After months of waiting around through cold New England weather, the Connecticut WIFFLE® Ball League Pro League season got underway on May 25th. With four teams and near sixteen players due to participate, this season has been anticipated to be a competitive overhaul from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Through the first month of the season, that statement of competitiveness has been a story of two sides. On one hand, a flux of new and exciting talent has emerged, especially from the expansion franchises. Zach Cifarelli of the newly-formed Madison Risers has unquestionably been the hottest player in the league, providing a layer of pitching refinedness no other player has been able to match. Noah Kleczkowski has been a solid two-way option for the Rocky Hill Rage, providing a radiant enthusiasm visible both on the carpet and in the box.
The other side, well... the good play and success has been near exclusive to two teams. The Madison Risers and Rocky Hill Rage have dominated their inaugural campaigns in the league, both well over .500 and having a combined record of 9-1 through each of their first five regular season games. The returning sides - the Augerville Defenders and Shoreline Breakers - have been utter shells of the teams they were last year. The only winning between these two teams have been between each other, when scheduling conflictions led to the Breakers ruling their Matchup 3 series against Augerville a no-contest, forfeiting both games in the series to their cross-county rivals. Either team is yet to win a game - let alone sweep a series - without the intervention of opposing teams' obligations elsewhere.
With the recent prominence of the rookie teams and the downfall of the opposing sides, the start to this 2021 season has been one that likely very few have anticipated. To better analyze the results from the first few weeks of play, dive below into the current power rankings (as of June 20th).
#4: Shoreline Breakers 🔽3 (0-6 - 4th, N/A In Last 8 Games, 4.5 GB of 2nd Place)
To put this frankly...there have been championship hangovers, and then there has been the Shoreline Breakers' start to the 2021 Pro League season.
Winless in each of their first six contests, the Breakers' lack of identity has been at the heart of their recent struggles. Team leaders Liam Wallace and Club Manager Conor DeCosta have been a shell of their production in their 2020 title run. Through their first 4 regular season games together, they have combined for a below-average OBP of .450, limiting their chances to score large sums of runs. It has been a near-disaster start for DeCosta especially, who has only 5 hits in his first four games of the season.
Pitching has also been a concern for the team thus far. Wallace and DeCosta have yet to find their end-of-season dominance that propelled them to their 2020 Pro League World Series run, allowing many more runs than their offense can make up for.
The return of Patrick Grudberg to the roster - who opted out to start the season - has provided some cheer for Breakers fans. Patrick arrived with minimal rust in his return against Rocky Hill on June 7th, which brings hope that he can play to his ROTY form that helped them finish the season strong in 2020. Now with a committed 3-man lineup, the defending champions will have a cohesive roster to potentially rebound from a slow start. With Liam Wallace recording 7 Ks in a loss during that series, things are beginning to look better for Shoreline. But the lack of results and early unease has them at the bottom of the power rankings.
#3: Augerville Defenders 🔽1 (2-4 - 3rd, N/A In Last 8 Games, 2.5 GB of 2nd Place)
Outside of a forfeit series win during Matchup #3 to aforementioned Shoreline, the Defenders are no more winning than the team they lead in the standings to start the season.
Just like Shoreline, Augerville's returning duo of Ben Fiore and Ryan Mut have yet to hit their stride this season - but for a bit of a different reason. Augerville have seen four of their first 6 regular season games cancelled and ruled no-contests due to forfeits by either themselves or their opposition. The lack of ability to play has seemed to hinder the duo's ability to get going in 2021. The team has a league-lowest team batting average - batting below .200 through their first six games - and the second-worst team ERA - 27.50. Those two statistics already tell that something is not okay within the team, or that their opposition is just that good - more on them later.
Without much game experience with them, there is not much to report on them. Their higher level of difficulty to start the season is the only thing keeping them from the bottom of the power rankings in the first month of the season. After facing Madison in Matchup #4, they are set to travel to Rocky Hill and then to Clinton for Matchups #5 and #6 respectively. In those series, we ought to learn if this Augerville team will show any signs of contention this summer.
#2: Rocky Hill Rage🔼1 (4-1 - 2nd , N/A In Last 8 Games)
If anyone betted on the CTWL's social media page for the +770 odds placed on the Rage last month, you may be led to believe that those bets have a good chance to come true. Winning four of their first five games to date, the Rage have debuted themselves to the Connecticut WIFFLE® Ball League as a solid offensive presence.
Noah Kleczkowski has been very hot to start the season, hitting for 13 hits in their (delayed) season debut at Shoreline on June 7th, driving in 17 runs. His powerful swing has driven in plenty of runs, which with the patience of teammates Joe Doyle and Club Manager Antonio Milardo have made things difficult for their opposition.
On the carpet things have looked favorable to start in Matchup #2, but 1 1/2 innings of a mercy-shortened game in Matchup #3 have begun to raise questions. The Rage, like the teams below them, do not seem to have a comprable second starter, with Doyle and Milardo looking inconsistent to start the season.
Time and further adjustment to the fastpitch ruleset may help the pitching. With hitting as good as it is right now, and pitching to at least keep them in the game, Rocky Hill look to be solid Pro League title contenders.
But can they, or anyone else, catch the top team on the rankings?
#1: Madison Risers🔼3 (5-0 - 1st, N/A In Last 8 Games)
With the most sophisticated English I can use...
the Madison Risers are very good at WIFFLE® ball. And when I say good, I mean STUPID good.
On both sides of the ball, Club Manager Zach Cifarelli and his roster have been too much to handle for their opposition. The team has three players beginning their career batting over .500, with above-average OBPs and production to boot. While mostly having played short-handed rosters to start, the team has been able to come to demolish their opposition, forcing all five of their victories by 15-run mercy. In those games, the team has only allowed a total of 8 runs.
So far, there has been no player able to meet the production and debut of Zach Cifarelli. In his first 7 innings pitched, he has yet to give up a HIT, let alone a run, striking out 12 whilst walking 5. With violent and devastating stuff in his arsenal, Zach has been the pitcher to beat, and already a near-sure bet for the Steffy Award at the end of the season. Backing him up has been Luke Owen, who has been a great no. 2 arm with a hit-into-outs approach to contrast Cifarelli.
At their current pace, Madison have leap-frogged as favorites to take the 2021 Pro League title, but with much time in the season, it remains to be seen in the production can continue forward in the coming 2 months of play.