09/11/2006 3:55 PM ET
Midwest League Championship Preview
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Kane County Cougars
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Kane County Cougars
The two teams went 4-4 against one another during the regular season, in a series of games characterized by low scoring and dominating pitching performances. The Whitecaps took three of four in April, and the Cougars returned the favor in August. West Michigan outscored Kane County, 31-29, over the eight games.
The Whitecaps hit .218 and slugged .303 against the Cougars. Justin Justice hit .343 (12-for-35), while William Rhymes hit .310 (9-for-29). Michael Hollimon collected just two hits in 25 at-bats (one of which was a home run), but also drew a team-high nine walks. Cameron Maybin hit an even .300 and was one of five players to drive in four runs ... West Michigan posted a 2.88 team ERA against Kane County. Burke Badenhop went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA over two starts. Lucas French went 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA over 12 1/3 innings pitched. Erik Averill went 0-1, but compiled a 1.93 ERA over two starts. Ricky Steik went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, but struck out a team-high eight batters over four relief appearances.
The Cougars hit .227 and slugged .395 against the Whitecaps. Raul Padron's five RBIs led the team. Jeff Baisley hit .269 (7-for-26), with a homer, three RBIs and a team-high eight walks. Jose Pineda collected just four hits over 30 at-bats (.133). Chad Boyd excelled over four games, hitting .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles and two RBIs ... Kane County posted a 3.38 ERA against West Michigan. Trey Shields, who is slated to start Game 4, allowed 10 runs over 8 2/3 innings spanning two starts. Take him out of the equation, and the staff ERA drops to 2.43 over 63 1/3 innings pitched. Ben Jukich, now in the starting rotation, hurled 4 1/3 scoreless innings over two relief appearances. Brad Kilby picked up two saves and struck out six over 5 2/3 shutout frames.
ON THE MOUND
Whitecap starters have gone 4-1 with a 2.10 ERA over the first two rounds of the playoffs. Sendy Vasquez and Erik Averill did not allow an earned run over a combined 11 2/3 innings. Burke Badenhop, who will start the opener, allowed three runs -- two earned -- on five hits over seven innings as West Michigan defeated Fort Wayne, 8-3, on September 6 ... West Michigan's bullpen has allowed just three runs over 14 1/3 innings in the playoffs thus far. Phil Napolitano has surrendered two runs in two innings, while Matt Rusch gave up a run against Fort Wayne on Sept. 7.
Cougar starters have gone 4-1 with a 3.54 ERA over the first two rounds of the playoffs. Ben Jukich hurled 7 2/3 scoreless innings against Quad Cities on Wednesday, while Trey Shields did not yield an earned run over six innings against Beloit on Saturday. The lone losing effort came from Kenneth Durost, who surrendered five runs over 2 1/3 innings against Quad Cities on Thursday ... Kane County's bullpen has posted a 5.29 ERA over five playoff games. These mediocre numbers are largely a result of Thursday's 11-6 loss to the Swing, as Joel Posey, T.J. Franco Jr. and Randy Rapp combined to allow six runs over 5 2/3 innings.
AT THE PLATE
The Whitecaps have hit .295 in the playoffs thus far (.275 in their 2-1 series win over Fort Wayne, .324 in their two-game sweep of Lansing). Michael Hollimon has blasted four of the team's seven postseason dingers, including a two-homer, three-RBI game against Fort Wayne on Wednesday. Cameron Maybin has collected seven hits in 20 at-bats and driven in four runs. Pedro Cotto's four-hit performance against the Lugnuts on Sunday raised his postseason average to a scorching .474 (9-for-19). Dusty Ryan is just 2-for-15 (.133).
The Cougars have hit .292 in the playoffs thus far (.298 in their 2-1 series win over Quad Cities, and .284 in their two-game sweep of Beloit). After going hitless in the first round, Isaac Omura went 5-for-7 in the second. Anthony Recker's six postseason RBIs lead the team. League MVP Jeff Baisley is hitting .333 (7-for-21) with a homer and four RBIs. Raul Padron has collected a team-high 10 hits over 23 at-bats (.435).
The Cougars and Whitecaps have met in the Championship Series once before. In 2004, West Michigan defeated Kane County in a five-game set. The Whitecaps also won it all in 1996 and 1998, while the Cougars took home their first and only MWL crown in 2001.
SERIES COULD TURN ON...
The continuing dominance of West Michigan's starters. Kane County has hit well in the playoffs, but the Whitecap pitching staff has been spectacular. Quality starts from the likes of Badenhop and Vasquez will insure yet another championship win for West Michigan.
The Cougars' lineup includes the league MVP (Baisley), and the team's pitching has held up better than expected in postseason play. The Whitecaps have history on their side, however, and compiled the league's best overall record this season (89-48). West Michigan in four.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.