Druley: Playoff preview upcoming for Cougars
Midwest League playoff series often lack attendance befitting their games’ magnitude.
School’s back in session, for one, and some games overlap with prep football Friday nights.
With none of those outliers present this weekend, the Cougars will host West Michigan for three games beginning Saturday. Both teams won their respective divisions in the first half, so consider this an especially inviting potential postseason preview.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Kane County, to going up against them,” Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham said. “You know, their pitching and our pitching is pretty similar, as we’ve been jockeying back for first and second in the last month. So, it’s good we get to play them.”
Entering Monday, the Cougars led the Whitecaps by one game in the second-half standings and five games for the best overall record in the 16-team Midwest League.
The Cougars held a slight team ERA advantage against the Whitecaps – a league-best 3.04 to 3.07 – and also were close in team batting average. Kane County’s mark of .261 ranked fifth, with West Michigan at .260 (sixth).
Even the teams’ ballpark names are similar. The Cougars play at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, while the Whitecaps call Fifth Third Ballpark home.
Adding to the interest, the Whitecaps feature St. Charles North and Michigan State product Jeff Holm in the middle of their order. Back with the club after beginning the season with Advanced-A Lakeland of the Florida State League, Holm helped solidify the Whitecaps’ run to a playoff spot.
He shifts between first base, the corner outfield positions and designated hitter, a busy itinerary that still leaves a small window for scoreboard watching before games.
“Sometimes you look around on our jumbotron and you see Kane County on top of the standings,” Holm said. “It’s going to be fun and interesting to see how they play and what they’ve got going on. But it’s going to be a good series, for sure.”
Regardless of the participants, here’s hoping the same for the Midwest League Championship Series in September.
The series hasn’t stretched the full five games since 2010 and resulted in a three-game sweep in 2011 and 2013.
G’day, again: Graham, 32, will be the second Australian-born opposing manager to visit Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this season.
Fort Wayne’s Michael Collins, who turned 30 Friday, still was in his 20s when the Cougars hosted the Tin Caps in the season’s home-opening series in April.
Both men, like Cougars counterpart Mark Johnson, are former catchers.
“The catcher is groomed to take a lot more information in more aspects of the team, so I guess that rubs off and it’s catchy to become managers,” Graham said.
With Major League Baseball backing the Australian Baseball League for the past several seasons, the sport is taking a stronger foothold Down Under, Graham said.
Collins and Graham represent a time just before the recent era. Both were offered contracts in their teens, but Graham declined and was drafted by Detroit, still West Michigan’s parent club, in 2003.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.