West Mich MLN: Battling Mother Nature

So far this season, the West Michigan Whitecaps have went to battle with Lansing, Fort Wayne, Great Lakes and South Bend; however, there toughest opponent so far, it seems, has been Mother Nature. And she doesn't strike out: at least not away from Comstock Park.

After suffering from what Lansing's grounds crew called "frost issues," the 'Caps had their first five games postponed (the original three plus two makeup dates). Their one home game against the Lugnuts was a success, though, as they defeated Lansing in walk-off fashion, 13-12.

After losing three of four to Great Lakes at home, Mother Nature unveiled her cruel face yet again; this time though, she graced us with her presence in South Bend, Indiana.

After the first game of the series was cancelled due to rain, the game was rescheduled to be played the next day as the first game of a doubleheader. Unfortunately, both of these games were rained out, too. They did, however, manage to get in two games on Sunday. The Whitecaps capitalized, taking both games from South Bend in relatively easy fashion.

After a win last night in their first game against Fort Wayne, the Whitecaps now find themselves at a very comfortable 5-3, just one game back of the division lead. This is a strong contrast to last season, in which the 'Caps were at the bottom of the division for most of the season, before they made their run to the postseason in August.

While a lot of this success can be attributed to newly-acquired manager Ernie Young's no-nonsense management style—a sharp contrast to former manager Joe DePastino's style of management—the bulk of it, really, has to be given to the fast start of the 'Caps offense; most notably, catcher Rob Brantly.

Brantly, whose .435 batting average puts him at second best in the Midwest League, is in his second year in West Michigan. Upon his arrival midway through last season, Brantly instantly made an impact—both on the field, and in the clubhouse—and was a quintessential piece in the 'Caps playoff run. Although he wasn't the most hyped hitter at the beginning of the season in West Michigan, he has proven to be the most consistent thus far. Along with his high batting average, Brantly has the fourth best on base percentage in the league, and leads West Michigan in nearly every offensive category.

Meanwhile, third baseman Nick Castellanos, who's ranked as the number two prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, is having a bit of a slow start, batting .212 with a mere three RBI. However, as we saw with pitcher Jacob Turner last season, a bit of a slow start probably means nothing when you have the talent that a top-flight prospect has.

Another bright spot in the 'Caps lineup is the return of first baseman Billy Nowlin, who, in four starts, has already provided a spark in the lineup, leading the team with two home runs.

Defensively, it seems that the move from second base to shortstop has helped second year Whitecap Hernan Perez. So far this season, Perez has yet to commit an error, something that he struggled with last year. Castellanos, who moved from shortstop to third base after being drafted by Detroit, is still experiencing growing pains at the position, as he has already committed two errors so far this season.

After a rough start on the mound for West Michigan, the pitching staff for the Whitecaps has shown up in a big way. Led by pitcher Jeff Ferrell (1-0, 2.70), the Whitecaps are in the top half of the league in ERA (3.84), and have given up the least walks and second-least home runs in the Midwest League so far this season. Although the 'Caps don't have a star pitcher this year, as they did last season with Turner, the staff as a whole looks significantly better, and has played a pretty large part in the recent success for West Michigan.

The Whitecaps continue their home stand against Fort Wayne tonight, before finishing up their run in Comstock Park with a four game set against Lansing. The 'Caps then take their talent to Dayton to start a road stretch against the Dragons.

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