MIDLAND, Mich. - The Great Lakes Loons saw a chance to gain ground in the wildcard playoff race slip away Monday.
The Loons fell to the Lake County Captains, who avoided a sweep at Dow Diamond with a 6-3 win. With the loss, the Loons remain four games behind West Michigan in the chase for the Midwest League Eastern Division's final playoff spot. West Michigan also lost Monday, to Fort Wayne, and welcome the Loons to Fifth Third Ballpark for a three-game series beginning Wednesday.
"We play West Michigan six times (before the first half ends)," said Loons manager Bill Haselman. "We really have to beat them, like five out of six, to have a chance. There's not much time left."
Both the Loons and West Michigan have 12 games left in the first half. The Whitecaps visit Dow Diamond for a series beginning next Tuesday. South Bend leads the Eastern Division by 3 ½ games over West Michigan.
Monday's loss to Lake County featured a rare stumble by the Loons normally-airtight bullpen. Starter Zachary Bird battled through five tough innings, allowing three earned runs, but Loons relievers gave up three more runs. Bird took the loss and is now 3-8 on the year.
"Bird pitched well enough, really," said Haselman. "But I think he's in one of those stretches where things just aren't going his way. He gave up three runs tonight, but our bullpen gave up three and that never happens."
Lake County second baseman Claudio Bautista did damage against both Bird and the bullpen, however. He homered in the first inning off of Bird, then belted a two-run shot off of Kyle Hooper in the seventh. Bautista also homered in the opening game of the series on Friday.
The Loons tied the game in the second on a double by Brandon Trinkwon, but Paul Hendrix tripled home Clint Frazier to put the Captains ahead for good in the fifth. Eric Haase followed with a single and Lake County led 3-1.
Great Lakes pulled to within in run on a wild pitch in the sixth which scored Malcolm Holland, but Bautista's two-run shot in the seventh was the game-breaker.
Alex Santana doubled in a run in the seventh for the Loons, before Lake County's Dorssys Paulino tripled and later scored on Shane Rowland's single in the eighth.
Lake County starter Luis Lugo (3-4) got the win after pitching 5.2 innings and allowing two earned runs while striking out five.
The Loons are off tomorrow before beginning their series Wednesday in West Michigan. They'll then play a three-game in Lansing before returning home June 10.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and information about the team, call 989-837-BALL, or visit loons.com.