West Mich MLN: Shooting for a Wild Card

The Whitecaps have been on a tear lately by putting themselves in position to make a run at the Eastern Division's first-half wild card spot. With five games remaining until the All-Star break and halfway mark of the 2012 season, West Michigan finds itself in a must win situation in its next two games if it hopes to catch Bowling Green who currently resides three games ahead.

Who's Hot

Well, for starters, the ‘Caps are. At one point last week, the Low-A affiliate won nine of ten including a five game win streak, its longest winning streak of the season. During this late first half of the season surge, the ‘Caps have seen their offense start to come around. Catcher Curt Casali, seeing more action right now due to the fact that fellow catcher Patrick Leyland is on the Disabled List, has collected eight hits over the past week of games, including a four hit performance that included three doubles against Fort Wayne.

Infielder and designated hitter Dean Green has been right behind Casali's efforts at the plate. The left handed hitter was batting .333 over his past ten games and is sixth in the league in slugging percentage with a .502 mark and is right on Casali's tail whose percentage is at .514, good for fourth best in the league. Unfortunately for the blue and white, however, Green joined Leyland on the Disabled List Saturday with inflammation in his right elbow.

Outfielder Steven Moya has also been lights out in the batter's box over the past week collecting seven hits with the most notable knock coming on Monday when the 6-foot-7, 229 pounder belted the game winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against Great Lakes.

With his offense finally coming alive, manager Ernie Young can be feeling fairly confident in his team as they wrap up the first half of the year.

"We're playing really good right now," said Young. "The guys are picking each other up quite often and that's part of the process – being able to come through when the next guy doesn't."

And with all the one run games that the Whitecaps have participated in this year, Young feels that those tight game situations are starting to now pay its dividends.

"I would hope that those one run games are paying off in game situations right now. We've played so many close ballgames that the guys on the team should be accustomed to playing under pressure."

Who's Not

The top of the lineup for the Whitecaps continues to underperform. All season long, Ernie Young has tinkered with his leadoff position and has tried sticking different players – mostly Brandon Loy and Chad Wright – at the top. But coming into this week, the ‘Caps were batting a collective .201 at the leadoff position, the lowest batting average of any spot in the lineup outside of the nine hole.

Infielder Brandon Loy has been seeing the majority of time in that first spot of the lineup lately but hasn't been able to get into any sort of rhythm, hitting a meager .211 over his past ten games garnering just six hits. So saying that the first man up is not getting on base might be a bit of an understatement; yet Young feels that their recent struggles at the top is all part of a long season's growing pains.

"We have Brandon Loy batting leadoff right now and obviously he would like to be hitting higher than what he is right now," says Young, "but it's just part of the growing and learning process throughout the season. These guys play a long year and you're going to be up and down so you have to be able to make adjustments along the way."

What's Next

West Michigan is currently in the middle of an important three game series on the road with first half playoff berth implications against Bowling Green this afternoon. The ‘Caps will then finish off the first part of the season on the road against South Bend, another team currently in the hunt for that wild card spot.

Hoping to stay hot as a team, second baseman Colin Kaline echoes the sentiments of many of his other teammates, including his manager, regarding where they stand at this point in the season.

"This team has too much talent and has way more talent than our record has shown," said Kaline. "Everybody is starting to click now and those one run games earlier in the year are going to help us down the stretch. Being in all those close games, we'll know how to handle the pressure situations and I think we're going to stay hot. We're on a great streak right now and we're going to try to keep it going up until the All-Star break and right on through it."

All-Star festivities will then commence next week Tuesday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, home of the Western Division's Kane County Cougars.

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