One point to start off with that certainly brings some excitement is that both clubs have a good chance at making a playoff appearance. Lakeland, as the first half division champs, is already guaranteed a playoff berth. If they happen to win the second half as well, they'll face a wild card team.
West Michigan on the other hand struggled along in the first half, but is making a run in the second half now, and is currently tied for first place with South Bend in the Eastern division. South Bend was also the first half division winner, so even if the Whitecaps can't overcome them, they'd still have an outside chance at the playoffs.
Speaking of the Whitecaps, they are once again putting together a similar streak as they did last year, when they got hot over the final six weeks to get into the playoffs, then kept that up and rode the wave all the way to the Midwest League Championship. It's far too early to predict such a run, but it certainly can't be put past the team.
One main source of their resurgence has been Jeff Frazier's awakening at the plate. Frazier vastly underperformed over the first half, but has been absolutely on fire in July. Frazier, whose average was sitting in the .240's for most of the year, has brought his average all the way up to .280. He's also now brought his slugging and on base percentage up as well, leaving him with the 2nd highest OPS on the team, trailing only Nick McIntyre.
Another source of help has been Clete Thomas, who has always possessed incredible physical tools, and for whatever reason (be it patience at the plate or just general lack of desire) was never able to put everything together. The Tigers sixth rounder is hitting .313 in his first 14 games as a ‘Cap, and has proven to be a much needed boost at the top of the order for West Michigan.
Moving to pitching, it's not necessarily that he's pitching better, but a little more run support, and people are finally starting to get a feel for the talent of Dallas Trahern. Trahern had a rough first half record wise, but has been turning it around since, raising his record up to 6-8, including winning his last three decisions.
The only concern with Trahern continues to be his lack of strikeouts, a somewhat worrisome development that has just picked up as of this season. It's hard to tell if Trahern has just stopped attacking hitters, or if he has been coached to do so by pitching coach A.J. Sager (who is believed to have taken to heart the advice of Tiger pitching coach Bob Cluck, who preaches to let the opposition hit the ball and let the fielders do the work). In any case, Trahern leads the team in ERA (among starters) and innings pitched, and is well on his way at just 19 years old.
Meanwhile in Lakeland, the L-Tigers pair of aces atop the lineup continue to mow down the opposition. Justin Verlander still has the best ERA in the Florida State League, but Nate Bumstead and Jordan Tata are not far behind at all. Tata currently ranks third, Bumstead fourth.
The pair are clearly ready for the next level, unfortunately, the Tigers currently have a glut of pitchers in AA Erie, meaning ready or not, they've got nowhere to go. So, rather than re-arrange things, the pair will likely stick around in Lakeland and help lead the league's top pitching staff into the playoffs.