The last day of September shapes up as a very entertaining day in baseball. From a Mississippi perspective, keep an eye on the events in St. Louis, where Ole Miss product Lance Lynn (17-7) starts for the Cardinals against Washington. The Cards are still hunting the second wild card in the National League; the Nationals are still trying to fend off Atlanta in the NL East and also battling for the league’s best record. In Atlanta, former Mississippi Braves star Kris Medlen (9-1) goes to the bump to face the New York Mets. Hattiesburg native Fred Lewis could play a role there for the Mets. In the crazy American League, Texas, clinging to first place by 2½ games in the West, plays host to the wild card hopeful Los Angeles Angels in a doubleheader. Former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland figures to get some big at-bats for the Rangers. And Weir’s Roy Oswalt might be needed out of the Texas pen again. Oakland, 2½ games behind Texas and 2½ games up on the Angels in the No. 2 wild card race, hosts Seattle. UM alumnus Seth Smith likely will be in the Oakland lineup today against Mariners righty Erasmo Ramirez. Baltimore, currently tied with the New York Yankees atop the East, hosts Boston, cast in a rare role as spoiler. Ex-M-Braves Jarrod Saltalamacchia (25 homers) and Mauro Gomez (.281) swing big sticks for the BoSox. Still waiting on a Bill Hall (Nettleton) sighting in the Orioles’ lineup. Tampa Bay, still alive (barely) in both the East Division and wild card races, is at Chicago, where the White Sox have dropped 2 games behind Detroit in the Central. The Rays have former Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings, who struck out four times in their win on Saturday. Does he get benched today? The ChiSox have Jackson native Donnie Veal, a big lefty who has been a good addition to their bullpen. P.S. Former M-Braves star Craig Kimbrel, a legit NL Cy Young candidate, notched his 41st save on Saturday. Of his 21 pitches, 14 were at 96 mph or better, including a 100. His last pitch was a knee-buckling breaking ball for strike three.
Alex Presley made the final out in Homer Bailey’s no-hitter on Friday night, a fitting footnote in a tough year for the former Ole Miss standout. Presley went 0-for-4 in Pittsburgh’s 1-0 loss to Cincinnati, dropping his average to .236 in 100 games. He does have 10 home runs and seven triples, but he also has 71 strikeouts and just 18 walks. In sum, it has not been the kind of season the Pirates were hoping to get from Presley after he hit .298 in 52 games in 2011. The job as left fielder and leadoff batter was his for the taking this spring, but he wound up back in the minors after a slow start. The left-handed hitting Presley has gotten regular playing time again lately but is batting just .214 over his last 10 games. The Pirates, after another second-half collapse, figure to make some changes in the off-season. Presley could be on shaky ground. There are a bunch of other outfielders in the fold, including superstar Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Travis Snider and touted prospect Starling Marte. P.S. Ex-Rebels star Zack Cozart had a hand in the only run the Reds scored in Bailey’s no-no. Cozart’s first-inning single moved Brandon Phillips from second to third and Phillips then scored on a Todd Frazier sac fly. … Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee got another no-decision (No. 15 this year) in Philadelphia’s 2-1 loss to Miami. The Phillies were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Lee is 6-8 with a 3.12 ERA.
Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz got his first win since July 6, throwing five shutout innings in Colorado’s 6-0 victory against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night. Pomeranz, working under the Rockies’ stringent pitch limit, is 2-9 with a 5.01 ERA. “The big thing was just being relaxed,” he told mlb.com. … In a key game at U.S. Cellular Field, Pascagoula native Tony Sipp cherry-picked — he retired the one batter he faced — a win as Cleveland beat the Chicago White Sox 6-4, dropping the ChiSox a game behind Detroit in the American League Central. Jackson native Donnie Veal was charged with the game-tying run in the sixth inning as Chicago failed to hold a 4-3 lead. … Nettleton native Bill Hall has been recalled by Baltimore and is eligible for the postseason roster. Journeyman Hall hit 15 homers in Triple-A this season, as if Buck Showalter’s O’s needed any more power. … Washington third-base coach Bo Porter reportedly will get the Houston managerial job for 2013. Former Jackson Mets infielder Tim Bogar, now a Boston coach, was among the candidates for the job.
The Atlanta Braves threw an impressive celebration on Tuesday night after former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman’s walk-off homer clinched a postseason berth. What they did tonight was equally impressive. Showing no signs of a letdown (or a hangover), the Braves followed Paul Maholm’s lead and beat Miami 3-0, keeping the heat on Washington in the National League East race. Maholm, the Mississippi State product, was sharp, allowing just five hits and no walks in 6 2/3 innings. He is 3-4 with a 4.09 ERA since the Braves got him from the Chicago Cubs, but that’s a bit deceiving. Seven of his nine starts with the Braves have been good ones. Maholm, a lefty who is at his best when he keeps the ball low in the zone, might get a crack at starting in the postseason if the Braves get to the NLCS. He has pitched better than right-hander Tommy Hanson of late. P.S. Good news for Clint Hurdle. The former Jackson Mets skipper reportedly will return as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, despite the Bucs’ second-half collapse.
Roy Oswalt made his first appearance since Sept. 9 on Monday night and contributed to a big win for Texas. The right-hander from Weir and Holmes Community College threw two clean innings of middle relief as the Rangers rallied to beat Oakland, their closest pursuer in the American League West, by a 5-4 count. Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland had two hits and an RBI for Texas, now 5 games up on the A’s. … Jackson native Donnie Veal notched his first career save as the Chicago White Sox stopped a five-game skid with a 5-4 win over Cleveland. The ChiSox remain a game up on Detroit in the AL Central. Veal has a 0.75 ERA in 21 appearances. The big left-hander, drafted out of an Arizona junior college by the Cubs, passed through Trustmark Park in Pearl with Tennessee back in 2007 and ’08. … Lance Lynn worked seven strong, fanning nine, in St. Louis’ 6-1 victory over Houston. The former Ole Miss star is 17-7, 3-0 in three starts since returning to the rotation. “I see him with a whole different demeanor,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheney told mlb.com. St. Louis is 3½ games clear of the field in the battle for the second National League wild card. … Atlanta, with former Mississippi Braves pitcher and rising star Kris Medlen (8-0 as a starter this year) on the mound tonight, can clinch at least a wild card berth with a win over Miami. … Itawamba Community College alumnus Desmond Jennings, now with Tampa Bay, and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, a Cincinnati minor leaguer who broke the stolen base record this summer, are among the featured players in Sports Illustrated’s most recent issue (Sept. 24), which was devoted to speed. Not mentioned was one of the fastest players currently in MLB, Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi CC standout who stole his 29th bag on Monday.
Mike Minor vs. Roy Halladay. At one point this season, this would have seemed like a laughable matchup. Today, it belongs on the MLB marquee when Atlanta and Philadelphia, both hunting playoff berths, meet at Citizens Bank Park. Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Minor was 4-6 with a 6.20 ERA after 15 starts this season and many were wondering why he wasn’t back in the minors. Halladay, despite some injury issues this season, is simply one of the best in the game, a two-time Cy Young award winner. But over their last 10 starts, Minor actually has pitched better than Halladay, looking more like the crafty hurler who dominated hitters in Double-A back in 2010. Minor, 9-10 with a 4.31 ERA for the year, is 4-3 with a 2.32 in his last 10 starts. Halladay, 10-7, 4.03 overall, is 6-2 with a 3.66. The Braves just haven’t scored behind Minor, a problem they’ll try to correct today. P.S. Zack Cozart was back in the Cincinnati lineup at shortstop on Friday for the first time in two weeks. The ex-Ole Miss star was 0-for-4 in the first-place Reds’ loss to Los Angeles. … UM product Drew Pomeranz lasted just three innings (85 pitches) for Colorado, allowing four hits, five walks and four earned runs. He did not take the loss in Friday’s 15-5 defeat against Arizona, however. It was 4-4 when he left. The former first-round pick (by Cleveland) remains 1-9 with an ERA of 5.30. Not what the Rockies were counting on. … Weir’s Roy Oswalt has been cleared to rejoin the Texas bullpen, but he didn’t work Friday in the first-place Rangers’ 6-3 loss at Seattle.
The Oakland A’s needed to win. Seth Smith needed a breakout game. With September pressure in the air, both things happened today at Comerica Park in Detroit, where the former Ole Miss standout cranked out three hits and four RBIs and his A’s walloped the Tigers 12-4. Oakland, battling Detroit, among others, in the American League wild card chase, had lost the first two games of the series and three straight overall. Smith was in a slump (see previous post), but it didn’t look that way today. The left-handed hitting slugger went 3-for-4 with a walk, belted his 14th home run and scored three times. Though he’s hitting just .249, Smith’s RBI total is up to 50 and he’s only three homers shy of equaling his single-season high. Perhaps today was the start of a strong finish for both team and player. Now’s the time. Autumn’s closing in.
Lance Lynn was at it again for St. Louis on Wednesday night. The former Ole Miss star, making his second spot start since being taken from the rotation, threw 6 1/3 shutout innings against Houston as the Cardinals won 5-0 and strengthened their grip on the National League’s No. 2 wild card berth. Lynn, who has 16 victories, has won both of his starts in place of Jake Westbrook and has allowed only one run in 12 1/3 innings in that span. Whether Lynn will stay in the rotation remains uncertain. … Philadelphia is hanging around, 4 games behind St. Louis, thanks in no small part to Jonathan Papelbon. The ex-Mississippi State standout notched his 36th save on Wednesday. Over his last 10 appearances, Papelbon has allowed just one earned run while recording six saves and two victories. … In the American League, Oakland currently holds the No. 2 wild card spot (a half-game behind Baltimore) despite a three-game losing streak. The A’s could use some more thump from Ole Miss alum Seth Smith, who is homerless in his last 10 games and batting just .211 over that period. … Tampa Bay’s hopes are fading. The Rays have lost seven of 10 and are 5½ games back of Oakland. Desmond Jennings, the Itawamba Community College product, went 2-for-5 with a triple, two runs, two RBIs and a stolen base in a 13-3 win over Boston on Wednesday. Where has that been all year, Rays fans must be wondering. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss standout Zack Cozart, out of the Cincinnati lineup since Sept. 3 because of an oblique injury, might return this weekend when the Red host Los Angeles. The rookie shortstop is hitting .243 with 13 bombs. Cincy has virtually locked up the NL Central and is battling Washington for the league’s best record.
It seems unfathomable now that Atlanta actually considered trading Martin Prado in the off-season for Colorado’s Seth Smith. No offense to Smith, the former Ole Miss star and a fine player now in Oakland. But without ex-Mississippi Braves star Prado in the lineup, Atlanta would very likely be lost in the wilderness of National League also-rans. Chipper Jones is a great hitter, when he plays. Michael Bourn had a superb first half, Jason Heyward is providing much-needed power and Freddie Freeman has had his big moments. But Prado is the Braves’ glue. A .296 career hitter, he slumped to .260 in 2011. Hardly seemed like a reason to panic. After Monday’s four-hit game in a big win over Miami, he’s at .303 for this season with 76 runs, 66 RBIs, 38 doubles, nine homers and 17 stolen bases. He leads the majors in two-strike hits. But forget the stats. Prado also has a baseball IQ that is off the charts. That was evident during his brief stints in Pearl — 39 games in 2005 and 43 in ’06, the year he first reached Atlanta. He can play anywhere in the field, hit anywhere in the order. He’s a heady baserunner. Need a ground ball to the right side? He can do it. Fly ball to score a run? Ditto. Bunt? Sure. To put it succinctly, he can play this game. Can’t imagine the Braves without him. P.S. Interesting, isn’t it, that you can put together an entire lineup of ex-M-Braves now with MLB clubs other than Atlanta. At catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Mauro Gomez, Brent Lillibridge, Yunel Escobar and Brandon Hicks around the infield. Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Francoeur in the outfield. Jordan Schafer off the bench. On the mound, Matt Harrison (or Scott Diamond). In the pen, Tim Collins, Manny Acosta, Francisely Bueno, Jaye Chapman.
There was joy in Lynchburg, Va., this week — and hope that it might spread to Pearl next year. The Mississippi Braves missed out on the postseason in 2012 — for the fourth straight year — but there is reason to believe next year might be different. The Class A Lynchburg Hillcats, the M-Braves’ feeder club, won the Carolina League championship. And a good number of those players could be at Trustmark Park in 2013. Spots should be available. The team’s shortcomings (a 62-77 overall record) notwithstanding, the core of the 2012 M-Braves’ lineup likely will move to Triple-A. Catcher Christian Bethancourt, first baseman Joey Terdoslavich, second baseman Phil Gosselin, third baseman Joe Leonard and outfielder Todd Cunningham (a postseason Southern League All-Star) handled themselves well enough in Double-A to rate a promotion. Starting pitchers Sean Gilmartin (an SL All-Star), Zeke Spruill, Gary Moran (the league ERA champ) and David Hale are strong candidates for Triple-A Gwinnett’s 2013 opening day roster. The lead dog in the pack of players likely headed this way next spring is outfielder Matt Lipka, a first-round pick in 2010 and a top-rated prospect. He was injured much of this season (.271 in 51 games) and didn’t play in the Hillcats’ postseason run. He may have to play his way onto the Mississippi club in spring training, but he’ll get every opportunity. Other Hillcats alums to watch for in Pearl next year include: shortstop Nick Ahmed (.269, 40 stolen bases), second baseman Tommy La Stella (.302), first baseman Chris Garcia (.285, 11 homers), outfielder/DH Adam Milligan (.255, 15 homers), catcher Braeden Schlehuber (.270) and third baseman Edward Salcedo (17 homers, 23 steals). Milligan and Schlehuber already have some Double-A time. The top starting pitchers at Lynchburg were Gary Schlosser (13 wins, 3.38 ERA), Cody Martin (12 wins), Aaron Northcraft (10 wins) and J.R. Graham, who was 9-1 for the Hillcats before moving to Mississippi, where he also impressed. The hard-throwing Graham could be the M-Braves’ ace in 2013. Power-hitting catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis, who missed a big chunk of 2012 with an injury, and outfielder Keenan Wiley should be back in the M-Braves’ fold next year, lending some needed experience to what projects as a young lineup. If the ex-Hillcats bring their championship chemistry with them … well, sure, next year might be different.