01 Oct

stealing the show

Javier Baez may be an MVP candidate, but the shortstop who most looked the part in today’s tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field was Orlando Arcia. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember him. The former Shuckers star went 4-for-4 and scored twice as Milwaukee beat Chicago 3-1 to claim the National League Central title. For Arcia, it was the kind of performance Brewers fans – and brass — had thought they’d see more of. Arcia, 24, had a poor season in 2018, batting just .227 and spending time in the minors, but he was a full-fledged star as he rose through Milwaukee’s system. He batted .307 with eight homers, 69 RBIs and 25 steals on a good Biloxi team in 2015. He played in the All-Star Futures Game that summer. He was a Triple-A Pacific Coast League All-Star in 2016 and made his big league debut that year. Arcia hit .277 with 15 homers and 14 bags as the Brewers’ regular shortstop in 2017 but started so poorly this year that he went to the minors for much of June and July. It’s October now, and he looks like he belongs in The Show.

01 Oct

when september ends

If it was his last act as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, it was very cool. Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton was removed mid-game in Sunday’s season finale and paused on his way off the field to hand his jersey and cap to young fans sitting near the Reds’ dugout. “It gave me chills when I gave it to them walking off the field. It was great,” Hamilton told mlb.com. Hamilton figures to be the subject of trade speculation – again — as the Reds go into rebuild mode this off-season. He finished his fifth full MLB season with a .236 average (.299 on-base percentage), 74 runs and 34 steals (a career-low) in 153 games. Hamilton is a stellar defensive center fielder, but his hitting remains a concern. He is 28 and a year away from free agency. P.S. The curtain fell on the season for several other Mississippians on Sunday, including Spencer Turnbull and JaCoby Jones with Detroit, Dakota Hudson and Mike Mayers with St. Louis and Chris Stratton with San Francisco. All were on the losing end of games that were very meaningful for their postseason-bound opponents. Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central standout, battled Milwaukee into the sixth inning, yielding four runs while drawing rave comments about his stuff from MLB Network analysts. Mississippi State alum Stratton was one of several Giants pitchers roughed up by the Los Angeles Dodgers in their blowout win. … A number of notable Mississippians weren’t on active rosters for Sunday’s finales. Zack Cozart, Jarrod Dyson and Kendall Graveman finished the year on the disabled list. So did Bobby Wahl, who was up for just a few days with the New York Mets. Jacob Lindgren spent the entire year on Atlanta’s DL. David Goforth spent the season in the minors. Alex Presley, T.J. House and Chad Girodo were released during the season without making an MLB appearance. Veteran Chris Coghlan signed late with the Chicago Cubs and didn’t get a call-up. Free agents Seth Smith and Tyler Moore never got a job at all.

30 Sep

buckle up

Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central star who has pitched a total of 11 innings in the big leagues, gets the start today for Detroit against Milwaukee in one of the four huge games on the schedule for the last day of the regular season. The Brewers are tied atop the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, who host St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers, at San Francisco today, are tied atop the NL West with Colorado, which hosts Washington. Division titles, much preferable than wild cards, are on the line. Monday playoff games are possible. Seamheads live for stuff like this. Mississippi-connected players could have significant impact, particularly at Miller Park today. Turnbull, a 26-year-old right-hander, was called up mid-month and is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three games. His last start, however, was outstanding: six innings, one run allowed vs. Minnesota. He’ll be opposed by veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has 126 wins in 312 career games and has pitched in four different postseasons. Detroit’s lineup is likely to include former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, who went 1-for-4 with two runs in the Tigers’ loss on Saturday. Pillow Academy alum Louis Coleman has had a good year out of the Detroit bullpen. Milwaukee’s pitching staff includes several former Biloxi Shuckers, among them former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff. He pitched two clean innings in the Brewers’ win on Friday. … Mississippi Braves alum Alex Wood picked up the win out of the pen for the Dodgers against the hated Giants on Saturday and worked in their victory on Friday. The Dodgers also have ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who hasn’t played much of late but seems due for a big moment. … St. Louis, eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, would like nothing more than to spoil any possible Cubs celebration at Wrigley Field today. Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson and Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers could see duty out of the Cardinals’ pen against a Cubs lineup that’ll most likely include ex-M-Braves star Jason Heyward.

28 Sep

good and … other

Atlanta ended a four-year playoff drought under Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, and ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle kept Pittsburgh in contention well into September. That’s the good. For the other five Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues, 2018 was mostly bad – if not downright ugly. Toronto, two years removed from a playoff berth, collapsed, and it has already been announced that former JaxMets catcher John Gibbons won’t be back as skipper in 2019. Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway’s first year as New York Mets manager was undermined in large part by injuries. Long out of contention, the team is 75-84. Ex-JaxMets infielder Ron Gardenhire, a veteran manager but new to Detroit, kept an undermanned club afloat for a while, but the Tigers (64-95) ultimately sank. Then there’s Ned Yost. Yost’s Kansas City club is a ghastly 57-102 in the former JaxMets catcher’s ninth season at the helm. Yost is the franchise’s all-time winningest manager and won the World Series just three years ago. He survived a terrible fall from a tree stand last November, and he apparently will survive the team’s plummet in the standings this season. No team has fallen harder than Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, and the former Mississippi State star won’t be back in 2019, according to several credible reports. The second all-time winningest manager in Baltimore history, Showalter watched the Orioles tumble – and tumble and tumble — to 46-112. This is his ninth season with the O’s, the fourth team he has managed. His contract expires next month. He said in a session with the media on Thursday that he hasn’t been told anything about his future, isn’t thinking about it right now and is simply grateful to the organization for the opportunity he’s been given.

26 Sep

numbers of note

0.87 – Brandon Woodruff’s ERA in September. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler worked a clean inning out of the pen for Milwaukee on Tuesday night as the Brewers beat St. Louis 12-4 and moved within a half-game of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.
10.80 – Mike Mayers’ ERA in September. The Ole Miss alum, one of the eight pitchers trotted out by St. Louis in its crushing loss, allowed two runs in 2/3 of an inning against Milwaukee. His season ERA climbed to 4.80. The Cards fell to third in the NL wild card race.
3 – Hits by Corey Dickerson. The former Meridian Community College standout also scored a run in Pittsburgh’s 6-0 win against the Chicago Cubs. The McComb native is batting .346 in his last 15 games and .299 on the season.
0 – At-bats for Brian Dozier on Tuesday. The ex-Southern Miss star, batting .071 this month, did not play for the Los Angeles Dodgers in their 4-3 loss to Arizona, a defeat that sliced LA’s NL West lead to a half-game over Colorado.
1.91 – Tony Sipp’s ERA this season. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product worked a scoreless inning Tuesday for his 10th hold as Houston clinched the American League West with a 4-1 win against Toronto.
6 – Innings pitched by Spencer Turnbull. The ex-Madison Central High star allowed just one run on six hits and a walk in his second career start for Detroit. He got a no-decision in a game the Tigers won 4-2 against Minnesota.
102 – Pitches thrown by Chris Stratton. The former Mississippi State standout from Tupelo lasted just 4 2/3 innings for San Francisco, allowing six hits, five walks and three runs in a game the Giants won 5-4 in 12 innings against San Diego. Stratton has a 4.85 ERA in 27 games.
255 – Homers this season by the New York Yankees, nine shy of the all-time record, after they belted three in a 9-2 romp past Tampa Bay. No one is enjoying this fireworks show more than Louisville native Marcus Thames, the Yanks’ hitting coach.

25 Sep

something wild

Mississippian Lance Barksdale had a great view of a wild and wooly affair in St. Louis on Monday night. The Brookhaven native was the home plate umpire in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over the Cardinals, a game that had major postseason implications. This one turned when St. Louis right fielder Jose Martinez, who spent a year with the Mississippi Braves, misplayed an Eric Thames fly ball into a triple in the eighth inning. Thames scored the go-ahead run on an errant pickoff throw at first base. The game “featured” 16 pitchers, including an “opener” who threw three pitches. There were three home runs, one by Martinez, whose bat – certainly not his glove — keeps him in the lineup. Brewers bullpen ace and strikeout machine Josh Hader, the former Biloxi Shuckers star, yielded two homers, two walks and three runs, though he did manage two K’s. Ex-Shucker Corbin Burnes got two outs in the seventh and claimed the win; he is 7-0. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson walked in a run (on his first four pitches) and gave up a sac fly that put St. Louis behind in the sixth inning. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers gave up a big RBI double in the ninth to Brewers star – and likely league MVP – Christian Yelich. Eighteen batters struck out all told, and — oddly — neither team got a hit with a runner in scoring position. There was a runner thrown out at the plate. There were two hit batsmen. There was even a rain delay. When all was said and done, the Brewers stood 1.5 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central. The Cardinals are 3 games back of the Brewers and just a half-game up on Colorado in the wild card standings. P.S. Jonathan Holder, the former State star from Gulfport, made his first career start – in his 103rd appearance — for the New York Yankees, serving as the “opener” against Tampa Bay. He walked a pair but didn’t allow a run in his one inning of work and the Yanks went on to beat the Rays 4-1, handing Oakland a postseason berth in the process.

24 Sep

central casting

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.

23 Sep

big league chew

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.

21 Sep

full speed ahead

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.

21 Sep

party on …

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.