Baseball

Midseason Baseball Report: A Wide-Open Race Now More Muddled

New Canaan and Greenwich are just two of many contenders for the FCIAC title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

New Canaan and Greenwich are just two of many contenders for the FCIAC title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Baseball by its very nature is the sport that makes for the most difficult prognostications. If practical, multi-game series would be a better measuring stick and make it much easier to feel like you are standing on a firmer limb with predictions.

But overall talent is only a partial factor. There is also the roulette element: so much in high school baseball depends on when you play opponents. Do you end up facing a steady course of No. 1 pitchers, or does your turn come up against the 2s and 3s? Almost every team has at least one ace.

The expected overall strength of the league this year has played out; there is more quality, top to bottom, than in recent memory. A glance at the standings at the midseason point reveals that, except for Darien, every team has at least two conference losses.

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The Blue Wave have been one of the surprises to date, as well as Fairfield Warde. Ridgefield and Westhill find themselves near the top of the leaderboard in league play.

As for the preseason favorites, New Canaan had been rolling along before a loss on Monday to Ridgefield. Staples has remained solid, while Greenwich and Trumbull already have three losses.

Then there is the curious case of St. Joseph, like New Canaan a defending state champion and like the Rams a team expected to contend again for postseason titles.

The Cadets lost their first three games, but just as the bandwagon started to feel a little lighter, they have since run off six straight wins.

In what will likely prove a fool’s task, we will come up with our predicted order of finish for the teams we believe will get invites to the FCIAC Tournament. (Given recent history, seeds 5-8 would seem to be more prized real estate than the top four spots.) Right now there appear to be 11 schools battling for eight spots.

First, a couple of midseason prizes to hand out.

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Most Valuable Player

Matt Toth, New Canaan. You could pick about five different players here and get little argument. Frequent readers of this site know I usually measure MVP’s thusly: how badly would the removal of a top player affect his or her team. The Rams would be weakened but have enough talent to withstand the loss of one player. Still, Toth has had a magnificent start to the season. He has hit just under .500 and made just one error at shortstop. On a team full of them, Toth has been New Canaan’s brightest star.

Coach Of The Year

Mike Scott, Darien. Of all the selections here, this one is the easiest, though Warde’s Mark Caron deserves to be in the conversation. The bottom line is having just one loss so far in a league this strong is a considerable enough feat. Take into account that no one was talking Blue Wave baseball in March and what Scott has done is even more impressive.

Predicted Order Of Finish

1. New Canaan. The Rams are one of two teams with the most pitching depth in the league, which will serve them well the rest of the way. They possess a potent batting order, solid defense and no weaknesses other than the large bull’s-eye on their back. During one five-game stretch there will be meetings with Staples, St. Joseph and Darien circled on our calendar.

2. Staples. The Wreckers can rival New Canaan with pitching depth, but they have been inconsistent offensively, putting a greater burden on the staff. Sam Ellinwood is having another big year at shortstop.

3. St. Joseph. They’re back. After stumbling out of the blocks at 0-3, the Cadets have outscored opponents by a 58-11 margin during a six-game winning streak. Mark Hirschbeck is having a big year with the bat. Are we putting too many chips into the table with a high seeding on a team that still must play Greenwich, Trumbull and Darien during one three-game stretch, followed by back-to-back contests with Staples and New Canaan?

4. Darien. We’re big believers in the Blue Wave, but their remaining 11 games include seven against teams we consider playoff contenders. In Monday’s win over Trinity Catholic, Jake Frasca hit a grand slam for his varsity hit. That is a microcosm of the varied contributions that have characterized Darien’s season.

5. Fairfield Warde. Time to stop talking about the Mustangs as a surprise team — yes, there were no radar sitings in March — and elevating them to legitimate contenders. Nick Nardone has pitched well and Mike Foley is among the league’s best hitters, but this is a blue-collar team that works hard. Most of the Mustangs’ toughest games are behind them. Could this be the year of their first league title?

6. Greenwich. The Cardinals have been the recent regular-season darlings but they have not won the conference championship since 2004. Maybe we are looking at role reversal. It is hard to overlook a team with Kyle Dunster and JT Hintzen as the top two starting pitchers. After a two-game stretch starting Friday with St. Joseph and Darien, the Cardinals have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way.

7. Trumbull. Avery Santos, with a .469 batting average and 3-0 won-loss record, is one of the league’s most underrated players, while Colin Keyes has been equally dominant on the mound and at the plate. Jake Levison and Liam Moore are 1-2, respectively, in hits for the Eagles, who have a .393 batting average.

8. Danbury. The Hatters? Fairfield Ludlowe? Westhill? Ridgefield? The chase for the final spots will likely come down to the last day of the regular season. We will give the nod to the defending champion and the power of pitcher Corey Brosz.