Tough week doesn’t deny Heat a title chance
Perth Heat manager Andy Kyle has some decisions to make and things to sort out ahead of the Australian Baseball League playoffs, but he can't hide his relief that they are still getting the chance to play for the title.
It was a nervous week during WA's lockdown for the Heat as they firstly had to wait and see if they would get to play one last round of action at Empire Ballpark, and indeed if they would get to compete for the ABL championship at all a week later.
The final round games didn’t end up happening this past weekend, but the Heat are now preparing to take part in the ABL playoffs beginning in Melbourne this Thursday with the Championship game to be played on Sunday.
The Heat have ended up in second position after the regular season with a 12-9 record which sets up a semi-final battle with the third ranked Adelaide Giants, which is only fitting after the two teams did play one another 14 times during the regular season.
A win there and the Heat advance to the qualifying final with a chance to move straight into Sunday's Championship game. But even with a loss, the Heat will have a second chance in the elimination final to then win that and battle for a spot in the decider.
While the new playoff format is quite a contrast to the usual multi-game series of a usual season, Kyle knows that things are anything but normal right now and he's just glad that the Heat are getting the chance to play for the championship.
"I think it's going to be an interesting and exciting four days. It's obviously going to be new for everyone but with the year we've had I think it's probably the best scenario and fair to give everyone an opportunity," Kyle said.
"And at least with the double elimination you won't face the prospect of playing one game and being done. I like the fact that you still are giving a team an opportunity to potentially have a bad day, or to lose a tough game and can still be kept alive.
"I think that aspect of it works well and it's been a funny year, and now it will be an exciting few days over there with everyone having the opportunity to show whoever is the best team over four days will win it."
Kyle still has some work to do in order to see what squad he'll be able to take with him to Melbourne to fight for that championship, but after the range of emotions he and the team have been through over the past week, he's just grateful the season will be decided on the park.
"We may still have a couple of guys not available to go, we're still finalising that and there are some of the guys who need to finalise some things with work. There might be a couple of late scratchings, but the majority of the group are good to go and we're excited about that," Kyle said.
"It has been a tough few days trying to get things co-ordinated out of lockdown and making sure the guys are moving, and staying ready.
"We've been working hard with the ownership group and the ball club to get everyone cleared away with potential work and quarantine issues so it's been a rough few days cleaning that up.
"But now it looks like we're all good to go and there's a lot better atmosphere and the guys are getting excited now to get the opportunity to finish what we've started and to take part in the playoffs. I think once we get on that plane we'll take a big deep breath and we're looking forward to what lies ahead."
The pitching has been the great strength of the Heat all season. As a team, they have the best ERA in the ABL at 3.16, they have conceded the fewest hits with 67, the least home runs with 12, conceded by far the fewest walks with 34 and struck out 163 batters in 154 innings thrown.
A big part in that has been the brilliant starting work done by Dylan Unsworth and Beau Sulser in particular.
Kyle would expect to start his best two starters of the season on Thursday and Friday nights, and then hope that they can still get something out of them potentially out of the bullpen across the weekend should they still be alive.
There's plenty of depth beyond those two, though, and Kyle will look to get the right mix and find ways to utilise Warwick Saupold, Jacob Lopez, Will Sherriff, Zac Reininger, Nate Gercken and Daniel Schmidt as well.
"It's an interesting conversation we're having and obviously we know we are at least going to play two games in two days. So we are basically mapping around using the two starters for those first two days," Kyle said.
"We may use a couple of starters out of the pen if we need to early on but that is something we have discussed and will continue to discuss over the next few years.
"If we need to use one of our starters out of the pen in the first two days to get a win then we'll do that if we think they are the best fit at that stage. We're not ruling that out but we will also make sure we have guys ready to go if needed on day three or day four.
"The biggest thing is that if it comes down to an elimination game you have to keep yourself alive, and all the plans get thrown out the door and you do whatever you have to do to win that game.
"They are a couple of the conversations we're having a staff as we look to map out the first two days with our starters, and then the game will dictate where we go to from there basically."
By Chris Pike.
IMAGE: SMP Images.