West Michigan vs. South Bend
Whitecaps (85-57) vs. the Silver Hawks (70-71)
Best-of-3 series begins Sunday, Sept. 9
West Michigan swept the Lansing Lugnuts in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs, moving one step closer to repeating as league champions. The Whitecaps face the Silver Hawks in a best-of-3 battle for the Eastern Division after South Bend beat Dayton, 7-5, in Friday night's rubber game.
The Whitecaps won the season series, 6-4, and outscored the Silver Hawks, 33-25. West Michigan compiled a 2.21 ERA and batted .249, while South Bend hit .239 and posted a 3.28 ERA. The winning team scored five runs or fewer in nine of the 10 contests they played.
OF Jeramy Laster hit .375 over nine games, and hit the only two homers the Whitecaps mustered against the Silver Hawks. 2B Scott Sizemore went 15-for-35 and posted a 1.054 OPS. OF Gorkys Hernandez batted .324 over nine games and went 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. 3B Santo De Leon hit .148 over eight games, and SS Audy Ciriaco batted just .156 over 10 contests. Ace left-hander Duane Below went 1-0 over three starts, and struck out 24 over 15 1/3 innings but is not currently scheduled to appear in this series. RHP Jonah Nickerson compiled a 2.63 ERA over two starts despite the fact the South Bend hit .319 against him. RHP Brett Jensen converted all three of his save opportunities and yielded one run over five appearances.
No Silver Hawks player had more than eight hits or four RBIs against the Whitecaps. C Justine Brashear drew seven walks over four games. OF Daniel Perales batted .190 and slugged a measly .238. SS Yunesky Sanchez hit .348 over seven contests. RHP Tony Barnette pitched nine scoreless frames against the Whitecaps. RHP Jorge Perez yielded a hit in four scoreless innings over two appearances. RHP Ramon Sanchez appeared in three ballgames and surrendered six runs over 5 1/3 frames.
Game 1: West Michigan at South Bend
Whitecaps RHP Jeff Gerbe (2-2, 2.34 ERA) vs. TBD
Game 2: South Bend at West Michigan
TBD vs Whitecaps LHP Charlie Furbush (4-1, 2.17 ERA)
Game 3 (if necessary): South Bend at West Michigan
TBD vs Whitecaps RHP Jonah Nickerson (11-7, 4.24)
ON THE MOUND
Game 1 starter Jeffrey Gerbe made nine regular-season starts, going 1-2 with a 3.11 ERA. Game 2 starter Charlie Furbush made eight appearances (seven starts), and went 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 46 strikeouts over 45 2/3 innings. Right-handed relievers Casey Fien, Brett Jensen, and Luis Marte combined to allow one run over 6 1/3 innings in the first round of the postseason.
RHP Cesar Valdez, who should get a start in the series, went 7-10 with a 3.25 ERA over 25 starts. RHP Tony Barnette tied for the team lead with eight wins, and allowed 160 hits over 160 innings. RHP Jason Urquidez yielded just one earned run over 21 frames during the regular season.
AT THE PLATE
2B Scott Sizemore got off to a sizzling postseason start, going 4-for-8 with a homer and three runs scored. OF Jeremy Laster, who tied for the team lead with 16 homers during the regular season, hit a pair of two-run homers in Wednesday's Game 1 win over the Lugnuts. OF Gorkys Hernandez, the team's sparkplug during the regular season, collected only one hit over nine at-bats against Lansing.
1B Brad Miller served as the Silver Hawks' primary power threat, bashing 22 homers with 91 RBIs. OF Daniel Perales stroked a team-leading 32 doubles and scored 80 runs. C Justin Brashear batted .194 and slugged .278, but got on base at a .395 clip thanks to drawing 81 walks over 82 games.
If recent Midwest League history has taught us anything, it's not to bet against West Michigan. The Whitecaps have become pros at navigating the league's convoluted playoff system, winning the championship in four of the past 11 seasons. South Bend has had some recent success too, winning it all in 2005 and snagging a division title in 2001.
SERIES COULD TURN ON
The Whitecaps pitching staff kept Steve Mena, Perales, and Miller -- the Silver Hawks' three most powerful hitters -- in check during the regular season. If this trend continues in the playoffs, then West Michigan will once again roll on to the finals.
Anything can happen in a best-of-3 set. But West Michigan is the defending champions, have home-field advantage, compiled the league's best record in the regular season and won the season series against the Silver Hawks. The Whitecaps are also better rested having swept Lansing in the first round. In short, West Michigan is about as formidable as any team in the league. Whitecaps in two.