Whitecaps record 6-game sweep; bats lead team to first place

West Michigan Whitecaps

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — While the Detroit Tigers were sweeping the New York Yankees this weekend, their High-A affiliate the West Michigan Whitecaps were making plenty of noise themselves.

The Whitecaps (14-9), leaders of the Central division, swept Lake County (11-13) in a six-game series at LMCU Ballpark, finishing it up with a 7-1 victory Sunday.

The Captains came into the series leading the division with 3.5 games over the Whitecaps.

West Michigan is now on a seven-game winning streak during which the offense has woken up and the already strong pitching is only looking better. Over the stretch, the Whitecaps have outscored their opponents 41-12. The team has raised its overall batting average to .233 with 22 home runs, racked up 107 RBIs and is now No. 5 overall in High-A ball on offense.

Spencer Torkelson, whose highlight game was Saturday night when he went 3-for-6 with two home runs and six RBIs, said he and his team feel settled in.

“It starts with our pitchers: They are keeping us in every game like they have most of the season,” Torkelson said. “This entire team is firing on all cylinders and following the four days I rested my hamstring, it felt good to see the ball go over the fence.

“It’s been a while (since I’ve won a game by double digits),” he continued. “I don’t know the last time I was on the winning side of that.”

The Tigers’ 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick has seen his average spike to .235 with 17 RBIs, which is second on the team. He spent the first three weeks of his rookie season trying to find the .200 average spot.

Torkelson isn’t the only prospect that has started to turn it up on the offensive end. Daniel Cabrera is at the top of that list. The outfielder sent a three-run blast out to right field to blow Sunday’s game wide open at 5-0 in the second inning. He now leads the team in RBIs with 19 and has lifted his batting average to .276 after starting slow as well.

Third baseman Andre Lipcius and catcher Dillon Dingler have also been a huge part in the team’s offensive shift. Lipcius leads the team in batting with a .277 average while adding 13 RBIs. Meanwhile, Dingler sent out his fifth home run of the campaign on Sunday to lead the team while boosting his average to .240 and his runs plated total to 13.

For manager Brayan Pena, this has been a good response to the message the team has been getting from the Tigers and manager A.J. Hinch.

“A.J. and the guys from the higher parts of our organization tell us to put these guys in pressure situations at the plate and keep that mindset regardless of the opponent,” Pena said. “Everyone understands their role and we are starting to build a good chemistry here. It’s our job to keep that up.”

On the other side of the field, the pitching has been nothing short of great for the Whitecaps. After allowing just those 12 runs over the last seven games, West Michigan has dropped its team ERA to 3.89. That mark is good enough for third in all of High-A baseball.

The person conducting the most production out of that group is Chance Kirby. Following his one-hit, six-inning shutout performance Sunday, the right-handed pitcher has a 2.05 ERA which is first on the Whitecaps and fourth in the league. He only has 15 strikeouts to nine walks and his WHIP — walks plus hits per inning pitched — is just 1.00.

“Kirby is one of those guys who just wants to continue to do better and we see the progress he is making with every start right now,” Pena said. “Give credit to (catcher Eliezer) Alfonzo behind the plate for calling a great game, but what Kirby did today was special.”

Chance Kirby pitches for the West Michigan Whitecaps at LMCU Ballpark on May 30, 2021. (Andrew McDonald/WOOD TV8)

While it is still early in the season, that the Whitecaps entered this six-game home series with first-place Lake County on a roll and were able to halt them speaks to what the team with a young nucleus is capable of. With the offense rising and excellent pitching, the Whitecaps now find themselves alone atop the High-A Central standings, right where they want to be.

“We are playing a winning brand of baseball and that is important at all levels because it can translate in our guys’ game as it develops,” Pena said. “These guys are out there just having fun and that’s what happens when you get to this point. Now, we need to maintain it.”

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