West Mich MLN: Battling the Heat

Record high temperatures have befallen most of the country over the past week, including in West Michigan. The heat index at game time on the field regularly climbed into triple digits over the latest ‘Caps homestand where they headed into their day off yesterday with a trivial 2-4 mark.

To say warmth caused the Whitecaps to slip up at home and drop four of six might be a bit of a stretch but nonetheless, it played a major role in how they fared. Sizzling heat led manager Ernie Young to implement a change in their warm-up schedule last week Thursday – a schedule where the ‘Caps skipped batting practice altogether by stretching on the field and taking infield only.

Catcher Zach Maggard, when asked about the heat, definitely talked about having to take it seriously.

"It definitely plays a role," said Maggard, "but in the end you still just have to take care of yourself. You have to stay hydrated and keep playing like you normally do."

Unfortunately, the ‘Caps didn't play too much like normal at least in the sense of the past couple of weeks. Suffering losses while scoring only one run and getting shut out again for the second time in the same week, West Michigan failed to win a series in back to back attempts.

But with the high temperatures, the Whitecaps' bats have been heating up. Through their first 18 games in the second half of the season, the Low-A affiliate has compiled a team average of .262 – 11 points higher than their overall season average of .251.

First baseman Aaron Westlake and outfielder Chad Wright have attributed to the spike in their team's average with stellar second half starts. In his first 13 games, Westlake was scorching the ball with a preposterous .417 average including seven doubles and 13 RBI. This comes after a first half of the season where he struggled mightily compiling a scanty .199 average littered with 66 strikeouts. Wright was following in close suit while hitting .304 in the first 13 games but has cooled off a bit in his last ten.

Dip in Defense

West Michigan has had a rough stretch of games lately where they've been less than impressive in the field. Committing 21 errors already in their last 18 games and multiple errors in six of their last 12, the Whitecaps are averaging more than one error per game in the second half of the season. After surrendering an average of .88 miscues a game through their first 76 contests, perhaps the ‘Caps are looking to find the root of the problem in the reality they they've lost eight players recently to the Disabled List.

Collier to the Rescue

Like the Tigers look to their ace in Verlander to stop a losing streak and put a W on the board, the ‘Caps are beginning to look at Tommy Collier in the same light.

After dropping three in a row including the first two in the series to Lansing, Collier took the mound Monday and turned in yet another dominant piece of work. Racking up a career high in strikeouts with 11, the 22 year-old was a victim of his own performance in the fact that he was only able to last 5.2 innings after being pulled with a 6-0 lead and 91 pitches thrown.

The right-handed Texan struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings and knocked out nine of 12 batters at one point during the game. Collier improved his record to 7-6 on the year and currently leads all starters for his team with a 2.36 ERA.

Paired with Collier's dazzling performance was an offensive breakout in which the ‘Caps scored more runs in the 6-1 victory to avoid the series sweep than in their previous three losses. Five games into his stint with the Whitecaps after transferring from the CT-Tigers, outfielder Jeff McVaney led the charge in the win going 3-4 with a double and an RBI. McVaney has started off hot for his new ballclub accumulating a .421 average with seven RBI and nine runs scored.

The Whitecaps enjoyed a day off from the grind yesterday and are back at it tonight on the road against the Clinton Lumber Kings.

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