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September 6 - 11 Detroit Tigers Minor League Minor League Recap: Whitecaps In the Playoffs

The West Michigan Whitecaps were the only Tigers affiliate to make the postseason this year, earning their playoff berth by finishing second in the division in the first half of the season. Their opening-round assignment was the first-place South Bend Cubs. Find out how the Whitecaps fared.

Detroit Tigers Minor League Week in Review: 9/6 - 9/11

West Michigan Whitecaps

West Michigan hosted game one in the best-of-three series, with games two and three to be played in South Bend. Staff ace Kyle Dowdy drew the first start, and he had a solid outing, keeping his team in the game by tossing 5 1/3 innings and only giving up single runs in the second and fifth. After both runs the Whitecaps hitters responded in the bottom of the inning, with Jose Azocar singling, moving to third on a David Gonzalez single, and then swiping home on a double steal for the first run, and the second run coming when Jose Zambrano made it to second on a throwing error by 17-year-old Cubs shortstop Isaac Paredes, and then scored on a Will Maddox single. The score stayed knotted at two until the 11th inning, with West Michigan pitchers Trent Szuktnik (1 1/3IP, 1H, 2K), Zac Houston (1 1/3IP, 1H, 1BB, 2K), Mark Ecker (2IP, 1K), and Drew Smith (IP, 3K) providing outstanding relief. The 11th inning began with a Gonzalez single to shortstop that Paredes turned into a double with another throwing error. He then moved to third on a balk, but Cam Gibson grounded out and Joey Havrilak struck out, so it appeared Gonzalez may end up stranded. But Zambrano lined a two-out single to center and the Whitecaps took a 1-0 lead in the series.

Beau Burrows toed the rubber for the Caps in game two, and like Dowdy, he kept his team in the game by surrendering just two runs, but he walked three and struck out six, and had reached his pitch count after only 4 2/3 innings. The game was tied at two at the time, with West Michigan scoring twice in the second after a Will Allen walk, a Brett Pirtle double, and two-out singles from Gibson and Havrilak. This time the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, as Toller Boardman gave up a solo shot in the sixth, and then a three-run bomb in the seventh, and that was that. South Bend won 6-2, sending the series to a decisive game three on Friday...sort of.

Spenser Watkins drew the starting assignment in game three, but he struggled, giving up four extra-base hits and three runs in four innings. The Whitecaps were down 3-0 heading into the fifth inning, but they put together a two-run rally thanks to an error by Cubs third baseman Vimael Machin, an RBI single from Gibson, and an RBI double from Havrilak. They tied it up in the next inning when catcher Arvicent Perez walked, Azocar singled, Josh Lester sacrificed both runners, and then Gonzalez laid down a squeeze bunt that scored Perez. The score remained tied at 3 and the game once again stretched into extra innings, although severe weather suspended the game in the eighth, and the teams had to return to Four Winds Field on Saturday to finish. The West Michigan bullpen again rose to the occasion, with Szkutnik (2 2/3IP, 2H, 4K), Bryan Garcia (1/3IP), Smith (2IP, 1H, 1K), and Ecker (1IP, 1H) stifling the Cubs bats long enough for the offense to get on the board. Allen led off the 11th-inning with a walk, Perez moved him to second on a sacrifice, and Azocar came up with the biggest hit of his young career, singling to center field to give the Caps a 4-3 lead and, after Ecker closed out the inning, a series win.

With game three of the opening series stretching over two days, the Whitecaps were unable to rest before heading into round two on Sunday against the in-state rival Great Lakes Loons. West Michigan took an early 1-0 lead when Lester doubled and Gonzalez singled him home, and starter Eudis Idrogo was fabulous, giving up just one run over five innings and striking out eight. Loons starter Caleb Ferguson was also strong, though, and the Caps bullpen couldn’t hold on in the bottom of the seventh, with Boardman and Houston combining to give up four singles, a walk, and three runs. Great Lakes went on to win 4-1 so West Michigan heads home with their season on the line, needing to win on Monday and Tuesday to advance to the Midwest League Championship for the second consecutive year.

  • Pirtle (5-for-15, R) and Perez (5-for-15, R) have both been strong in the playoffs, but Azocar has been on fire. He’s 7-for-17 at the plate with a run scored and an RBI, he stole home, and he threw out another runner on the basepaths, this time doubling off Eloy Jimenez at first in the 8th inning of game three.

  • Boardman was one of West Michigan’s most reliable long relievers all season, racking up an 8-3 record in 38 appearances, but he almost matched his season loss total in just two outings last week. Drew Smith, meanwhile, worked mostly late innings all season and owned a 1-2 record, but he was credited with both Whitecaps wins on the week.

  • Lester joined the team after Zambrano was injured in game two of the opening series. The 22-year-old Lester is just 1-for-8 in his two starts, but he has scored twice, and he was Connecticut’s best hitter for most of the season.

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