Despite early inconsistency at the position in regards to who held this title, the bullpen as a whole has consistently been the strongest part of the team. So, one can imagine that getting a defined closer would only make an already strong asset even stronger.
Enter lefty Kenny Faulk.
Faulk, who has been with the team since opening day, has been one of the team's strongest pitchers throughout the season. And, after working on his control issues with pitching coach Mark Johnson, it seems as though Faulk has pushed himself into the role of closer.
The Kennesaw, GA native said that his work with Johnson has definitely been the biggest reason why he's been able to improve his grasp on the strike zone this season.
"I started realizing that I was giving these hitters too much credit, and when you do that, you doubt yourself and what got you here," Faulk said. "So I went back to what got me here by working my fastball and getting ahead in counts, and I've found much success."
"They know that I want the ball," he continued. "I want to get the job done and win games for these guys and I think that's why they come to me. My problem was I get too worked up, but I've been working with Mark Johnson, and we're seeing great results."
Faulk's results have definitely been, at the very least, noteworthy.
In 45 appearances this season, Faulk is 5-4 with a 2.39 ERA and nine saves, making him a staple of one of the best bullpens in the Midwest League.
For Faulk, the bullpen's chemistry is a big facet of why they have found so much success so far.
"We work hard every day, but we also have good chemistry," Faulk said. "We relate with each other and pick each other up. It's been a good support system. We're just aggressive pitchers that go after guys, and we have a great time."
With the way games were playing out early in the season, support was the biggest thing that the bullpen—along with the entire pitching staff—needed.
The 'Caps saw successful pitching on a regular basis, but usually fell behind because of poor hitting. According to Faulk, though, the recent success the team has found at the plate is just something that has been there all season.
"At the beginning of the year, it was a little heartbreaking to see us only give up one or two runs and still lose the game," he said. "But we have the talent to win games, and sure enough, now that our hitters have come around, I don't see a problem when it comes to us making the playoffs."
That statement a month ago would have seemed foolish. But, in lieu of the team's enormous turnaround in the month of August, a playoff spot seems like a likely outcome.
As it stands right now, The 'Caps will finish the season with the final wildcard spot, setting themselves up for a first round date with the Lake County Captains, a team that West Michigan has had a large amount of recent success against.
Faulk said that, if they can manage to hang on to the one game lead they have over Lansing, he sees no reason why the 'Caps can't defeat Lake County in the playoffs.
"(The first round game) is really what we're looking at. If we can hold this spot, well, we've had great success against Lake County," Faulk said. "With the way we're hitting, and the way we're pitching, I don't think we'll have a problem with it."
While Faulk obviously wants his team to make the playoffs, his personal goal is simply to allow less runs to score.
"I'd like to finish this year by getting my ERA down," he said. "I have an idea of what I need to work on this offseason."
Faulk has definitely been doing that already, though, as he has not allowed an earned run since July 23. His play over the past week earned him Whitecaps Player of the Week honors.
Last year, Faulk played in the New York-Penn League, which carries a shorter season than the Midwest League. He said that the amount of games between the two leagues has been the biggest adjustment for him this season.
"Last year, playing 70 games, you don't really feel the effects of playing everyday," Faulk said. "It gets to you after a while. That's something I want to work on preparing for during the offseason."
When asked about what he expects for next season, Faulk said that he is prepared for anything the Detroit Tigers organization throws at him.
"Whatever role Detroit wants me to do, I'm going to do," he said. "But I love getting the ball in late innings. I'd love to be out there any time it's a close game and come through and get guys out. I love the pressure."
"It's always been what has motivated me," Faulk continued. "Just getting the ball, and getting the job done."