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3 Keys to an Aces Upset
How Melbourne can earn a place in the finals
01/29/2018 8:16 PM ET

Only faithful Melbournians and those keen on seeing an upset will pick the Aces to knock out Brisbane and move on to the finals.


These teams have seen plenty of one another over the past twelve months, beginning with last year's championship round that saw Brisbane claim their second consecutive Claxton shield.


This season, those at home proved unstoppable as the Aces took all three games at Melbourne Ballpark while the Bandits were a perfect five-for-five at Holloway Field.


Brisbane finished 11.5 games ahead of Melbourne. They won six series, lost one, and tied three. The reason for their success can be found in their team's 3.69 ERA (lowest in the ABL) and average offensive production of 7.62 runs per game (second most).


Meanwhile, Melbourne experienced a regression this season compared to last year's first-place campaign. They won a total three series, two against the last place Bite. They lost five of eight to a Sydney club that failed to qualify for the playoffs. Melbourne went 6-11 in the month of January, and at one point lost eight of nine. The club's team ERA this year (5.84) is nearly double from last season (3.23). Offensively, only one player cracked the league's top thirteen in hitting or RBI (Darryl George).


Yet despite all of this evidence, it would be unwise to assume that the Bandits are going to roll into the finals without a fight. Baseball is not a game of what have you done; but rather, what have you done lately. Lately, the Aces have been playing quality baseball at the perfect time of the year.


While it won't be easy, the Aces just might have enough to shock the Bandits. Here are three keys to the upcoming series that might yield a first-round upset.


Darryl George needs to keep doing Darryl George-ing


It's hard to imagine anyone else on the club winning the team's MVP award over the 24-year old shortstop. George is slashing .327/.374/.583 as a leadoff hitter and ranks first on the club in batting average, RBIs and is second on the team in homeruns. He single-handedly obliterated Perth in Round 10 going 11-for-19 with five homeruns and 11 RBIs. When he's on base, opposing pitchers have to split their concentration between his base-stealing prowess and his power hitting teammates behind him in Tyler Neslony, Delmon Young, and Michael Crouse.


Despite the sweep by Brisbane in Round 8, the Aces had the lead at one point in nearly every game without much help from George. If he keeps swinging a scorching bat from the leadoff position, the Aces will again find themselves with the lead putting the pressure on the Bandits in a series they're supposed to "cruise" in.


Delmon Young needs to keep crushing Holloway Field


Young might've put together the quietest thirteen homerun season in ABL history. Granted, that's because most people pegged him to finish the season with 20 homers and 40 RBIs. Instead, the former ALCS MVP hit .280 with 29 RBIs in a mixed bag of a season.


One of Young's best moments was playing at Holloway Field, where he made the already small playing surface seem like a field suited for eight-year-olds. Of his seven hits, five of them left the yard (including one of the longest homeruns I have ever seen in my life. Click here and see if you can spot the ball sail over the building).


Young has homered in seven of his last eight games away from Melbourne Ballpark. He's hitting .310 against Brisbane. He has walked in seven of his last eight appearances He-like George-also posted terrific numbers against Perth to close out the regular season.


All signs point to Young having monster postseason against Brisbane. Young is hitting better, walking more, and has taken a liking to Holloway Field. He's historically hit better against higher caliber pitchers, and his numbers suggest he's enjoys playing away from Melbourne. If he can string together a good series against the Bandits, it might be enough to see the Aces through to the finals.


The bullpen needs to keep on keeping on


It's almost a night and day difference looking at the Aces bullpen from two weeks ago to now. Before, manager Jon Deeble was left wondering who would melt down on the mound as seemingly all Aces relievers were devoid of confidence.


Today, Deeble has legitimate late-inning weapons at his disposal that allow Melbourne to shorten games on their terms. Scott Shuman, who had an ERA of 15.95 through his first six appearances has been untouchable over his last three outings. Over that span, the American has tossed 2.2 innings, allowed zero hits and has struck out eight. His velocity is near triple digits, he's working ahead in the count, and his slider has been devastating especially to left-handed hitters.


Sam Street has orchestrated a sneaky good ABL season out of the pen allowing just four earned runs over 10.2 innings of work. He too has not allowed an earned run over his last two appearances including a perfect inning of work against Perth on Thursday. Deeble has deployed Street for the ninth inning in many games this season for the Aces, and with Shuman rounding into peak form the Aces have a menacing one-two punch lined up if they have the lead after seven innings.


Christian Meister is also having an excellent second half of the season. After a failed experiment in the starting rotation, Meister has blossomed as a late-inning reliever capable of rushing it up to the mid-nineties with the fastball.


Over his last five outings, Meister has pitched six innings, allowed zero earned runs on three hits while striking out six. In his first seven outings with the Aces, Meister had allowed eleven walks in only 12.2 innings. Since that time, he's only yielded three walks over eight-and-two-thirds innings. That is a massive turnaround from the beginning of the season. If he can maintain this consistency into the playoffs, Deeble has another legitimate shutdown arm he can go to in a tight ball game.


Can the Aces actually pull off the upset?


"There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent." - Lao Tzu.


Underestimate the Melbourne club at your own peril.

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