The Superior Titans’ stacked ballclub went through some surprising struggles for much of the 2016 season before realizing its potential late, and soaring to a division title, the league’s best record and the sixth World Championship in Michigan/Superior history.
With a scorching 45-15 mark over the final three months, Superior pulled away from a tightly packed Westbound Division to win by seven games with a 101-59 mark. Superior then took on No. 3 seed Springfield in the World Series, winning in six games on a walkoff homer by A.J. Ellis off Clayton Kershaw.
Other division titles went to the New New York Hypnotoads and rookie manager Jason Renbarger in the South Division at 95-66, and Springfield under manager Dave Lamont at 94-67 in the Northbound Division. Both clubs had finished 160 games at 94-66, and the Hypnotoads won the one-game playoff to determine the second seed and the first-round bye.
Boulder also posted a 94-66 record to claim second place in the West and the fourth seed, with Destin earning a playoff bid at 89-71 for the fifth seed and South Grand Prairie taking the sixth seed at 87-73.
The higher-seeded Springfield and Boulder won their first-round matchups, dispatching of SGP and Destin in six and five games, respectively.
In the league semifinals, Superior ousted Boulder in six games in a father-son matchup of Mike and John Renbarger. Springfield avenged its Game 161 loss to New New York by winning a 1-0 Game Seven to vault into the World Series. In the finals, Springfield edged out to a 2-1 lead before the Titans reeled off three wins in a row, despite subpar series from sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo, neither of whom drove in a run.
The championship allowed manager Mike Renbarger to tie his brother Dave for the most world championships in league history, each with six through the league’s first 37 years.
Superior’s regular-season run was fueled by a dominant heart of the order that featured Cabrera, Rizzo and Bryce Harper. Harper mashed 51 homers and drove in 116 runs. Ace Jake Arrieta also was vital, posting a 16-9 record with a 1.97 ERA.
Boulder’s Mike Trout led the league in homers with 55 as the Tree Huggers mashed a league-high 285 as a team. Margaritaville’s Kris Bryant won the RBI crown at 140 as the Volcanoes erupted for a league-high 862 runs.
As a team, Superior hit just .240, which was 14th in the league, but it still scored 726 runs (tied for sixth) and led the league in ERA at 3.06.
All five teams in Springfield’s West Division finished with a winning record. Defending World Series champion Applegate ran its mark of consecutive winning seasons to five. Destin’s playoff berth was the first for manager Mark Gergel in the club’s fifth season, while the Hypnotoads’ divisional title season for rookie manager Jason Renbarger stood as the highlight among the league’s three new teams. Fellow newcomers West Atlanta (Jeff Richards) and Dyersville (Ryan Renbarger) brought up the rear of the league standings with 59 and 53 wins respectively. Savannah and Bismarck had their streaks of four consecutive postseasons snapped.
Giancarlo Stanton of South Grand Prairie blasted five homers in a May game against Dyersville, a 23-4 rout, which would have broken the major league record of four that has happened 16 times.
Michigan manager Ken Crawford bowed out of the league at the end of the season and will be replaced in 2017 by Nick Calderon, whose team will play in the North Division as the Tatooine Rebels.
The 2016 season will also be remembered for the extraordinary first-round draft class that featured Chris Correa going to Destin at No. 1, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant going to Margaritaville at No. 2 and No. 3, Noah Syndergaard to Superior at No. 4 and Addison Russell to South Grand Prairie at No. 5. Cory Seager went No. 6 to Superior, Lance McCullers No. 7 to Boulder and Kyle Schwarber No. 8 to forward-looking Dyersville. Luis Severino was West Atlanta’s inaugural pick at No. 9, followed by Miguel Sano at No. 10 to Satellite Beach. Ten consecutive highly touted young stars who are expected to be making a mark on the league for years to come.