Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stinky Tofu and Baseball – The Asian Series

With no baseball taking place in the Emerald City this weekend, the Defensive Specialist was forced to camp out in front of the Deep in the Hole Super Computer with a bowl of Stinky Tofu to watch the Perth Heat take part in the Asian Baseball Series. Aside from the fact the commentary was in Taiwanese, it was a surprisingly pleasant experience.  The camera work was professional, the graphics were solid and best of all there was a message board in real time next to the screen which allowed the Defensive Specialist to road test all of the gags you’ll read throughout this post.

(Editors note: the message board was non-English speaking)

The Asian Series came at an interesting time for the Heat – smack bang as they’ve reeled off 11 consecutive wins and shaped as the form team of the competition. While the Defensive Specialist is sure Heat Manager Brooke Knight would have liked to stay downunder to continue punishing the local teams, the Asian Series did present an opportune time to showcase the Australian Baseball League and to measure up against Asia Pacific’s best teams.

Unfortunately the Asian holiday didn’t run to script as the Heat dropped all 3 of their games. Other than a blow out late in game 1, the contests remained fairly close and the WA lads will take some comfort out of knowing that they can compete at that level. What the series did do was raise a couple of questions that your old pal has some thoughts on:

1) How will losing 3 games affect the Heat when they get back to business in the ABL?

Interesting question and one that the Defensive Specialist is glad he asked himself. Momentum is a HUGE thing in baseball and the Heat had a whole lot of it after they finished boat racing the Blue Sox in Sydney last week. The vast majority of the offensive line up was hotter than hell fire and the pitching staff had looked sharp throughout the series. The jaunt to Asia probably didn’t come at the best time and may have 1 of 2 results when the Heat return to action

A) The 3 losses will shake the Heat’s confidence and Canberra will ride into town to steal a couple of ballgames from the Heat on their home turf;


B) The Heat will return home, somewhat embarrassed after dropping all three games and drop a severe beat down on the Cavalry in revenge.

You often hear teams that are running off a ridiculous winning streak state that the first loss was almost necessary. That’s an easy thing to say immediately after an L but when you think about it, it does make some sense. Winning multiple games in a row can often allow complacency to creep in and see teams going through the motions.  The advantage the Heat has is that the games they’ve lost mean nothing (other than a blow to the Australian baseball psyche). The net result may be that the Heat evaluate some of their weaknesses, make the necessary adjustments and get back on the horse this weekend (and yes that was a clever metaphor about the Heat pumping the Cavalry).

2) What did the 3 losses expose in the Perth Heat?

Defense, defense, defense

The Heat may swing it with the best of them but their defense hurt them at almost every turn. 9 errors in 3 games is just not going to get it done when you’re playing a quality opponent and with a pitching staff that relies on command and control rather than brute force, additional outs are not so easily overcome with the strike out.

Mitch Graham's hitting is outperforming his defense
While shortstop Mitch Graham has been a revelation at the plate early in the season (.435 AVG, 4 HR, 16 RBIs, 10 runs), his unreliability in the field (6 errors on the season, 2 during the Asian Series) at a premium position is something that the team cannot afford. Manager Knight obviously saw about as much as he could stomach as Graham finished out the Asian Series at second with Mychal Givens taking over at short. Moving forward second base may be a much better fit for Graham (assuming Givens can handle short) but this poses a problem with Luke Hughes returning eventually. If Graham continues to hit, it’s a nice problem to have!

3) Was the Heat pitching staff exposed in Taiwan?

Simply – No

As stated above, the Heat doesn’t have a staff full of guys who blow 94mph but what they do have is a bunch of guys who can pitch. By pitch the Defensive Specialist means they throw strikes, work quickly and limit the damage. Both Ben Moore and Trevor Caughey yielded only 1 earned run (unearned runs were a different story) and while Daniel Schmidt was a little less effective than normal he only gave up 3 unearned. The Heat bullpen could really do with a power arm or two because the plethora of finesse guys has a tendency to all blend into one meaning that hitters can sit on a certain speed however the return or Brendan Wise at some stage definitely boosts the Heat pen. At the end of the day, the Heat proved last year that the control guys who ate up innings were the way to the Championship so why deviate from a proven formula?
Ben Moore provided another solid outing
No matter the result, the Asian Series is a great opportunity to showcase baseball and specifically the ABL. While it would have been great to win a couple of ball games, the break from regular competition could be the revitalizing shot the Heat need…… or it could completely derail their season. We’ll soon see.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Laser Show

As you could probably tell from the absolute lack of activity here at Deep in the Hole, the Defensive Specialist has been suffering from a serious motivational issue. When you’ve been at the top of your game for a countless number of years, it’s tough to keep finding challenges to spur you on. If anything was going to get your old pal back behind the keyboard, it was a visit to Sydney by the league champs – the Perth Heat.

The Defensive Specialist has been hearing the hype regarding the offensive juggernaut brewing over in the West so this was a chance to get a look first hand, especially since they’d be squaring off against the usually pitching rich Sydney Blue Sox. The Defensive Specialist definitely got to see the Perth boys roll the pole as they exploded in game 1 of the Saturday double header for 24 hits, and then backed it up in the Sunday session with another lazy 20 knocks. Instead of a comprehensive review, the Defensive Specialist is going to keep it fresh and real with a number of key insights: 

Key Insight 1

There wasn’t a great deal happening during the offseason regarding the ABL – well unless you count fraudulent player movements as interesting, but one thing that caught the Defensive Specialist’s attention was the news that the Heat had snagged last year’s MVP Jamie McOwen. Either McOwen was a clubhouse cancer with a body odour problem or the Heat paid a king’s ransom to get him – how else could you explain the Bite allowing him to move? Turns out McOwen is a good dude who paid his own way down under just so he could keep playing during his off season. It’s a good thing table setting lead off hitters grow on trees……. The Defensive Specialist was left scratching his head as to what the Adelaide brains trust was thinking especially as McOwen scored 8 runs in 4 games. Rumour has it they had no spots available with a new set of imports being sent down, so McOwen was forced to shop himself around and foot the bill.
Have MVP award will travel
Key Insight 2

After handing out a pasting last year regarding some of the uniforms, it was great to see Major League Baseball take the Defensive Specialist’s sartorial advice and splurge on some new sets. The Blue Sox looked virginal in their all white home uni’s and the new red road jerseys the Heat were sporting looked pretty damn good!
The virginal Blue Sox
The Heat rocking the red
Key Insight 3

Regular readers will recall the Defensive Specialist lamenting the lack of offensive firepower from the Sydney line up last year. In a busy off season they went out and added…..1 bat. Granted, Mitch Dening has not returned to active duty but his bat alone is not going to dig the Blue Sox out of the offensive quagmire they currently reside in. There was not a single Blue Sox player who could have cracked the Heat line up over the course of the weekend. There – the Defensive Specialist said it!

While the Defensive Specialist is all for allowing the Aussies to play, surely Sydney could find a big league club prepared to send down at least a few prospects to beef up their line-up? With every club adding international talent, it’s baffling to see Sydney stick with locals who don’t necessarily match up to the level of talent on offer from other teams.

Key Insight 4

Speaking of the Heat line up, it’s stacked. The team bangs 1 through 9 especially with the addition of Brenden Webb who arrived just in time to play in game 1 of the series. In fact Webb was lucky to play at all since no one was at the airport to pick him up from the US. A charming smile enabled him access to a hire care computer terminal where he used the internet to locate the ABL phone number and managed to make contact with someone who then arranged a pick up - after a 3 hour wait.

To make matters worse for opposing ball clubs, Luke Hughes is still to play meaning that the Heat are able to add a major weapon to an already potent line up. It will be interesting to see how manager Brooke Knight manages his men with so many bats at his disposal.

Key Insight 5

The Blue Sox have made some reasonably major changes to their field with the addition of primo seating directly behind home plate and down the foul lines. The new seats are a really nice addition that allows fans to get much closer to the action and the Blue Sox to expand their fan base with additional vantage points. Of course if the Sox continue to get swept on their home turf, they may need to take them out quick smart because there will be a lot of spare seats.

Key Insight 6

With last year’s no-hitting ace David Welch no longer on the roster and stalwart Chris Oxspring working out of the pen, the Sydney rotation is currently thinner than rice paper. The Heat essentially took batting practice in games 2 and 4, lacing balls all over the yard and taking advantage of a series of arms lacking velocity and control (not a good combination). A rotation headed by Oxspring and Wayne Lundgren will allow the Blue Sox to be competitive but they need another big arm if they hope to get through the season in any sort of winning form.

Key Insight 7

The Heat are trying something unique with their imports this season. As the Defensive Specialist discussed last year, having pro arms can be more troubling than it is useful with pitchers on strict inning counts and often not available come playoffs. The Heat have obviously read the Deep in the Hole SWOT analysis and this year invested their import allotment towards the offensive side of the game. With 5 bats in the line up they are set to score a plethora of runs. The approach to pitching is right out of the Defensive Specialist playbook – find a bunch of solid non pro arms and ride them to the play offs. The Heat managed to bring back Trevor Caughey and Matt Zachary to play for them and then work their relationships with local clubs to borrow the likes of Jacob Clem and Geoff Brown. When you add these pitchers to local arms like Daniel Schmidt and Warwick Saupold you have a bunch of solid inning eaters that are available all year and who keep their team in the contest.

All in all it was an interesting series to attend, mainly to see the stacked Heat line-up go to work. The old adage goes “good pitching beats good hitting” but the Defensive Specialist is prepared to suggest that there may not be enough pitching in this league to stop the Heat bats in a 3 game finals series.