All eyes – well, a lot of them — are on the National League Central and the two intra-divisional series that start today in Chicago and St. Louis. And, yes, Mississippi ties are all around. The first-place Cubs host fourth-place Pittsburgh – officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday – in a four-game series at Wrigley Field, while second-place Milwaukee – 2.5 games behind the Cubs – and the third-place Cardinals – 4.5 games behind the Cubs – tangle in a three-game set at Busch Stadium. The Brewers and Cardinals top the wild card standings, with Colorado lurking 1.5 games back. The Brewers’ roster includes former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several other former Biloxi Shuckers, notably pitchers Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams and shortstop Orlando Arcia. Brewers coach Carlos Subero is a former Shuckers manager. Ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers and State alum Dakota Hudson have been key contributors in St. Louis’ bullpen, and ex-Mississippi Braves John Gant and Chasen Shreve are also on the pitching staff. The Milwaukee-St. Louis season series is tied 8-8. The Cubs suit up a pair of M-Braves alums – Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella – and their pitching coach is former Jackson Generals coach Jim Hickey. The Cubs have the best record in the NL but they’re in no position to breathe easy against a Pirates lineup that usually features Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, one of the league’s leading hitters, and ex-State standout Adam Frazier. Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native Jeff Branson. P.S. Frazier hit his 10th home run on Sunday and joins Hunter Renfroe, Brian Dozier, Tim Anderson, Mitch Moreland, Dickerson and JaCoby Jones as Mississippians with double-digit bombs in the majors this season.
There is a large gaggle of former Mississippi Braves currently with Atlanta, but eight was enough on Saturday to help the upstart Braves claim their first National League East title since 2013. Eight M-Braves alums got in the box score in the 5-3 win against Philadelphia at SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman and Johan Camargo drove in two runs each, Ronald Acuna scored twice and Arodys Vizcaino notched his 16th save. What a bonus it’ll be for the Braves if Vizcaino can deliver consistently as a closer in the postseason. Freeman ought to get some MVP consideration, and Acuna is certainly a top rookie of the year candidate. And then there’s Brian Snitker, the 2005 M-Braves manager who has been in the Braves’ organization for 40 years. By all that is right, he should be named NL manager of the year. … Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, hit his 20th home run on Saturday, becoming the first Chicago White Sox shortstop to post a 20 homer-20 steal season. Anderson has 26 stolen bases and is batting .242 with 63 RBIs. ChiSox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson said watching Anderson’s development this season has been one of his “greatest joys in baseball,” which covers a lot of ground. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer for San Diego on Saturday and leads all Mississippians in the majors in that category. Of Renfroe’s last 13 hits, six have left the park. He is hitting just .215 over his last 15 games. … Former Bulldogs star Jonathan Holder worked a scoreless inning for the New York Yankees, who beat Baltimore 3-2 in 11 innings and then celebrated clinching a postseason berth. Holder has a 2.97 ERA, a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. … Going the other way is Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who failed to retire a batter in the 11th inning for Boston and took the loss in Cleveland’s walk-off win. Pomeranz has an ERA of 9.00 in his last seven appearances and a 6.37 for the year. He is a pending free agent. … Kudos to Jesus Sucre, one of the five ex-M-Braves catchers currently in the big leagues. A part-timer for Tampa Bay, he hit his first homer of the season for the Rays, whose surprising late playoff push is going to come up short.
Tyler James, whose speed helped William Carey University reach the NAIA World Series in 2017 and helped him get drafted into pro ball, has not slowed down. James led the rookie Pioneer League in stolen bases this season with 38 and now has 69 bags in two years in the Kansas City Royals’ system. The 5-foot-10 outfielder/second baseman also batted .312 with 55 runs in 47 games for Idaho Falls. One of his two homers came against former Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington, leading off a game on Aug. 11. James, a Louisiana native, batted .282 with 111 stolen bases in three years at Carey. The Royals drafted him in the 25th round in 2017. James is now in Instructional League in Surprise, Ariz., with a bevy of other Royals minor leaguers who are getting some extra work before calling it a season. … Other Mississippi-connected players on IL rosters in either Arizona or Florida include: Austin Riley with Atlanta; Taylor Braley, Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith, Jr., with Miami; Joe Gray with Milwaukee; Zack Shannon with Arizona; Ryan Rolison, Will Golsan and Hunter Stovall with Colorado; Simon Landry with the Los Angeles Dodgers; Steffon Moore with Tampa Bay; Brent Rooker and Willie Joe Garry are with Minnesota; Jacob Billingsley with Houston; Jack Kruger with the LA Angels; Dallas Woolfolk with Oakland; and Demarcus Evans with Texas.
Mitch Moreland has done quite a bit of celebrating in his big league career. The Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star was on the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when Boston clinched the American League East with a rollicking 11-6 victory over New York. In his nine MLB seasons, Moreland has had a hand in six division championships, four with Texas and the last two with the Red Sox. He was also on the Rangers’ wild card team in 2012. Moreland is batting .243 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs this season. After making his first All-Star Game in July, he has struggled much of the second half and lost playing time at first base to Steve Pearce. But Moreland’s superior defense will get him into games, and his postseason experience (37 games) is also valuable. He hit .385 in Boston’s division series loss to Houston in 2017. Moreland has played in two World Series – with Texas in 2010 and ’11 – but is yet to win a ring. That could change this fall. P.S. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed threw six shutout innings for Cincinnati to get his first win as a big league starter (see previous post). He allowed five hits, no walks and punched out six Miami batters. Lefty Reed, who threw five scoreless innings in his previous start, is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 games (six starts) this season.
The high of his first career double, which drove home three runs, did not last for Chris Stratton. The Mississippi State alum, whose primary job is pitcher, gave all the runs back and more in the bottom of the same inning and took a loss as San Francisco fell to San Diego 8-4 on Wednesday night. It’s been a season of highs and lows – including two trips to the minors — for Stratton, now 10-10 with a 4.88 ERA. In his previous start, he threw a two-hit shutout against Colorado. The start before that he yielded four runs in five innings vs. Milwaukee. “That’s baseball. You have to battle with what you have that day,” the Tupelo native told mlb.com. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier got a lift from his first RBI since Sept. 4, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Colorado and tighten their grip on first place in the National League West. The scuffling Dozier is batting .218, .189 for the Dodgers. … Former State standout Adam Frazier hit his ninth homer and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 2-for-3 with a run as Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 2-1. Dickerson is on an 8-for-20 roll, lifting his average to .294, 12th in the NL. … Wednesday was a blend of high and low for Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star who made his first big league start for Detroit. After a clean first inning, he gave up four runs in the second inning and six all told in four innings of work against Minnesota, which won 8-2. “I’m sure I’ll get better from it,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com story. He was 24-21, 3.59 ERA in 90 starts in the minors. P.S. The 2016 Mississippi Braves’ roster included the likes of Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Mallex Smith. It’s easy to forget that Willians Astudillo was also on that club – and batted .267 with four homers and 30 RBIs as one of the primary catchers. Astudillo is now getting a lot of attention in the big leagues with Minnesota. Nicknamed “El Tortuga” (The Turtle), the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Astudillo is hitting .317 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Twins. He has hustled his way into several popular highlights.
The familiar “plink” of ball meeting bat is back on college campuses around the state. Fall ball begins Friday at Southern Miss, which returns 19 lettermen from a C-USA championship squad. In addition to intrasquad games, the Golden Eagles will play two scrimmages against outside competition, which is now permitted by the NCAA. USM hosts Nicholls State in Hattiesburg on Oct. 28 and visits Tulane on Nov. 4 to wind up the fall schedule. … Ole Miss also has announced its slate of scrimmages, the first of which is an intrasquad on Friday. The Rebels also will play two other teams this fall, Delta State on Oct. 13 and Arkansas-Little Rock on Oct. 27, both in Oxford. The Pizza Bowl, the intrasquad finale, is set for Nov. 2. The Rebels are coming off an SEC championship season and return All-America closer Parker Caracci. … Mississippi State, under new coach Chris Lemonis, started fall scrimmages last week. The Bulldogs are coming off a College World Series appearance – the 10th in program history – and welcomed the nation’s No. 12 recruiting class (by Baseball America) to Starkville. The freshman crop includes J.T. Ginn, the Brandon High product who was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. … Fall ball is also under way at Delta State, where much is new. Only one regular position player – catcher Josh Russell – returns from last year’s NCAA Division II regional participant. Two new full-time assistants are now on Mike Kinnison’s staff: Blake Mathews and Slater Lott, a former Meridian Community College assistant. The Green-White Fall Series, which concludes the season, is set for Oct. 18-21. … Itawamba, Mississippi Delta and Pearl River Community Colleges will play a tripleheader of scrimmages on Oct. 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.
Anthony Alford is back in the big leagues, looking for his first at-bat since May 13. The former Petal High star was recalled from the minors by Toronto on Monday; he is not in tonight’s lineup against Baltimore. Alford, 24, had a tough year at Triple-A Buffalo, batting .240 with five homers and 17 steals. He was injured in big league camp in the spring and got into just seven games with Blue Jays in May before heading to the minors. In 22 MLB at-bats over the last two years, the erstwhile college quarterback has three hits. Alford’s prospect star has dimmed a bit from what it once was, though he is still rated No. 5 in the Toronto system by MLB Pipeline. The remains of this season could be important to his future. Alford said he is particularly pumped about playing in the big leagues with his brother-in-law, Jonathan Davis, who came up through the minors with him. “We’re both here and now it’s just a matter of going out there and playing and having fun,” Alford told the Toronto Sun. P.S. Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe, a rising prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, will lead Durham against Memphis in tonight’s Triple-A championship game in Columbus, Ohio. Lowe, named to Baseball America’s Minor League All-Stars second team, batted .260 with four homers for Durham and .330 with 27 bombs over three levels on the year. Suiting up for Memphis, St. Louis’ top affiliate, is ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 16 games for the Redbirds. The 6 p.m. game will be broadcast by the NBC Sports Network.