West Michigan MLN: 'Caps retake first place

It's hard to say whether strong pitching or productive hitting is keeping West Michigan atop their division. Maybe it's both. But one thing is for sure—the Whitecaps are back to their winning ways.

Taking this week into effect, let's breakdown an average week for the 2009 Whitecaps.

MAY 20 - Behind the arm of Luke Putkonen, the Whitecaps stormed past the Peoria, 6-2. The ‘Caps jacked two homeruns, solo shots by Bryan Pounds and Jordan Lennerton, to lead the way for their team.

In his longest outing of the season, Putkonen was in total command for his third win. The right-hander lasted 7.1 innings allowing only five hits, three walks, and striking out five. Best part was he held the current Midwest League leading hitters in check all night. Putkonen got great defensive play too.. Brandon Douglas made a beautiful diving catch at second base, and for the second straight start, Putkonen induced two key double plays.

Jared Gayhart stepped on the mound with one out in the eighth and pitched the final 5 outs for his second save.

Peoria starter Chris Carpenter was abused by the Whitecaps. He threw three innings, giving up six hits, with three walks and three strikeouts in the loss.

MAY 21 - Unable to produce on three scoring opportunities, the ‘Caps fell to the Peoria Chiefs, 4-1, at O'Brien Field on Thursday night. The Chiefs smacked two homeruns among their nine hits. Each team has won a game in the three game series.

Chiefs' starter Chris Archer (2-0) held the ‘Caps at bay over 5 innings for the win. He didn't allow any runs, walked one batter and struck out eight ‘Caps.

The first scoring chance for the ‘Caps came in the first inning. Gustavo Nunez reached base on a dropped third strike by Michael Brenly. Brent Wyatt singled, and Brandon Douglas walked. But the bases-loaded, no outs opportunity didn't produce any runs for the ‘Caps.

Luis Salas provided the Whitecaps' only run with his solo homerun in the top of the seventh.

The final ‘Caps scoring chance developed in the eighth. Walks to Gustavo Nunez and Brent Wyatt put two men on with no outs. Brandon Douglas sent a ground ball to left, but Nunez was thrown out at the plate, and Wyatt was caught rounding second too far. The double play wiped out the threat.

Robles (3-2) left after 5.1 innings, giving up four earned runs with eight strikeouts and taking the loss.

MAY 22 - West Michigan produced 14 runs in their series clinching victory over the Peoria Chiefs, 14-4, on Friday night in Peoria. ‘Caps starter Brandon Hamilton threw decent enough hold Peoria to only four runs. West Michigan now turns their attention to the top team in the Midwest League's western division, the Kane County Cougars.

Garnishing new season highs, the ‘Caps set records for most runs in an inning and in a game this season. The previous high for a game had been 13, set not even week ago.

All nine starters had at least one hit for the Whitecaps. Billy Nowlin had four hits, including two homeruns and five RBI. Avisail Garcia went 4-5 with 3 RBI.

The Whitecaps took out Peoria starter Alberto Cabrera early. Cabrera lasted 3.2 innings, giving up eight hits with one walk. He would eventually take the loss. Peoria also committed four errors in the game.

Jordan Lennerton finished the night 3-6, and Joe Bowen went 2-5 with a double.

MAY 23 - Brent Wyatt's two-run double in the top of the seventh inning ended up being the game-winning hit as the Whitecaps (28-13) topped the Kane County Cougars, 7-4, on Saturday night at Elfstrom Stadium. Strong relief pitching from Victor Larez, Jared Gayhart and Tyler Stohr helped the ‘Caps overcome a 3-1 deficit.

It was a pitching duel Saturday. Both teams showed why they're top contenders this season.

The Whitecaps scored the game's first run as Ronnie Bourquin walked, moved to third on a wild pitch and came home on a passed ball. Kane County (25-17) broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth as Petey Paramore drew a bases-loaded walk to force home a run. The Cougars then scored again on a wild pitch.

Trailing 3-2 in the seventh, the ‘Caps came up with a big inning as they sent eight batters to the plate and produced four runs for a 6-3 lead. The ‘Caps and Cougars exchanged runs in the ninth to set the final score of 7-4.

MAY 24 - Kane County got a sacrifice fly from Grant Desme in the eighth inning to squeeze by West Michigan Whitecaps, 6-5, Sunday night. The Cougars came back from a 5-2 deficit to take game two of the three game series.

West Michigan starter Mark Sorensen threw decent but didn't claim a win. He went 6 innings, allowing 3 runs, 7 hits and 6 strikeouts. Reliever Luis Sanz (0-1) took the loss.

Cougars Matt Fitts (1-5) worked 4.1 innings for the win.

Gustavo Nunez and Brent Wyatt each had two hits. Dusty Coleman was 4-4 with a double and a triple.

MAY 25 - Steve Kleen knocked a three-run shot over the left field wall in the seventh inning as the Kane County Cougars took the lead and the game, 6-4, over the West Michigan Whitecaps. Kane County wins the series two games to one. With the loss, the Whitecaps fell to second place in the Midwest league's eastern division.

In the second, the ‘Caps took a 4-0 lead. Billy Nowlin led off with a double, and he scored on Jordan Lennerton's RBI single. Joe Bowen and Luis Palacios followed with singles. Then Gustavo Nunez laced a double down the left field line to score both Lennerton and Bowen. Ben Guez then drilled a deep sacrifice fly to plate Palacios for the fourth run.

Their lead was narrowed in later innings and West Michigan could not contain the threat in either the eighth or ninth innings.

Luke Putkonen started for the Whitecaps and did not get a decision. The right-hander worked five innings, giving up two runs with four strikeouts. Jared Gayhart was tagged with the loss-- his second loss.

MAY 26 - A four-run surge by the West Michigan Whitecaps gave them a 8-4 opening series victory over the Quad Cities River Bandits. The ‘Caps mounted 13 hits, four of which came from Wyatt, to support the phenomenal pitching of starter Robles. The southpaw went seven innings, giving up six hits, three runs, and seven strikeouts for his fourth win.

Eight of the nine starters for the Whitecaps had a least one hit. With this win, it was easy to see the Whitecaps were comfortable being back home.

MAY 27 - Angel Flores' two-run scorcher in the seventh helped West Michigan hold on for an 8-5 win over the Quad Cities River Bandits, 8-5, on Wednesday afternoon. With a crowd of 7,691 fans, the ‘Caps took in the 30th victory of the Whitecaps' year, improving their record to 30-15.

Whitecaps produced a four-run inning early- this time in the second. West Michigan sent nine men to the plate again, and they came away with 5 hits.

‘Caps starter Brandon Hamilton pitched his way in the fourth inning. Lasting 4.2 innings, the hard-throwing right-hander surrendered three runs on eights hits and struck out four. But he could not record the final out of the fifth for the win.

Brandon Douglas had a three-hit game. He went 3-5. Ronnie Bourquin was 2-5 with 2 RBI. Jordan Lennerton, Avisail Garcia, and Angel Flores each had two hits.

It's good to be a fan in West Michigan these days. Fort Wayne is closing in, but if the ‘Caps continue their all-around stellar performances; fans have nothing to worry about. With May coming to a close, and All-Star break around the corner, it's hard to believe the season is half over. Stay tuned West Michigan fans, the best is yet to come.

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