Moonshiners Break Through

November 5th, 2022 by Kevin

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Almost right from the start, the 2022 DTBL season had a different feel to it.  The traditional powers were struggling while the top half of the standings was filled with teams who had either never won a championship or were experiencing decades long droughts.  While the defending champion Kings did make a late push into contention, it remained a year for the upstarts.  What also looked different about this season compared to most in the recent past is that it appeared a bunch of teams would be in contention until the very end.  Ultimately, that didn’t prove to be the case though.  The Moonshiners stood head and shoulders above the rest, besting the rest of the league by 9 1/2 points.  A franchise perhaps most commonly known for never being terrible, but also never being great, has written a new story.  For the first time in franchise history, Mike’s Moonshiners are the DTBL Champions.

For the past couple years, the Moonshiners built a solid roster that could compete in the upper echelon of the league, but couldn’t quite put it all together.  In the pandemic shortened 2020 season, they finished in third place thanks to one of the league’s best pitching staffs, but a middling offense kept them from being a serious contender.  Then in 2021, it was exactly the opposite as they had the best offense in the league, but an incredibly disappointing pitching staff dropped them to a fourth place finish.  This year, they were able to keep that elite offense in tact while drastically improving the pitching staff, finishing second and fourth respectively in batting and pitching points.

Reigning DTBL MVP Vladimir Guerrero Jr had another fantastic season in ’22.  However, it was two other teammates who led the way for the Moonshiners offense.  Outfielders Shohei Ohtani and Kyle Tucker were two of the most well-rounded players in the league.  Ohtani hit 34 homers with 95 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.  Meanwhile, Tucker hit 30 home runs while driving in 107 with 25 steals.  He was the only player in the league to reach the 30 HR and 25 SB milestones.  In a world in which Aaron Judge didn’t exist, he and Ohtani would probably both be MVP candidates.  Another key contributor in the power and speed categories was catcher Daulton Varsho.  Getting a 27 HR and 16 SB campaign from a backstop is a huge bonus.  Perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the Moonshiners lineup was shortstop Amed Rosario who started to live up to some of his early career hype with easily the best year of his career.  What is interesting about all of the players mentioned here is that they were all holdovers from last year’s squad.  They were able to keep it together without any major contributions from newcomers.

The pitching staff was a much different story.  They doubled their pitching point total from a year ago, thanks in large part to a pair of newcomers.  As expected, the 2022 DTBL Draft class proved to be very strong on pitching.  Most of the 10 starting pitchers drafted in the first two rounds lived up to or exceeded expectations.  But the Moonshiners may have gotten both of the top two achievers with their first two picks.  First round pick, seventh overall, Alek Manoah will be one of the top contenders for Rookie of the Year.  He won 16 games with a 2.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 180 strikeouts.  Those are numbers of an ace, yet he wasn’t the top dog on this staff.  That was second round pick, 39 year old veteran Justin Verlander.  After missing almost all of the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, he returned in a slightly different form, but arguably better than ever.  His 1.75 ERA is the sixth best single season mark in league history and the lowest since Jacob deGrom in 2018.  His 0.829 WHIP ranks fourth all-time, but one of the three marks ahead of him is his own ’19 campaign with the Kings when he posted a 0.803 WHIP.  Additionally, Verlander won 18 games with 185 strikeouts.  He has an excellent chance of winning his third Cy Young award.  While newcomers Manoah and Verlander gave the Moonshiners exactly what they needed, one holdover was right up there with them as well.  Yu Darvish had maybe his best season since his rookie year, with 16 wins, a team high 197 strikeouts and a sub 1.00 WHIP.  No team in the league could come close to matching that trio at the top of the rotation.  Finally, while the bullpen as a whole was not a strength, Edwin Diaz was a huge boon to the staff in not only saves (32), but also ERA (1.31), WHIP (0.84) and a ridiculous 118 strikeouts in just 62 innings.

The Moonshiners appeared to be one of the top contenders for the title right from the start of the season.  By mid-June they had moved into the top three and would never fall lower than that.  For a couple months in the summer, a handful of teams were swapping spots at the top of the standings on a nearly daily basis.  But by the end of July, the Moonshiners had taken over first place for good.  In the end, it didn’t wind up being particularly close.  A late summer run by the Kings bumped them into second place, but they were never a serious threat in September.  What was mostly a positive season for the Demigods, Komodos and Choppers saw each of them fall double digits behind the Moonshiners when it was all said and done.

2022 was the Moonshiners 24th season as a member of the DTBL.  Prior to this year, they had finished somewhere between second and seventh place in all 23 seasons.  They had not finished higher than third since 2008.  And only once had they ever finished within single digits of the champion, in the crazy 2012 season which saw them finish fourth despite only being 1 1/2 points out.  So the ease by which they won the title this year means the Moonshiners have still really only been part of that one competitive championship race.  But I think they will settle for an easy victory.  Congrats to Mike and the Moonshiners!

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