2017/18 ABL R6 – Sydney v Melbourne
28 Dec 2017 19:30 AEDT
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Game 1 – 7:30pm
Sydney can launch back into the Australian Baseball League top-four when it hosts Melbourne in a four-game set starting on Thursday night.
The Blue Sox sit just one game back from the fourth-placed Aces after recording a 3-1 series win over Melbourne on the road before the All-Star Game break.
Sydney’s series win – its first away from Blacktown since November 2014 – put it back into the playoff hunt after a nine-game losing streak.
The Blue Sox return home with some different faces from their last homestand, a series sweep as the hands of Perth in round three.
Gavin Fingleson makes his return from an injury sustained during that series while Sydney has also added reliever Todd Van Steensel.
Catcher John Collins remains on the roster after replacing injured Jin-De Jhang, while 2015/16 Blue Sox import Calvin Drummond has been added to the bullpen.
Melbourne also has a lengthy list of personnel changes.
Jared Cruz will make his return while Melbourne has added Virgil Vasquez and former Canberra import Michael Crouse.
The Aces have lost their Seibu Lions duo – Shunta Nakatsuka and Kona Takahashi – while Hei Chun Lee, Sam Street, Marcus Tomlin and Nick Rossell have also dropped off their 22-man roster.
The loss of Nakatsuka and Takahashi will hurt Melbourne most.
Takahashi is third on the Aces pitching with 32 strikeouts, while Nakatsuka had a 2-1 record with 3.95 ERA.
Melbourne’s pitching ranks fifth for ERA (5.31) ahead of only Adelaide.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
ACES – Michael Crouse: The outfielder links up with Melbourne for his second ABL stint. Crouse hit .289 in 39 games with Canberra during the 2013/14 ABL season. He spent the 2017 US season with the New Britian Bees, .261 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI in 133 games.
BLUE SOX – Todd Van Steensel: The right-hander was a standout for Sydney last season, recording a 1.42 ERA in seven appearances. Van Steensel put together an equally impressive Minor League season, going 5-3 with a ERA of 1.38 in 36 games for the Chattanooga Lookouts. He finished with 59 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.14.
Blue Sox 3-1. Sydney returns home with a huge chance to build momentum to start the second half of the season. The Blue Sox sit one game back from Melbourne and with 12 of their last 20 at Blacktown are well poised to be in playoff calculations. After taking three of four in Melbourne, Sydney will enter this series confident and with the Aces’ pitching stocks taking a further hit with the loss of their Japanese players the Sox are in a strong position.