West Michigan MLN: Playoff Hunting

It's been a bit of an up and down week for the West Michigan Whitecaps. After losing two of three to the Fort Wayne Tin Caps—a team that they are now three games behind in the wild card race—the 'Caps acquired catcher James McCann, who was Detroit's first round pick in this year's draft, as well as pitcher Brian Stroud (0-1, 6.75).

Though West Michigan hasn't won a series since early August, they have managed to keep pace with an equally-struggling Fort Wayne team that currently holds the last spot in the Midwest League playoffs. However, the gap was widened last week, after the 'Caps dropped two of three in Fort Wayne behind poor pitching performances from Stroud, who gave up four earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched on Thursday, and Kevin Eichhorn (9-5, 3.96), who surrendered eight earned runs in 3.1 innings in what was his worst start of the season.

West Michigan has the opportunity to see Fort Wayne on one more occasion this season, in a crucial three game home stand to end the season.

Offensively, third baseman Nick Castellanos is gunning to end the season as the Midwest League's premier hitter. His .312 batting average is good for fourth-best in the league, and his 141 hits is a league-best. He's also tied for the league lead in doubles, with thirty-two.

As has been the case for most of the season, Castellanos continues to lead the team in almost every offensive category, with home runs being the biggest exception.

While Castellanos has been consistently good throughout his rookie campaign, the rest of the team has been struggling a bit. Though the team batting average is relatively high at .256—good for third best in the Midwest League—they're towards the bottom half in every other category; most notably, on base percentage.

With that being said, they're hoping that McCann is able to provide a spark in the lineup late in this season. The rookie catcher managed to get a hit in his home debut. McCann is the fourth catcher to start a game for West Michigan, and has the prodigious task of filling the shoes of catcher Rob Brantly, who was called up to Lakeland earlier this season and is widely regarded as Detroit's top catching prospect.

As previously mentioned, Eichhorn suffered one of his worst outings of the season in his last start, and has lost his last two decisions. Although practically every pitcher hits a slump at some point during a season, this potential slump couldn't have come at a worse time; that is, in the midst of a championship race.

Pitcher Alex Burgos (6-4, 2.44) has had a pretty good year thus far, though he too is struggling slightly as of late. In his last start, Burgos surrendered five runs in four innings in a loss to South Bend. He hasn't won a decision since an August 2 start against Dayton.

The Whitecaps continue their home stand against South Bend tonight at 7:00. They will then play a three game series at home against Lake County before taking their final road trip of the season.

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