09/10/2007 2:35 PM ET
Midwest League Finals preview
West Michigan to defend its title against Beloit
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
Beloit vs. West Michigan
Snappers (83-61) vs. Whitecaps (87-57)
(Best-of-five series begins Tuesday, Sept. 11)
The defending-champion Whitecaps compiled the Midwest League's best record in the regular season and then advanced to the Finals by sweeping Lansing and South Bend in best-of-three sets. West Michigan, quite simply, is a force to be reckoned with.
But if there's any team that can stand up to the Whitecaps, it's Beloit. The Snappers are in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and their overall record in 2006 was second only to West Michigan. And, like the Whitecaps, the Snappers are currently undefeated in postseason play. They swept Quad Cities and Clinton right out of the playoffs, and are now looking to do the same thing to the Whitecaps.
Quite fittingly, the two clubs split the eight games they played against one another in the regular season. Beloit hit just .214, but its pitching staff compiled a stellar 2.31 ERA. West Michigan, meanwhile, batted .238 and posted a 3.16 ERA.
Beloit hosted West Michigan for a four-game series in late May and took three of four. The Whitecaps returned the favor in mid-July.
Beloit: Whitecaps' pitchers kept the powerful bat of OF Chris Parmelee in check during the regular season, as the 19-year-old hit just .167 (5-for-30) with a home run and three RBIs...IF Steven Singleton batted .333 (9-for-27) and scored five runs...C Daniel Berg drove in a team-high five runs despite compiling a .542 OPS over seven ballgames...SS Yancarlos Ortiz hit .280 and drove in four runs over seven games...Game 1 starter Alex Burnett went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA over two starts spanning 14 innings...Game 2 starter Tyler Robertson hurled 7 2/3 scoreless frames on July 14, but did not factor into the decision...Game 3 starter Cole Devries went 0-1 over two starts despite allowing just four runs -- three earned -- over 15 innings pitched...RHP Dan Leatherman struck out six over five shutout innings spanning four appearances.
West Michigan: Powerful OF Jeramy Laster collected a team-high 30 at-bats against the Snappers and batted .267 with two home runs and seven RBIs (no other player on the roster knocked in more than three)...2B Scott Sizemore batted a scorching .393 and compiled a 1.004 OPS over seven games...OF Gorkys Hernandez hit .241 over eight games, but was successful in just one of four stolen base attempts...OF Audy Ciriaco and 1B Ryan Strieby both hit just .154 over 26 at-bats...Game 1 starter Jonah Nickerson allowed just one earned run over five innings on July 12, but did factor into the decision...Game 2 starter Duane Below made two starts and went 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA over 12 innings of work...Game 3 starter Matt O'Brien yielded two runs over six innings on July 15, but did not factor into the decision...RHP Casey Fien went 2-0 over three relief appearances and struck out 12 batters over just five innings pitched.
Game 1: Beloit at West Michigan
Snappers RHP Alex Burnett (9-8, 3.02) vs. Whitecaps RHP Jonah Nickerson (11-7, 4.24)
Game 2: Beloit at West Michigan
Snappers LHP Tyler Robertson (9-5, 2.29) vs. Whitecaps LHP Duane Below (13-5, 2.97)
Game 3: West Michigan at Beloit
Whitecaps RHP Matt O'Brien (7-2, 2.19) vs. Snappers RHP Cole Devries (9-5, 3.41)
Game 4: West Michigan at Beloit (if necessary)
Whitecaps RHP Jeffrey Gerbe (2-2, 2.34) vs. Snappers RHP Matthew Fox (7-2, 3.50)
Game 5: West Michigan at Beloit (if necessary)
Whitecaps LHP Charles Furbush (4-1, 2.17) vs. Snappers TBD
ON THE MOUND
The Snappers have compiled a phenomenal 0.95 ERA over four playoff games thus far...RHP Cole Devries pitched a complete-game four-hitter against Clinton on Saturday...RHP Aaron Craig has made two relief appearances in the postseason and picked up a victory in each...LHP Tyler Robertson struck out 11 batters over 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a playoff start against Quad Cities.
Game 2 starter Duane Below is riding a hot streak, as the ace southpaw went 4-0 with an 0.56 ERA in August and picked up a win in his lone playoff start as well...After converting 23 of 27 save opportunities in the regular season, RHP Brett Jensen is 2-for-2 in the postseason...Game 4 starter Jeffrey Gerbe has compiled a 3.11 ERA over nine starts after posting a 1.01 mark over 10 relief appearances.
AT THE PLATE
After hitting just .219 in the regular season, OF Danny Santiesteban has caught fire in the playoffs. The outfielder is hitting .375 and has posted a 1.007 OPS over four games...OF Rene Tosoni spent the majority of the regular season with the Appalachian League-champion Elizabethon Twins but has proven himself capable of hitting Midwest League pitching, as well. The native of Canada is batting .333 and has driven in four runs over four playoff games...SS Chris Cates has struggled in postseason play, collecting just one hit over 11 at-bats.
OF Jeramy Laster and 1B Ryan Strieby both blasted 16 regular-season home runs, and they are now serving as the pillars of the Whitecaps' offense in the playoffs. Laster is hitting .389 with two home runs, seven RBIs and five runs scored, while Strieby is batting .357 with a home run and two RBIs...OF Gorkys Hernandez was named the Midwest League Player of the Year, but he's mustered just three singles over 14 postseason at-bats...C James Skelton has firmly established himself as one of the Midwest League's premier offensive backstops. The 21-year-old hit .309 in the regular season and got on base at a .402 clip. In the playoffs, Skelton is batting .353 with a .421 on-base percentage.
2007 marks the first time that these two clubs have met in the Midwest League Finals. West Michigan has won it all in four of their 14 seasons as a franchise (including, of course, 2006), while the Snappers last won a division title in 2003. Beloit's first and only championship came in 1995.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
While the Whitecaps have pitched well in the playoffs, the Snappers' staff has been truly lights-out. Over four games, nine pitchers have combined to go 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA and an 0.97 WHIP. If the Whitecaps want to win this series, then their offense is going to have to quickly and decisively put an end to the Snappers' mound dominance.
The Midwest League sends more teams to the playoffs -- eight! -- than any other circuit in the Minors, which gives mediocre squads the chance to wreak havoc over the course of an anything-goes, best-of-three series. It's a testament to the overwhelming strength of both West Michigan and Beloit that they emerged from this chaos unscathed.
Both teams are laden with talent and proven winners. Expect a tightly played, well-pitched series that won't be decided until the final game. Since the Whitecaps have the historical edge as well as the better overall record, we'll go with West Michigan in five.
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.