West Mich MLN: Whitecaps Stay Hot on Trail

Is there a chance West Michigan could be at the top of the Mid Eastern division come All Star break?

Well, there could be some things said about this year's ‘Caps' chances in the Midwest League. But they don't want to hear it. They don't play the game of chance. They play the game of good old strategic baseball.

Right now, the ‘Caps are holding the best hand of cards in the whole Midwest League. Week-after-week, West Michigan finishes ahead of the game. Since April 30, they went 5-2, with their only losses given by Burlington and Beloit.

The bad hands:

During the battle with Burlington May 4, the ‘Caps lost a close one in a pitching duel between Mauricio Robles and Bryan Casey that ended up going into extra innings. After the six innings the starters battled—with no score—‘Cap closer Tyler Stohr and Burlington reliever Blaine Hardy came in and dueled. Hardy came firing on all cylinders as he struck out Jordan Lennerton, Luis Palacios and Brent Wyatt, while pitching enough sinking pitches to force the batters into easy groundouts that would result in the 1-0 finish.

Well, after the loss, the ‘Caps returned home May 4, for a six-game homestand against the Snappers and LumberKings.

Their second loss wasn't quite as dramatic. It was an old fashioned beat down. Brandon Douglas and Bryan Pounds tried anchoring their team past the Snappers but their combined five hits wouldn't be enough as Beloit's heavy hitter, Evan Bigley went 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs. The ‘Caps lost 9-3.

OK, enough of the bad, right?

Good hand:

Sweet revenge came last night against Beloit. With hits coming to almost everyone in the lineup, West Michigan played enough of their style of game—one a base at a time—to provide three runs in their favor. Southpaw Matt Hoffman went seven innings, allowing only two walks and striking out six to improve to 4-0 on the year.

Manager Joe DePastino has done some mixing in the field and in the lineup. Douglas, once a shortstop, has now seen himself play second base more often. Off to his right, his shortstop has seen a few names: Gustavo Nunez provides a good glove, and his performance at the plate seems to be improving a lot. Luis Palacios is another shortstop, that has found himself in a utility role. He is a weaker hitter, but with more at-bats, he could be in the lineup more. But being a utility man in today's game seems to be just as important as playing one position. Brent Wyatt was drafted as a shortstop, but has found himself a place in the outfield. The former 26th round pick shifts between left and centerfield — mostly playing center. DePastino also rotates Wyatt and Nunez at leadoff — a move that has gone in his favor.

West Michigan is in seventh in overall attendance this year with 22,347 — a number that is significantly down from last year. In 2008, by this time, West Michigan was sitting in second place in attendance. It has been quite a rain season this month, and with summer coming shortly and the ‘Caps playing great baseball, the number of fans will grow. For now, if you were to bet on a top team before All Star break, West Michigan would have the best chances, seeing they average only 2-3 losses a week.

West Michigan (18-7) sits a half game behind first place Fort Wayne (19-7).

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