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PREVIEW: Canberra @ Melbourne
01/02/2018 9:19 PM ET

Melbourne and Canberra both sit inside the top four entering their round seven battle at Melbourne Ballpark, but with fifth-placed Sydney in pursuit it looms as a season-defining series.

The Aces (fourth, 11-12) sit a game clear of the Blue Sox, while the third-placed Cavalry (12-11) are now just two games clear of fifth following a series loss to Perth in round six.

With the fight for top-four spots looking set to go down to the wire, and a high chance of tiebreaker rules playing a part, every win is vital and a series loss for either team will leave them vulnerable.

When the two teams met in round four, Canberra scored a team-record 42 runs across the four-game series as they won 3-1.

Melbourne has added several components since then and this weekend adds former starter Matthew Larkins to its rotation.

The right-hander will join Mark Hamburger, Jon Kennedy and Josh Tols.

Tols lead the league with 49 strikeouts despite some of his appearances being out of the bullpen.

Question marks still linger over the Aces' bullpen but if they can get decent outings from their starters that will remove some of the danger.

Canberra heads to Melbourne with similar bullpen concerns and allowed a league-record 32 runs in its game four loss to Perth.

The Cavs have been well served by starters Brian Grening, Frank Gailey and Lake Bachar this season.

Gailey returns against the Aces in a huge boost.

Opponents are hitting .193 against the left-hander - the lowest average amongst starters in the ABL.

Against Bachar they are hitting .233, third in the league amongst starters.

But Melbourne has some bats that can do damage and are starting to warm up.

Delmon Young, Darryl George and Tyler Neslony are all hitting above .350 across their past 10 games, while Michael Crouse made an immediate impact in round six.

Canberra have proven how destructive they can be, now it is the Aces turn to show what they can do with top-four spots on the line.



CAVALRY - Travis Witherspoon: The 28-year-old outfielder links up with Canberra for the remainder of the season, adding to their already dangerous offence. Witherspoon spent the 2017 season with York in the independent Atlantic League, averaging .275 with eight home runs and 48 RBI. He spent seven years in the minor league system.

ACES - Matthew Larkins: Larkins joins Melbourne for his second ABL stint. The starter went 8-6 with a 3.08 ERA with the Aces in 2015/16, striking out a team-high 68 hitters. The right-hander spent the 2017 US season with Long Island in the Atlantic League, going 9-7 with an ERA of 3.69. He led the Ducks with 139 strikeouts in his 27 games.



Split 2-2. Melbourne has strengthened its pitching since the round four series between the sides and its rotation of Hamburger, Tols, Kennedy and Larkins is probably its best of any series. The Cavs regain Gailey, in a boost to their rotation, leaving it down to which offence can do more. Some of Melbourne's big bats are starting to warm up, making it hard to split the two teams.



GAME 1: Brian Grening (2-0, 3.72 ERA) at Mark Hamburger (2-3, 4.32 ERA)

GAME 2: Frank Gailey (1-0, 1.38) at Josh Tols (3-2, 3.56)

GAME 3: Lake Bachar (3-1, 2.18) at Matthew Larkins (0-0, 0.00)

GAME 4: Steven Kent (1-4, 5.86) at Jon Kennedy (1-0, 4.26)



GAME 1: Thursday, 7.00pm AEDT

GAME 2: Friday 7.00pm AEDT

GAME 3: Saturday, 6.30pm AEDT

GAME 4: Sunday, 1.00pm AEDT - watch live on ABLtv powered by Bing Lee

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