Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If fantasy baseball is a game of chess I just got checkmated.
There's no coming back from the hole I've dug myself this time. The Disco Spiders are officially toast.
It's not that my team had such an awful year. I'm leading my league in two categories (saves and stolen bases) and I'm within striking distance of the top spots in strikeouts and ERA.
But one fantasy owner in my league this year pulled out all the stops. He left the other nine of us in the dust and for that, I will always idolize him.
With a month to go, this crafty owner has already built a 23 and a half point advantage over the rest of the league. Unless Josh Beckett and John Lackey ring the doorbell with a 30 of High Life and a bucket of KFC, I think the condescendingly-named "Runaway Train" is finishing the season in first place.
How did this owner separate himself from the rest of the pack? Easy. He followed these eight simple rules:
1. He chose quality over quantity: Playing in a league that has an innings limit poses its own set of problems but playing without one can be just as tricky. That was the case in my league this season.
Early on in the season, I committed to a strategy I now regret. With the innings limit off the table I went pitcher-crazy, grabbing as many starters and closers as I could get my hands on.
My opponent on the other hand, kept things simple by drafting a strong core of starters (Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver, Madison Bumgarner) and deftly plucking talented relievers from the waiver wire (Fernando Rodney and Tyler Clippard).
With my self-indulgent mess of a pitching staff, all of Justin Verlander's and Stephen Strasburg's successes have been quickly offset by the maddening inconsistencies of Bud Norris, Philip Humber and countless other fantasy imposters.
I got greedy and paid the price. Runaway Train chose wisely and now he is reaping the benefits.
2. His team is balanced: I decided I'd go all out in two categories this year: saves and stolen bases. And so far, I've succeeded. I'm 26 saves ahead of the next highest scorer and I still hold a slim edge in the stolen base category.
But by pouring all of my resources into those areas, I've found myself struggling to stay above water in some of the other fantasy categories including batting average (dead-last) and ironically, blown saves.
My opponent decided he'd rather be strong in all areas than sacrifice one for the sake of another. Now he's in first place and I'm stuck with Drew Stubbs, who can't hit a lick but leads my team in stolen bases. Not smart.
3. He took chances: When you build a solid foundation, you can afford to take chances. And that's just what Runaway Train has done.
It's never a 100 percent success rate when you grab someone off the waiver wire. That's just the nature of fantasy baseball.
Some guys stick, others don't. But sometimes, they really stick. Runaway Train struck fantasy gold with Ryan Ludwick and Kris Medlen, and Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt haven't been bad pickups either. Even choosing to pick Edwin Encarnacion and Max Scherzer late in the draft were risks, but both maneuvers ended up working out in the long run.
4. He stayed active: A lot of people think the league is won on draft day but it isn't. You have to be a chameleon. How else could a fantasy team survive catastrophes like Jacoby Ellsbury getting injured or Dan Uggla morphing into a human strikeout machine?
Rain, snow, hail, Shark Week, Springsteen concerts, nothing was going to keep Runaway Train away from checking his lineup everyday. It sounds simple but a lot of times staying active is half the battle.
He DL'd players who were injured, he dumped guys who weren't hitting, he made sure his starters were active on days when they were scheduled to pitch. His league-high 48 roster moves is a testament to how vigilant he has been all year. Fantasy is a game of inches and this year, Runaway Train did all of the little things he needed to win.
5. He realized the Red Sox and Yankees were overrated: For years, SportsCenter has led us to believe that the path to fantasy greatness goes through New York and Boston. Those of us who have had our fantasy team's derailed by the failures of Jon Lester, Mark Teixeira and countless other overhyped millionaires from the Northeast would strongly disagree.
Runaway Train was smart enough to ignore this school of thought, choosing just one player from either of these two perennial powerhouses (Hiroki Kuroda). That's not to say he ignored the AL East completely. Toronto's Jose Bautista and Encarnacion have carried his team's offense and Baltimore's Chris Davis has also provided a nice home run stroke as of late.
6. He remembered that scoring matters: While the rest of the league focused on home runs and batting average, Runaway Train took the Billy Beane approach by stockpiling players who score tons of runs.
It's a category that fantasy owners forget about but it's just as important as the rest. Needless to say, Runaway Train has three of the league's top four run-scorers and leads the league in runs by a healthy margin.
7. He made sure his outfield was strong: Often times we take outfielders for granted because there are so darn many of them. But the truth is, this year's crop of outfielders isn't nearly as talented as we've seen in years past and with most leagues using five outfield spots, it can easily become a team's biggest weakness.
Runaway Train put a strong emphasis on his outfield this season and so far it has paid off. Four of his five outfielders made the All-Star team and two are favorites to win the MVP award in their respective leagues (Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout).
8. He picked up Mike Trout: Trout (.340, 25 HR, 74 RBI, 41 SB, 101 R) is arguably the most complete fantasy player we've seen in a generation. And all Runaway had to give up for him was Hiroki Kuroda (who he would later pick up again off of waivers). Unbelievable.
You beat me fair and square Runaway Train. But don't get too cocky ... the Disco Spiders will be back in 2013 with a whole new bag of tricks.