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The West Michigan Whitecaps are Midwest League Champions

The minor-league baseball season ended for most players two weeks ago, but the West Michigan Whitecaps parlayed their strong second-half into a deep playoff run, sweeping their first series in two games against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Then they split the first two games against their in-state rival the Lansing Lugnuts, and headed into last Monday in a do-or-die situation.

Detroit Tigers Minor League Week in Review: 9/14 - 9/21

A West Michigan Whitecaps
42-28, 2nd in the 2nd half, 75-64, 2rd overall in Eastern Division

Minor-league veteran Ross Seaton took the mound for Monday’s pivotal third game against Lansing, but the Oklahoma native struggled, giving up seven hits and four earned runs in just 3 1/2 innings. Fortunately for Seaton, his teammates put on their most impressive offensive display of the season, knocking around the Lugnuts pitchers to the tune of 22 hits and 15 runs. Each Whitecaps starter recorded at least one hit, with 2015 draftees and former Tennessee teammates A.J. Simcox and Christin Stewart combining for eight hits, two RBIs, and four runs scored. Mike Gerber, Will Kengor, and Francisco Contreras recorded three hits apiece and combined for seven RBIs, while catcher Kade Scivicque went 2-for-6, and DH Joey Pankake went 1-for-4 with three runs knocked in. Hard-throwing youngster Gerson Moreno took over for Seaton and earned the win by giving up just one run in 3 2/3 innings, and relief specialists Johan Belisario and Joe Jimenez finished the game with two scoreless innings to send West Michigan to the Midwest League championship series against the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Back home for the first two games of the championship series, the Whitecaps got off to a bit of a rough start, getting shut out 5-0 in game one last Wednesday. The Kernels made Whitecaps starter Spencer Turnbull work, forcing him to throw 96 pitches, and scoring two runs off him in just 4 2/3 innings. Trey Teakell and Spenser Watkins gave up the other three runs over 4 1/3 innings of relief. The offense, meanwhile, couldn’t do much of anything against Cedar Rapids starter Felix Jorge, with Scivicque, Stewart, and Simcox accounting for all five of the squad’s hits. West Michigan bounced back the next night, though things looked iffy for the first six innings. Starter A.J. Ladwig gave up a run in the 2nd inning, but then shut down the Kernels through the 7th inning. The Whitecaps couldn’t get anything going, though, until things fell apart for Cedar Rapids in the bottom of the 7th. Scivicque led off with a walk, then Stewart doubled, and Pankake knocked them both in with a single. The Kernels’ manager was then ejected, and things continued to unravel, with two errors, a walk, and a bases-loaded HBP leading to two more runs. Belisario and Jimenez then came in to lock down the end of the game and help West Michigan even the series with a 4-1 win.

The action shifted to Cedar Rapids for the final three games of the series. Saturday’s game was classic white-knuckle playoff baseball, though the result was not ideal for the Whitecaps. Starter Artie Lewicki gave up a run in the 3rd inning, while the Whitecaps answered with a run of their own in the top of the 4th on a Simcox double and a Scivicque single. The score remained 1-1 until Gerber led off the 9th with a single, was sacrificed to second base by Scivicque, and was knocked in on a single by Stewart. Lewicki recorded one out in the eighth inning, and Moreno came in to record the final two outs of the inning. He headed back to the mound in the ninth to close out the game, but promptly gave up two doubles to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham then went to his closer Jimenez in a difficult situation, and the hard-throwing right-hander immediately walked the first batter to load the bases. He bounced back to record a strikeout, but then gave up the tying run on a sac fly, and the winning run on a single, as West Michigan fell 3-2.

The fourth game of the series was just as tight, and very nearly as disastrous for the Whitecaps. Jeff Thompson got the start, and pitched in and out of trouble, scattering six hits through five innings, but only giving up one run. The offense again began the game quietly, but the Whitecaps finally got on the board in the 5th inning with a little small ball, using a David Gonzalez single, a stolen base, a walk, and infield hits from Simcox and Gerber to plate two runs. Teakell came in for Thompson and was nearly flawless, giving up just one hit in three scoreless innings. West Michigan took a 2-1 lead to the 9th inning, but Belisario made things very interesting, striking out two but also giving up two walks and a single to load the bases with two outs. Jimenez came in for another high-pressure situation, but this time he was able to strike out catcher Brian Navarreto to end the game and tie the series at two games apiece.

With the season on the line in the fifth-and-final game of the championship series, the Whitecaps once again turned to Seaton, just three days after his 26th birthday. Things looked iffy again for the veteran righty, as he gave up a long solo homer to Austin Diemer in the 3rd, and then surrendered another run in the 4th after giving up a triple and a single to begin the inning. But Seaton was able to wiggle out of the jam, pitching 6 2/3 innings without giving up another run. West Michigan’s offense was very aggressive to begin the game, managing just one baserunner through the first 4 1/3 innings, but the tide turned after Christin Stewart drew a walk with one out in the 5th. Pankake singled, then Will Kengor drew a walk to load the bases. A Contreras fielder’s choice put the Whitecaps on the board, a David Gonzalez single tied the game, then two wild pitches from Luke Bard put West Michigan on top 3-2. Gerson Moreno came on for the Whitecaps to record the final out of the 7th, though he walked a batter and fell behind 3-1 to another before inducing an inning-ending groundout. His wildness continued in the 8th, however, as he walked two more and recorded only one out, forcing Adam Ravenelle to try to put out the fire. The 2014 4th-round pick from Vanderbilt did the job, striking out T.J. White, and inducing a foul out from LaMonte Wade. The Whitecaps couldn’t score in the top of the 9th, leaving the game in the hands of closer Jimenez. The big righty was spectacular, working around a walk to strike out the side and give the Whitecaps their first championship since 2007.

  • The Whitecaps have gone to game five in the Midwest League championship series three times in franchise history, winning it all each time. This is their sixth title overall.

  • Lewicki saved his best for last. His 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball in Saturday’s crucial game three was his longest outing of the season.

  • The Whitecaps fell behind in every one of the five games in the championship series, but came back to take the lead four times.

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