The lower levels of the minor leagues utilize a unique playoff structure. In the Single-A Midwest League, the season is split into two "halves," and the top two teams in each division in each half advance to the playoffs at the end of the regular season. This allows for a number of different playoff scenarios, and keeps team in the thick of the playoff race for most of the season.
After finishing the first half with a 33-36 record, the West Michigan Whitecaps took a commanding advantage in the second half playoff race with a doubleheader sweep over the Lake County Captains on Saturday. The 'Caps are currently in second place in the Eastern Division -- first place Fort Wayne is 16-3 in August -- and have extended their lead over Lake County to six games.
West Michigan has just one more game remaining against Lake County this season, and nine of their 16 remaining games are at home. With their "magic number" reduced to 11, it looks all the more likely that there will be playoff baseball at least somewhere in the state of Michigan this season.
Toledo Mud Hens 6, Norfolk Tides 4 (box)
Tim Melville gave up four runs in six innings and was looking at his 10th loss of the season, but the Mud Hens offense scored four runs in the final two innings for a comeback win. Steven Moya homered off former teammate Mike Belfiore in the third, and Daniel Fields drove in the winning run with a double in the seventh.
Norfolk Tides 2, Toledo Mud Hens 1 (box)
In a rare spot start, Josh Zeid allowed two runs on five hits in four inning, striking out four. Norfolk's Julio Borbon provided the winning blow, a two-run homer in the third. Ian Krol threw a pair of scoreless innings in relief, but a punchless Mud Hens offense only scored one run on five hits.
Erie SeaWolves 7, Akron Rubber Ducks 1 (box)
Erie jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first two innings, and added to the margin with a two-run fourth. Michael Fulmer was efficient, working six strong innings in just 75 pitches. He struck out six and only allowed two hits. JaCoby Jones homered, and designated hitter Dominic Ficociello drove in three runs.
Dunedin roughed up Jairo Labourt, scoring six runs off the young lefthander in 4 1/3 innings. The Lakeland offense was able to keep pace with four runs of their own in the first few innings, but went quiet afterward. They finished the evening with seven hits, including a double and triple from Javier Betancourt.
West Michigan Whitecaps 1, Lake County Captains 0 (box)
The Whitecaps only scored one run on four hits in a seven-inning matchup against the Captains, but a stellar outing from starter Jeff Thompson made that run stand up. Thompson was spectacular, striking out 10 while allowing just three baserunners in seven shutout innings. Joey Pankake drove in the lone run of the game with an RBI double in the second.
West Michigan Whitecaps 11, Lake County Captains 1 (box)
The Whitecaps offense made up for lost time in the nightcap, scoring eight runs off Captains starter Thomas Pannone in the first inning. They added two more runs in the third, and starter Trey Teakell was able to cruise into the fifth. Reliever Drew Smith picked up the win despite allowing the only Lake County run of the night.
Mud Hens: Norfolk and Toledo will close out a condensed three-game series with a 6:05 p.m. ET start tonight.
SeaWolves: Erie goes for the sweep at Akron this afternoon. Austin Kubitza (7-11, 5.79 ERA) will go for his eighth win of the season.
Flying Tigers: After taking two of three from the Blue Jays, Lakeland kicks off a three-game series with Brevard County.
Whitecaps: The Whitecaps and Captains will finish up their weekend series before West Michigan returns home for a six-game homestand.
Tigers: Connecticut and Vermont were postponed on Saturday, and will play a doubleheader on Sunday.