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SEASON IN REVIEW: Melbourne Aces
Aces' pitching problems prevent return to ABLCS
02/19/2018 10:49 PM ET
Delmon Young warmed up as the season went on but Melbourne's pitching struggled to find the formula for success (C) SMP IMAGES/ABL MEDIA
Delmon Young warmed up as the season went on but Melbourne's pitching struggled to find the formula for success (C) SMP IMAGES/ABL MEDIA (Ben Southall)

With the Australian Baseball League Championship Series done and dusted, we take a look back at how each team fared during the 2017/2018 season in reverse finishing order. Today we look at the Melbourne Aces.

Melbourne entered the season surrounded with plenty of hype as they chased a return to the ABL Championship Series.

The return of starter Mark Hamburger, arrival of former big leaguers Delmon Young and Matt Marksberry along with the addition of Japanese catcher Tomoya Mori for the first half of the season had the Aces primed for another ABLCS assault.

But it never happened as Melbourne crashed out of the playoffs in week one, falling in a thrilling winner-takes-all semi-final clash against eventual champions Brisbane.

The Aces sat around .500 for most of the campaign before going 6-11 in January and only securing their playoff spot in the third-to-last game of the season.

Melbourne's pitching struggled to replicate its 2016/2017 campaign, when it posted the league's best ERA.

After compiling a 3.23 ERA in their run to the 2017 ABLCS, the Aces finished 2017/18 with a 6.72 ERA (fifth in the ABL).

In January, Melbourne leaked 141 runs in 17 games.

They lost Seibu Lions' imports Kona Takahashi and Shunta Nakatsuka following the All-Star Game and despite the addition of Jon Kennedy and Matthew Larkins battled in the final month of the regular season.

The Aces' pitching woes did give opportunity to youngsters Jackson Boyd, Matt Beattie, Jack Enciondo and Blake Townsend.

Offensively, Darryl George, Tyler Neslony and Delmon Young led the way.

And while Michael Crouse was hot after joining Melbourne in the second half of the season, the loss of catcher Brett Cumberland with three rounds to go hurt the Aces' hopes of making a return to the ABLCS.

 

What went right

The Delmon Young experiment was a success.

After a slow start the former top pick in the 2003 MLB Draft finished the campaign with 13 home runs, hitting .280 with 29 RBI.

Considering the reluctance of pitchers to throw in the zone to him, Young took some time to settle into the ABL.

But he had an impact on and off the park and finished hot with nine home runs in January.

In fact, Young aside, Melbourne got its offensive imports right.

Tyler Neslony, Brett Cumberland and Michael Crouse all played solid roles while Craig Maddox impressed after joining the team late on.

 

What went wrong

The revolving door at Melbourne Ballpark had as much use as a local IKEA store.

Melbourne used a league-high 50 players across a 40-game season.

Manager Jon Deeble called upon an ABL-high 27 pitchers, five more than the next ranked teams, and took until the second half of the season to settle on a starting rotation.

When he finally did, they went a combined 4-10 with a 8.27 ERA through the final month of the regular season.

Mark Hamburger failed to recapture his form from a season earlier, finishing with a 6.82 ERA and going 3-7.

He gave up a league-high 20 home runs, including 10 in the final month of the season.

The Aces simply did not have the pitching depth to keep ballgames close enough, often enough.

 

Most impressive win

Defeated Brisbane 3-0 at Melbourne Ballpark on December 1.

Mark Hamburger tossed his second ABL complete game shutout as the Aces took game one of their series against Brisbane 3-0.

The right-hander struck out seven, gave up three hits and walked just one hitter in nine dominant innings to collect his first win of the season.

He shut down a Bandits' offence averaging 9.3 runs per game entering the contest.

The Aces rode their game one win to a sweep of the rain-shortened three-game series.

 

theABL.com.au Player of the Season

Darryl George

The 24-year-old shortstop enjoyed a career-season in the ABL.

He led the Aces with a .327 batting average, homering 11 times and collecting 98 total bases in a dominant season.

George drove in 30 runs, walking 11 times and striking out 29 with eight stolen bases.

He finished hot, going 26-for-70 (.371) with eight homers and 19 RBI across his final 17 games of the regular season.

 

Highlight of the season

Melbourne put a series loss to Perth on Opening Weekend behind it with a win over archrivals Adelaide on the road. Jared Cruz homered to put the Aces on top late.

 

2017/2018 grade: C+

There was a stark difference between Melbourne's best and worst.

In the end, its worst was on show too often to be a legitimate title threat.

The Aces lacked depth and the ever-changing personnel at Deeble's disposal hindered the ability to find much-needed consistency.

Melbourne's pitching recorded more strikeouts than any other team but also walked more hitters as it ranked fifth in the ABL for ERA.

The inability to stop opposition teams scoring left too big a task for the offence.

 

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