The Philadelphia Phillies seem to be the consensus pick to win the World Series, which may be an unwanted burden. And when it comes to Mississippi connections in the MLB postseason, the Phillies are certainly the team in the center ring. Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA) is Philly’s No. 2 starter, and Holmes CC alumnus Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69) factors in as the fourth starter. He might not work in the National League Division Series against St. Louis, but you never know. Former Jackson Mets manager Sam Perlozzo is the Phillies’ first-base coach, so we’ll see plenty of him. The wild card Cardinals have ex-General Lance Berkman, who had a monster season (.301, 31 homers, 94 RBIs). He’s a money player, so don’t surprised if he comes up big against the Phillies. Milwaukee had former Itawamba CC standout Tim Dillard (4.08 ERA in 24 games) on its roster at season’s end, but it’s unlikely he’ll be on the postseason roster unless there’s an injury. In the American League, former Generals ace Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62) is penciled in as the New York Yankees’ No. 3 starter and will go against Detroit on Monday. Garcia, an under-the-radar talent, is 145-95 in a big league career that goes back to 1999. Former Generals infielder Carlos Guillen, who was traded with Garcia from Houston to Seattle in the Randy Johnson deal in 1998, has a calf injury and won’t be active for the Tigers until the ALCS, if then. Guillen’s season (.232 in 28 games) was wrecked by injuries. Texas features a pair of Magnolia State connections: former Mississippi Braves lefty Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39) and Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland (.259, 16, 51). Harrison lines up as the No. 4 starter. The Rangers’ lineup is so stacked that Moreland had trouble getting at-bats down the stretch. But the lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder had an excellent postseason as a rookie in 2010, and Rangers manager Ron Washington surely won’t hesitate to run him out there. Texas’ foe in the ALDS is Tampa Bay, which features rookie left fielder Desmond Jennings from Itawamba CC. Jennings (..259, 10, 25) cooled near the end of the year, but he has game-changing speed and power to boot. He’s one to watch. Former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey is the Rays’ pitching coach and has helped the staff set nearly every club record during his five years.
It was an unforgettable Wednesday night for the Atlanta Braves and all their fans. For all the wrong reasons. A fifth straight loss, in extra innings, after blowing a late lead, left the Braves out of the postseason. St. Louis, with ex-Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman driving in a run and scoring one, did its part to get in, blasting Houston 8-0. Braves fans will have hard time forgetting Wednesday. Former Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel blew a save, for just the third time all year. The Braves had two runners cut down on the bases, hit into three double plays and left eight runners on base in the 4-3 loss to Philadelphia. They struck out 15 times in 13 innings. Former M-Braves Martin Prado, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward were a combined 4-for-18 with one run and no RBIs. Still, the game that lingers as the harbinger of Atlanta’s doom may have been played on Sept. 19, Black Monday. That was the night when, with two outs, Chipper Jones lost a high hopper in the lights at that football field Florida played on. Then Omar Infante hit a game-winning, two-run homer off Kimbrel. That same day, the Cardinals, getting a big homer from Berkman, beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies. The Braves’ wild card lead was still 2 1/2 games then, but it felt smaller. The noose had begun to tighten.
P.S. Wondering if Mississippi State product Jonathan Papelbon’s last pitch for Boston will be the one that Baltimore’s Robert Andino smacked into left field to beat the Red Sox on Wednesday night and, ultimately, knock them out of the playoffs. Papelbon, 31-of-34 in saves this season, is a pending free agent. … Wondering also why Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon felt compelled to thank Orioles manager Buck Showalter (the former MSU player) and his team for playing hard against the Red Sox. Aren’t they supposed to play hard, just as a matter of course? … Tyler Pastornicky didn’t play Wednesday, but he was on the bench for Atlanta, becoming the 59th M-Braves alumnus to advance to The Show. Pastornicky hit .314 for the M-Braves and .365 in 27 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves looked past Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks to bring up Pastornicky as an emergency shortstop. He might be the shortstop in Atlanta next season.
You have to love Jonathan Papelbon’s intensity. The ex-Mississippi State star holds nothing back. From his pre-pitch scowl to his postgame commentary, he is all in all the time. After working 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Boston’s gut-grinding, 14-inning win at New York late Sunday night, Papelbon, defying the baseball gods, declared the Red Sox’s epic September swoon over. “Now we roll,” he said. Well … the BoSox lost the next night and fell into a tie for the American League wild card lead with Tampa Bay. On Tuesday night, Papelbon nailed down his 31st save (in 33 opportunities) in an 8-7 win over Baltimore; he gave up a couple of hits and a run but got the job done. “Only the strong will survive,” Papelbon told reporters after the game. “The weak will fall by the wayside.” Boston faces another pressure-packed game at Baltimore tonight, still tied with the Rays on the last day of the regular season. If he’s needed — and fate says he will be — Papelbon will tromp out there, breathing fire.
Two questions arise about Mississippian Chad Bradford after seeing the movie “Moneyball.” First, who is that playing the part of Bradford and mimicking his submarine-style delivery? Well, the actor’s name is Casey Bond, and, yes, he was a minor league pitcher, reaching the Triple-A level with San Francisco before being released and moving on, eventually, to acting. Second, what kind of money did Bradford make during his big league career? Bradford, from Byram by way of Hinds Community College and Southern Miss, had a very good career. He was 36-28 with a 3.26 ERA and 11 saves. More impressive than that, he played in seven different postseasons with five different teams over 12 years. He pitched in the 2008 World Series for Tampa Bay. His career postseason ERA in 24 games was 0.39. With numbers like those, it’s no surprise that his value — and his salary — grew rapidly as his career progressed. In 2002, the “Moneyball” season on which the movie is based, Bradford, one of the so-called undervalued misfits the low-budget Oakland A’s coveted, made $235,000, according to baseball-reference.com. That was his second year with the A’s; they had gotten him in a trade with the Chicago White Sox in December 2000. Bradford got a raise to $331,000 in 2003, to $965,000 in 2004 and to $1.4 million in 2005. He was traded at midseason that year to Boston. In his final year, 2009 with Tampa Bay, Bradford made a reported $3.67 million. As a relief specialist used primarily in late innings to get ground balls, Bradford certainly wasn’t undervalued anymore.
Tonight, it’s Cliff Lee. On Tuesday, Roy Oswalt. The run-starved Atlanta Braves, trying to nail down the National League wild card, face those two former Mississippi junior college stars, plus the Philadelphia Phillies’ vaunted lineup, in their next two games. Then they get hot rookie Vance Worley on Wednesday. Atlanta has a 1-game lead on St. Louis, which finishes with three games against the worst team in baseball, Houston. This is a tough row to hoe for the Braves. Lee, a Meridian Community College alumnus, is 16-8 with a 2.38 ERA and is still in the NL Cy Young conversation. Oswalt, out of Holmes CC, hasn’t had a great year (8-10, 3.86) but is capable of a great outing at any time. Stay tuned.
P.S. Jackson’s Seth Smith contributed three hits to Colorado’s franchise record 25 on Sunday. The Rockies, winding up a disappointing year, beat Houston 19-3. Smith, finishing off a good year, raised his average to .283.
Craig Westcott, the former Belhaven star and Ferriss Trophy winner, went 13-4 with a 3.42 ERA this season for San Jose, San Francisco’s high Class A club. Westcott, a big right-hander, finished fourth in the California League in ERA and made the postseason All-Star team. … This past season’s Ferriss Trophy winner, Southern Miss outfielder Tyler Koelling, hit just .228 with five homers for Minnesota’s short-season A club Elizabethton. … Koelling’s 2011 USM teammate Todd McInnis ranked second in ERA with a 1.90 in the short-season New York-Penn League. Pitching for St. Louis’ Batavia club, McInnis went 3-2 in 13 games (11 starts). … Petal’s Anthony Alford, an outfielder who also stars in football, was the only Mississippian in the Top 50 of Baseball America’s early 2012 MLB draft projection. Alford ranked 49th. … The New York Yankees held a tribute on Saturday honoring the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’ 61-home run season. Yes, there was a Mississippian on that 1961 Yankees team: Silver City native and Ole Miss alumnus Jack Reed, who played in 28 games as an outfielder, often being used as Mickey Mantle’s defensive replacement.
Andrelton Simmons was anointed the “best player” in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system in 2011 by Baseball America. The 22-year-old shortstop from Curacao led the Class A Carolina League in hitting with a .311 average and added 35 doubles, 52 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. And defense is reputedly his best skill. More to the point here, Simmons likely will be the Mississippi Braves’ shortstop in 2012, which is something to look forward to over the long off-season. It figures that most of the M-Braves’ frontline players from 2011 won’t be back. The top pitchers were gone before the season ended, which means we’ll probably see the likes of Zeke Spruill, Aaron Shafer, Matt Crim and Chris Masters — all of whom finished in Pearl — heading up the rotation. Some familiar names could be back in the bullpen: Billy Bullock, Brett Butts, Yeliar Castro and Luis Avilan. Ryan Buchter, who had 15 saves at Class A Lynchburg, is a good candidate to move up. Among starting position players, right fielder Cory Harrilchak (.266, seven homers) and center fielder Mycal Jones (.252, seven homers) probably need another Double-A season. Four outfielders posted nice numbers at Lynchburg and could make the jump next spring: Adam Milligan (.291, 12 homers), Keenan Wiley (.285, 19 stolen bases), L.V. Ware (.251, seven homers, 14 steals) and Todd Cunningham (.257). At catcher, highly rated prospect Christian Bethancourt (.271 at Lynchburg) may also be ready for Double-A. But if not, Matthew Kennelly (.262 for the M-Braves) and Braeden Schlehuber (.233) could again man that spot. At first base, look for converted third baseman Joey Terdoslavich, who hit .286 with 20 homers and a Carolina League-record 52 doubles at Lynchburg. Phil Gosselin (.264, six homers, 63 RBIs at Lynchburg) figures to play second base, with Joe Leonard (.247, eight, 63) taking over at third. Off-season moves by Atlanta could impact the M-Braves’ 2012 roster, of course, but the core of the club likely will be made up by the players named above. Maybe they’ll have the right stuff for a championship for a change. In seven years, the M-Braves have produced bushels of talent but just two playoff teams and one Southern League pennant.
P.S. Bullock, Bethancourt, Gosselin and Cunningham are among the players the Braves are sending to the Arizona Fall League. … Former M-Braves starter and 2008 Southern League pitcher of the year Todd Redmond is on the Team USA roster for the World Cup that starts Oct. 1 in Panama. Redmond had a good year (10-8, 2.92 ERA) at Triple-A Gwinnett but still hasn’t gotten the big league call. The M-Braves’ Kennelly is on Australia’s roster.
Desmond Jennings, the Tampa Bay flash from Itawamba Community College, scored three runs in the Rays’ 15-8 rout of the New York Yankees on Thursday night. In 57 games, primarily as the leadoff batter, Jennings has scored 43 runs and driven in 25. There is no overstating the influence he has had on Tampa Bay’s resurgence into the American League postseason chase. … Roy Oswalt took another loss Thursday in what was essentially a meaningless game for Philadelphia. The former Holmes CC star from Weir is 8-10 with a 3.86 ERA but apparently will be the Phillies’ No. 4 starter in the postseason over rookie Vance Worley, whose numbers (11-3, 3.00) are significantly better. That’s something to keep an eye on. Oswalt reportedly has decided he’ll pitch again in 2012, his back troubles notwithstanding; the Phillies can pick up his option for $12 million. That’s also something to keep an eye on. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, whose average has slipped to .262, hasn’t been playing much for Texas of late. Nelson Cruz, back from injury, has been DH’ing instead of playing the outfield, which has shifted Michael Young from DH to first base in Moreland’s place. Moreland will get his hacks again soon enough for the playoff-bound Rangers. … Paul Maholm, who is done for the season with a shoulder injury, went 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA for Pittsburgh. The Pirates can bring the former MSU ace back for $9.75 million in 2012. But will they? … And props to Lance Berkman, who got a new $12 million deal for 2012 with St. Louis. The former Jackson Generals star is batting .300 with 31 home runs and 91 RBIs. And to think, many called the Cardinals crazy when they signed him last off-season.
Well, the Atlanta Braves may not be desperate just yet, but they did need a pick-me-up after Black Monday. And they got it, bouncing Florida 4-0 on Tuesday night. Randall Delgado, a 2011 Mississippi Braves starter, threw five shutout innings to earn his first major league win. Two other former M-Braves stars chipped in: Freddie Freeman hit his 20th home run, and Jason Heyward was on base twice, scored a run and made eight catches in right field, several of the highlight variety. St. Louis kept pace with the Braves in the National League wild card race, whipping the New York Mets 11-6 as former Jackson Generals standout Lance Berkman went 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Meanwhile, in Boston, where they may actually be feeling desperate, the Red Sox called on closer Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth inning Tuesday against Baltimore. The former Mississippi State star, who had not given up a run since July 16, gave up a three-run double to Robert Andino that put the O’s ahead to stay 7-5. It was just the second blown save of the year for Papelbon. The Red Sox didn’t lose any ground to Tampa Bay in American League wild card race. The Rays, 2 games back, fell to New York 5-0. However, the Los Angeles Angels — keep an eye on them — beat Toronto 10-6 and crept within 3 1/2 games of the BoSox.
P.S. McComb native and former 50th-round draft pick Jarrod Dyson was recalled to the big leagues by Kansas City late Tuesday night after participating in the Triple-A Championship Game. (Dyson’s Omaha club lost to Columbus.) Dyson, a speedy outfielder from Southwest Mississippi Community College, made his major league debut last summer and began this season on the Royals’ 25-man roster.
Matt Maloney, the former Ole Miss star, made an emergency start for Cincinnati on Sunday — and wound up needing to call for aid himself. Maloney lasted just 1 2/3 innings against Milwaukee, which rolled to an 8-1 win and inched closer to clinching the National League Central title. That game was one of four involving division leaders and chasers on Sunday in which Mississippi-connected hurlers had a profound impact. Former Jackson Generals ace Freddy Garcia took a loss for the New York Yankees, dropping to 11-8 for the year. The Yanks’ lead over Boston in the AL East is a precarious 4 1/2 games. (And the Red Sox’s lead over Tampa Bay in the wild card is an even more precarious 2.) Ex-Mississippi Braves lefty Matt Harrison won his 13th for Texas, which remained 4 1/2 games up on the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. The Atlanta Braves got a wobbly start from Brandon Beachy and a weak relief effort from Jonny Venters — both M-Braves alums — in a 7-5 loss to the New York Mets. Ex-M-Braves closer Manny Acosta wriggled out of a ninth-inning jam to notch the save for the Mets. The Braves’ lead in the wild card is just 3 1/2 games on St. Louis and 4 on red-hot San Francisco. … Two key games today will be started by former M-Braves: Mike Minor gets the call for Atlanta against Florida and Scott Diamond will start for Minnesota against the Yankees.
P.S. Former Delta State standout Eli Whiteside, who went to the disabled list with a concussion (face-first slide vs. Atlanta) in late August, hasn’t been much of a factor in San Francisco’s recent surge. Whiteside is batting just .130 (3-for-23) in September and has seen more playing time going to the Giants’ other catchers, rookies Chris Stewart and Hector Sanchez.