If the season ended today. … Wait, it doesn't, so why are we conjuring up that cliche? Because we can, and it's fun. Most local baseball teams have 15 or so games in the books. It's time to pause, to ponder, to project. To see what we missed in our preseason forecasts, and what we nailed. Here goes (records, statistics through Thursday):
Based solely on what the initials stand for (most valuable player) we go with Ridgewood senior pitcher/shortstop Jay Mattos. As the numbers indicate with clarity, no one is more vital to his team than this 6-foot right-hander. On the mound, Mattos (3-2, 1.14 ERA) has three of the Rams' five victories and gives them a chance every time he takes the mound. Offensively, he's hitting .581, has 12 of his team's 25 extra-base hits and nearly one-third (13) of its RBIs (45).
Coach of the midseason
The expediency with which A.J. Leppla has turned Wiregrass Ranch from anemic to competitive has been nothing short of astounding. The Bulls' former junior varsity coach, Leppla, hired in July, has transformed a club that finished 3-20 last season into a scrappy 8-7 team. The Bulls have skidded recently, dropping six of their past eight, but own quality wins against Ridgewood, River Ridge and Sunlake.
Five guys having breakout seasons
1. RHP Jason Garcia, Land O'Lakes. This junior (5-1, 2.26 ERA), who showed some fortitude in an early season win against Ridgewood, is shaping up as the Gators' next great pitcher.
2. RHP Patrick Dwyer, Springstead. The latest Dwyer sibling to shine for the Eagles. Through 14 games, Dwyer was hitting .409 and boasted a 1.59 ERA in 22 innings.
3. CF Kevin Games, Mitchell. A diminutive (5-foot-7, 135 pounds) sophomore, Games has emerged as a big-time hitter (.391, two homers, 11 RBIs) at the Class 6A level.
4. P/OF Abel Cubero, Wiregrass Ranch. After a miserable junior season, this rangy senior has stepped it up at the plate (.348, three homers) and on the mound (2-2, 3.94 ERA).
5. P/1B Tyler Guy, Zephyrhills. After a sophomore season hampered by illness and inconsistency, Guy (.333, seven homers; 3-0, 1.27 ERA) is starting to fulfill his boundless potential.
Five things to watch for
1. A lengthy Mitchell playoff run. With the 1-2 pitching punch of lefty Patrick Schuster and righty Matt Hewitt, not to mention an offense batting a collective .374, the Mustangs are capable of playing well into May. Just ask Alonso.
2. The return of Henry Johnson. We're suckers for compelling stories, and few will be more gripping this spring than the projected late-season return of Pasco's senior right-hander from a broken neck. If and when Johnson takes the mound this year, we're expecting to see tears … and flashbulbs.
3. The Class 4A, District 8 tournament. Though other district tourneys involving local teams could be interesting, this one — to be held at Zephyrhills — could be the most fun to watch. No fewer than six of the district's nine teams appear to have a legitimate shot at reaching the title game.
4. Pasco's powerful pursuit. Though it's a long shot, Pasco — with 27 home runs in 13 games — could make a run at Zephyrhills' state record of 63 in 2000. At the least, the Pirates have 12 games remaining.
5. Hernando Christian. For the level they play at (Class A), the Lions (10-3) are formidable. They appear a cinch for the postseason, but it's impossible to determine their playoff fate because this classification often is laced with baseball factories masquerading as unassuming private schools.
Five things we weren't watching for
1. Hudson beating Pasco 10-9, at Pasco, with a three-run seventh.
2. Bishop McLaughlin going to Tampa Catholic and winning.
3. Springstead, which lost a bunch of productive seniors to graduation and ace lefty John Maggard to elbow ligament replacement surgery, emerging as a force in Class 4A, District 8. The Eagles (9-7) knocked off Pasco 6-5 on Thursday.
4. Mitchell sweeping Gaither in the regular season — by a combined score of 20-3.
5. Ridgewood (5-10) struggling. After rebuilding in 2008, we figured the Rams would make a more noticeable stride this spring. Then again, we're projecting no one will want to play this club when district rolls around.
Two quirky things that caught our eye
1. There are two Josh Johnsons in Pasco County. The one who plays for Wiregrass Ranch, a junior who goes by Joshua, is hitting .333 and leads the North Suncoast with 15 stolen bases. The other, a Pasco senior headed to Purdue on a football scholarship, hit four homers in a three-game stretch.
2. Let's face it, we've forged a society in which the mantra has become "When the going gets tough, transfer." Hence the reason we can't help but salute Hudson seniors Anthony Siciliano and Hunter Newton. In their four-year careers, these two have experienced only around 12 victories, but they resisted the urge to move to more flourishing programs. We know Newton was unlikely to move anyway; his dad is the coach. Nonetheless, such persistence at a time when kids change schools as often as they change hairstyles is refreshing.