The New Fairfield Neanderthals were taken over this year as an orphan team after having a dismal year last season at the hands of The Notorious Kelly Smith. My early season prediction for the Neanderthals was at best a .500 record considering the many weaknesses of the team at that time. Team owner Russ has managed to guide the team to a 36-30 (.545) record to date, which stands at 4th best in the entire league! In looking at their roster, one would not think this would be possible: the lineup features Russell Martin, Adam LaRoche, and Chris B. Young as the 3-4-5 hitters! So what gives?
It comes down to one thing: starting pitching, period. New Fairfield has allowed the least amount of runs per game in the entire league (4.2) despite having only one closer and carrying an injured Hong-Chih Kuo.
Let's take a look:
P1 Josh Beckett 4171
P2 Carlos Zambrano 4220
P3 Edwin Jackson 2346
P4 Aaron Harang 4016
P5 Zach Duke 2062
S1 Ross Ohlendorf 267
S2 Jason Hammel 545
Although none of the starters were ranked in the Top 5 at the beginning of the season, they are mostly solid veteran pitchers (with the exception being Edwin Jackson's shorter career), and the rotation is dependable from 1 through 5. Additionally, Harang and Beckett came off of down years, so their contracts were reasonably priced. The spot starters are nothing to get excited about, but Ohlendorf has been healthy all year and can be relied on in case a starter misses a start or two. Basically, New Fairfield ranks very highly in the Starting Pitching ERA category -- simple as that.
It has been suggested in the past (by Andy, I do believe) that Benchwarmer Baseball comes down to pitching, and I am not sure I am a convert, but it is clear that having 5 strong pitchers in the rotation can turn a weak team into a contender fairly quickly.
Hey Russ! If you actually take Coco out of the lineup, replace Kuo and Howie Kendrick, you may even take a run for the division. (But since I'm first in the division right now, I hope you're not reading this!)