This week the Bandits play a five game away series against the Sydney Blue Sox. Five game series are new to the ABL this year (scheduled ones, anyway - postponements necessitated their need last season, on occasion). This is due to the increase from 40 games per team per season (home and away four game series) to a new 45 game schedule. While I think it's unfair to have teams play an uneven number of home and away games both against eachother and overall (based on this blog on homeground advantage in the ABL), the five game series has additional implications.
The first of these obviously relates to pitching. With five games in four days, the pitching roster will be stretched. This season the Bandits have tried five starting pitchers - Maestri, Yanagawa, Chambers, Morriss, and Kilby. Five games, five pitchers - all good, right? Well Kilby only started during the first series, against Canberra, lasted 2.1 innings and hasn't appeared since (and is currently not on the active roster). This poses a problem. If the series were across five days, then potentially the opening game pitcher could close out the series on short rest. Given the clustered schedule, I think it's reasonably safe to assume that a different starting pitcher will be tossed the ball for each game.
The current active Bandits roster consists of 12 pitchers. If we assume Maestri, Yanagawa, Chambers, and Morriss all get starts (Morriss has a patchy recent past, but in a reasonable ballpark like Sydney he makes a solid option) - then we can expect a new starter to take the mound this weekend. Of the remaining, I think it's safe to straight away rule out Mowday, Erasmus, and Lamb. All three play classic reliever roles (usually very well) - and Erasmus is presumably restricted by a pitch count. This leaves Veitch, Baker, Durket, Jarrett, and Marck. Veitch is an experienced campainer, and started once last season, but his longest outing this season (3.1 innings of relief) was his worst. He has however performed well in shorter relief, and the Bandits will probably feel he's best suited for this role. Baker hasn't experienced the smoothest start to the season, so I'd tend to assume the same. So the decision comes down to either two pitchers who've shown promise as relievers (Marck, Durket) or a yet to debut Jarrett. Sean Jarrett is an interesting case - he's so far reached the AA level in the US, playing with the Tulsa Drillers, with a (mostly) good record as a reliever (he understandably takes a short while to adjust to each new level, but has pretty great numbers otherwise). The issue is that he's never started in the minors. Now, Yanagawa is a reliever/closer in Japan, so this isn't necessarily an impediment - but an issue to consider. This leaves Durket and Marck. Durket only started one game during his time with US indie-league team Lake Erie Crushers, but has shown promise since arriving in Australia and is more experienced than Marck. The New Zealander, Andrew Marck, is the wildcard. While having no stateside experience, he's consistently started for New Zealand in the past. This season Marck has only allowed 1 hit across 5.2 innings of relief. He's an exciting up and comer, but much more of an unknown. While my crystal ball is a bit foggy at the moment, I'm forecasting that Marck will be given the chance to start this series and Durket and Jarrett will shoulder some heavy relief work.
The next important implication has to do with the way things will stand at the end of the series. The Bandits are currently in (tied) second spot, with an even 6-6 record. To keep themselves comfortable for the playoffs, they'll probably be aiming to keep themselves even or better. Sydney are in last spot (5-11) but are by no means a bad team, and a bad series against Perth exaggerates their record. The fall of this series therefore is very important for the Bandits. A 3-2 or 4-1 series victory would be a great result (I'm assuming neither team will sweep the other). Yet it could come down to an error or stroke of luck to flip this the other way. The Bandits and Blue Sox will likely be in the tussle for spots 2-4 in the league this season, so these head-to-heads are highly important - especially when an odd-game series takes away the possibility a split (barring rain). Blacktown Ballpark plays quite similar to the Bandits own RNA Showgrounds, so thankfully this is likely going to come down to a test of skill and mettle. The Bandits hold the edge so far, after winning their home series against the Sox 3-1 - with great pitching performances. I'm predicting a 3-2 series win to the Bandits, but secretly hoping they can pinch a result to sneak that up another win.