 punch outs.

 

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Can the Aces keep the ball in the park? Melbourne's pitching gave up 69 home runs during the regular season, more than any other team in the ABL. Against the Bandits at Holloway Field in round eight the Aces leaked 24 home runs in a five-game set. They mashed 11 of their own - with Delmon Young going deep five times - but can ill-afford the ball flying out as often if they want a spot in the ABLCS. For the record, of Brisbane's 96 regular-season homers 64 came at Holloway Field.

  2. Will Mitch Nilsson heat up? Nilsson was one of the league's hottest hitters earlier in the season. But after missing a chunk of games during the middle of the campaign the Brisbane utility has not yet found his stride again. He went 2-for-15 against Canberra last weekend. In round three he was 2-for-9 in a rain-shortened series with Melbourne. The Aces will be hoping for more of the same from one of the league's most dangerous hitters. If a red-hot Donald Lutz and T.J. Bennett was not scary enough, the last thing they need is Nilsson firing too.
     
  3. Which former big leaguer will rise if we go to three? Travis Blackley is slated to start for Brisbane and Mark Hamburger for Melbourne if the semi-final series goes to a third game. Both have had indifferent starts to 2018. Blackley has a 2-1 record but has recorded an ERA of 6.86 (seventh worst amongst starters in January) and issued an equal league-high 10 walks in that time. Hamburger has battled recently and failed to get out of the third inning during two starts against Brisbane a few weeks ago. The right-hander has given up a league-high 10 homers so far this year and has a 10.87 ERA across five January starts.

 

OUR PREDICTION

Brisbane 2-1. Do not let the lopsided series result between the sides at Holloway Field during the regular season fool you, anything can happen in a best-of-three-set. If Melbourne starter Josh Tols twirls a game one gem the Aces just need one win across the final two games. If Melbourne's offence surges as it did on the road to Perth a couple of times, that could be enough for the two wins needed. But for all the ifs, Brisbane is a clear favourite and loves playing at Holloway Field, winning 16 of 20 contests at the Newmarket venue during the regular season.

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

GAME 1: Josh Tols (5-3, 4.78 ERA) at Tim Atherton (3-1, 4.15 ERA)

GAME 2: Jon Kennedy (1-2, 5.97) at Ryan Bollinger (5-1, 3.48)

GAME 3: Mark Hamburger (3-7, 6.82) at Travis Blackley (5-2, 4.82)

 

SERIES SCHEDULE

GAME 1: Friday, 6.00pm AEST - watch live on ABLtv powered by Bing Lee

GAME 2: Saturday, 6.00pm AEST - watch live on ABLtv powered by Bing Lee

GAME 3 (if required): Sunday, 4.00pm AEST - watch live on ABLtv powered by Bing Lee

 

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