The dream season has come to an end for the West Michigan Whitecaps. With a year starting with a fire to Fifth Third Ballpark in January, it would have been a nice story book ending for them to take home the Midwest League crown. Despite falling in the first round to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, in controversial fashion, the ‘Caps still had a stellar season filled with more highs than lows.
Game one of the playoffs saw the Whitecaps and TinCaps tied at five all in the bottom of the eighth innings. With the TinCaps having the bases loaded and nobody out, a ground ball was hit to short stop Domingo Leyba, who was interfered with and couldn’t make the play. Despite the rule clearly stating that the base runner must avoid the defensive player fielding the ball, the umpires let the play stand, and Fort Wayne won by the score of 7-5. In game two in Comstock Park, the Whitecaps used their pitching staff to strike out 15 batters in route to a 2-1 victory. Bennett Pickar’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Dominic Ficociello for the go ahead run. Zac Reininger earned the win, working 2.1 shutout innings. In the deciding game three, the Whitecaps fell by the score of 6-2 to be eliminated. After the one hour and 44 minute rain delay, the ‘Caps just couldn’t get anything going.
Despite the early playoff exit, this season has to be regarded as a success. After all, with a 82-58 record this was the Whitecaps first division title in seven years, and it was a positive step just to be back in the playoffs. The ‘Caps also hosted the MWL 50th All-Star Classic that was a huge success, and the early construction to the ballpark didn’t keep fans away, as 391, 653 fans visited Fifth Third Ballpark, good for the largest total since 2002. Wynton Bernard was also the first ‘Cap to be named the MWL Player of the Year since Gorkys Hernandez in 2007. Bernard was also the first batting champion since Robert Fick in 1997, and broke the Whitecaps single-season hit record with 158. He was joined on he post season All-Star team by pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. New manager Andrew Graham did a great job in West Michigan this season, and I’m looking forward to see how he progresses as a manager as well as the progression of this seasons players through the system. I will certainly miss visiting Fifth Third Ballpark, and can’t wait until next April. The winters are so long and brutal up here, the only way to pass the time is dream about sunshine and baseball!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)Cooley Law School Stadium–Lansing, MI: Both the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Lansing Lugnuts missed the playoffs this season, but ended 2013 with their in-state rivalry. Despite the ‘Caps having a better record this season, the Lugnuts have had their number, and that includes taking 2/3 in the final series. In the first game, the Whitecaps made a gallant come-back attempt, only to lose in a walk-off in the ninth. Jake Stewart and Bennett Pickar hit back-to-back singles, when the Lugnuts brought in Arik Sikula to close the game. Sikula threw a wild pitch and had a passed ball, though, that scored Stewart. Then David Gonzalez hit a triple, scoring the pinch-runner Harold Castro to tie the game. The ‘Caps celebration was short-lived, however, as a walk and two singles gave Lansing the win, and Corey Knebel his only loss of the season. Kevin Patterson hit the winning RBI in the 5-4 win for the Lugnuts. The second game of the series was a complete rout for the Whitecaps, winning the game 13-1. The ‘Caps scored five runs in both the third and fourth innings, one in the sixth, and two in the eighth with 19 total hits. Jared Reaves led the way going 4-6 with an RBI and two runs scored. Raph Rhymes went 3-4 with a double and two runs scored. Connor Harrell and Jake Stewart each contributed with three RBI’s each. On the mound, West Michigan was just as dominant. Calvin Drummond earned the win, going five innings, giving up only three hits, and striking out four. Kramer Chaplin took the loss for Lansing. The final game of the series, and of the season, went to the hometown Lugnuts by the score of 9-4. The Whitecaps had a 4-0 lead at one point, but surrendered nine streight to the ‘Nuts. Jeff Holm, Pickar, Castro, and Jason King each had two hits in the loss. Daniel Klein led the way for Lansing, going 3-4 with two doubles, two RBI’s, and a run scored. Relief pitcher Yorfrank Lopez took the loss, giving up six hits and five runs in just over an inning of work, while Ian Kadish earned the win for Lansing.
Lucky for me, I had a buddy from work attend one of the games and get this photo for me. It will be a long nine or so months before seeing baseball again for sure. We’ll try to get to Lansing next season of the weather cooperates, and we’ll hit a few Whitecaps games for sure, including the Midwest League All-Star game hopefully.
Photo courtesy of B. Faulkner