COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The West Michigan Whitecaps kept their playoff hopes alive with a doubleheader sweep on Wednesday night, beating the Fort Wayne TinCaps by scores of 5-2 and 2-0 at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Thanks to a season-high six-game winning streak, West Michigan (34-30, 67-67) improved to four games over .500 in the half for the first time all year and evened their overall record at .500 for the first time since June 5. The hot stretch has allowed the Whitecaps to maintain slim playoff aspirations with an elimination number of one, meaning that West Michigan would have to win their final five games and Great Lakes would have to lose their final five games for the Whitecaps to catch the Loons in the Eastern Division's second-half wild card race.
In the opener of Wednesday's twin bill, Jordan John racked up a career-high 13 strikeouts and Lance Durham mashed his team-leading 17th home run to lead the Whitecaps to a 5-2 victory.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the third, West Michigan caught a break when second baseman Raynaldo Bruguera dropped a flip to second base on a would-be double play ball. Two batters later, the bases were loaded with nobody out when Jeff Holm drove a two-run single to right-center that tied the score at 2-2.
Durham broke the tie moments later, slugging a three-run homer to right-center that put the 'Caps ahead, 5-2. Durham's 17th home run of the year put him in sole possession of third place on the Whitecaps' single-season home run list behind just Kelly Hunt (21) and Garth McKinney (19) from the 2004 club.
That was plenty of offense for John (9-4), who used the career-high strikeout total earn his team-leading ninth win and eighth quality start. The 23-year-old left-hander allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings and did not issue a walk. His 13 strikeouts were the most by a West Michigan pitcher since Marcelo Carreno fanned 13 on September 1 of last season, and were just two punch-outs behind Alan Webb's franchise-record of 15 set in 1998.
Corey Knebel (14) finished the effort with a scoreless seventh inning, bouncing back from his first blown save as a professional on Monday night to convert his 14th save in 15 opportunities. The hard-throwing closer added one strikeout to combine with John for 14 punch-outs in the game, establishing a new season-high for the Whitecaps' pitching staff in games that did not go into extra innings.
The second game featured another strong pitching performance as West Michigan's Jeff Thompson out-dueled Fort Wayne's Walker Weickel. Thompson (2-2) worked a career-high six innings without allowing a run, equaling a career-best with six strikeouts to go along with four hits and no walks in the victory.
Weickel matched him zero-for-zero before the Whitecaps finally broke through against the Fort Wayne bullpen in the bottom of the sixth.
Durham led off the game-winning rally with a four-pitch walk and was removed in favor of pinch-runner Connor Harrell. After a bunt and a groundout, Jake Stewart came to the plate with Harrell at second and two outs.
After taking a strike, Stewart lined the second pitch he saw into center field to score Harrell for the go-ahead run. Austin Green followed with a long ground-rule double that one-hopped over the wall in left-center to make it 2-0.
Angel Nesbitt (3) worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning to complete the doubleheader sweep.
The Whitecaps continue their final home series of the regular season on Thursday night with a 7:00 p.m. first pitch against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. RHP Montreal Robertson (2-7, 6.39) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Bryan Rodriguez (2-7, 3.36) of Fort Wayne on an evening featuring 90's Night and an Altogas Thrifty Thursday. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.
Click here to view the box score from Game 1.
Click here to view the box score from Game 2.