West Mich MLN: Almost There

Over the past couple of weeks, the storyline for the West Michigan Whitecaps has been a tale filled with "almost" and "not quite."

In their past six losses, five of them have been by two runs or less. And while this may provide some optimism for fans that think their team is on the brink of success, it hasn't played well into the 'Caps plans of a division win, as they currently sit at 17-24, putting them at the very bottom of the division.

However, considering what we saw a few weeks ago—that is, a twelve game losing streak—losing a few close games can't be too much of a negative. Furthermore, one has to be excited about the return of a big bullpen arm, righty Ramon Lebron (1-0, 1.23).

While catcher Rob Brantly has been the model of consistency throughout the season, perhaps the most surprising player at the plate—especially when you take into account the kind of season he had last year—has been shortstop-turned-second baseman Hernan Perez.

Perez, who hit a whimsical .235 last year, currently leads the team in batting average with an impressive .343, a higher average than he recorded at any point last season. Furthermore, he is on pace to beat out every offensive statistical mark he set last season.

The change from shortstop to second base has proven to be advantageous for Perez and the Whitecaps organization, as well. While Perez had thirty-five errors last season, he only has six this year, making the possibility of him hitting his 2010 mark very unlikely.

It's clear that third baseman and top Whitecaps prospect Nick Castellanos is still going through the adjustments of becoming a big league hitter. While his average is in the low .240's, he's third on the team in runs batted in with seventeen, something that the Detroit organization has to be excited about going forward.

One thing that West Michigan lacked last season was a power hitter. This year, however, has been completely different in that regard. First baseman James Robbins has been a spark in the lineup, as his seven home runs leads the team by a wide margin. Furthermore, Robbins is batting a solid .264 and is tied for the team lead in RBI with twenty-four.

As previously mentioned, the 'Caps have received a huge help on the mound with the return of Lebron, who has been a model of consistency with the 'Caps this season after a shaky 2010 campaign. Combine this with closer Bruce Rondon (2-0, 1.62, 6 SV) and you have the makings of one of the best bullpens in the Midwest League.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a starting rotation that is both inexperienced and uncertain on a game-to-game basis. While we have seen some good things from pitchers Kyle Ryan (2-4, 3.91) and Jeff Ferrell (2-1, 3.49), the rotation as a whole has been a bit of a struggle without a true leader emerging from the woodwork as of late.

The 'Caps continue their home stand tonight against Fort Wayne before starting a three game series against Bowling Green. Tonight's game starts at 6:35 p.m.

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