Rounding out the week was a series against Bowling Green; a team that the ‘Caps have battled tough all year long. Even though suffering two losses in the three game series, West Michigan finishes season play against the Hot Rods with an 8-7 record. Though the ‘Caps haven't quite had the season they may have been expecting, a winning record against a playoff bound team – let alone the Midwest League offensive leaders – is a notable accomplishment.
In the first two games of the series, the ‘Caps had their pitching staff to thank as they allowed only three earned runs in 24 innings on the slab. Pitching Coach Mark Johnson was proud of the way his staff competed early on in the series.
"Bowling Green is a good hitting ballclub and is leading the league in hitting," acknowledged Johnson. "They're solid in pitching and overall are a very good team. Our team has battled them well this year and when two good teams face each other, it puts a little tension in the air. I've been pleased with what I've seen out of our pitching staff going out there and competing against them."
The Walk-Off that Wasn't
The conclusion of Saturday night's game against the Hot Rods will probably be a game talked about amongst players, coaches and fans for quite some time. Victory snatched out of their fingertips in the bottom of the 12th inning, West Michigan lost the eventual 15 inning marathon.
Eugenio Suarez rounded the bases off an Aaron Westlake double and appeared to score easily, to the point where Whitecaps' players were beginning to celebrate. Yet Bowling Green tracked down Suarez amidst his excited teammates and placed the tag on Suarez while the umpire called him out. Apparently, Suarez missed home plate.
Mark Johnson offered his thoughts as to how you might try to come back from something like that. "You have to keep your emotions in check and that's what's important. Don't let frustrations take over or try to do too much after that. We'll call it a mental mistake and we all make mistakes so you have to put it in the past. Try to do it again and do it correctly the next time."
Swinging the Hot Stick
Second baseman Brandon Loy had a good start to the month of August, though has cooled down over the past few days. Nonetheless, Loy has worked his average up to near .240 and is third on the team with 20 doubles. Other than attributing a little luck to some of his recent successes, Loy talked about the high and low stretches.
"You can never get too high or too low. And I think I'm still learning with this being my first year playing every day after coming from college where you play three or four days a week. Now it's an every-day game where you're going 0-for-12 during a three or four day stretch while hurting. You just can't get too high or too low and eventually, things will hopefully straighten out for you."
Working with Hitting Coach Scott Dwyer, Loy has continued to work on separating balance in his stance while at the plate. Being too forward on his front or back foot affects how he generates power and can be the difference between turning singes into doubles and doubles into triples. He will need to work on his strikeouts additionally as he'll hope to decrease his 24% punch-out rate at the dish.
Less Starters Means More Relievers
Pulling starting pitchers often and early now as the season comes to a close, the Whitecaps will need to rely more heavily on their bullpen. This was evident Saturday against Bowling Green where rookie Slade Smith was asked to get through four and a third innings of relief work. Twice in the past two weeks, Michael Torrealba has been left out on the mound for at least three frames. It's all just part of the process according to Johnson.
"There are going to be days where we're going to have to extend them. We've been protecting the relievers all season just as much as our starters but this time of year they're going to have to step up and cover innings, repeat their deliveries and get more outs. There are restrictions for everyone put there for a reason so in the end, we're not going to do anything that's out of the ordinary."
One thing we do know is that the relievers aren't going to be looking over their shoulder watching someone else begin to warm up. When it comes down to it, they're going to be responsible for getting their team out of a jam and ultimately, building up mental toughness in the meantime that will prepare them for any level of baseball.
West Michigan enjoyed a much needed off-day yesterday – their first in three weeks and last of the regular season – before embarking on a quick three game road trip tonight against South Bend. Returning home Saturday, the ‘Caps will hope to bolster their home record, one that currently resides at only 28 wins which also has something to do with this season not quite reaching expectations.