Bullpens for contending teams come under extreme scrutiny in September. Crucial situations abound. To wit: At SunTrust Park in Atlanta on Monday night, Dakota Hudson, pitching for St. Louis, faced a few and survived, if a little bloodied. The former Mississippi State star entered the game in the sixth inning with two runners on, one out and the Cardinals up four. Hudson retired the two batters he faced. Both the inherited runners scored, but the runs were unearned because of throwing errors. Hudson got the first two Braves batters in the seventh but then yielded three straight hits and a run that pulled Atlanta within 6-5. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt struck with the rookie right-hander, and he struck out Johan Camargo to end the inning. Hudson got a hold, his 10th (to go with four wins) in 21 appearances, as the Cardinals rolled on to an 11-6 win, keeping pace in the National League Central and a grip on the second wild card. … Flash to Minute Maid Park in Houston: Pascagoula native Tony Sipp, pitching for the Astros, entered in the seventh with his club up 1-0 on Seattle. Sipp, very effective this year as a situational reliever, got a strikeout and a ground out sandwiched around a walk but was lifted after allowing a single. Ryan Pressley bailed Sipp out — the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum actually was credited with a hold — but the Astros went on to lose 4-1 when Hector Rondon gave up an eighth-inning grand slam to Daniel Vogelbach. Houston’s lead in the American League West dipped to 4 games over Oakland. … At Miller Park in Milwaukee, MSU product Brandon Woodruff got the ball in the seventh inning with a nice cushion, the Brewers leading Cincinnati 8-0. Still, the former Wheeler High star made the most of the opportunity, delivering three scoreless innings for his first MLB save. He now has a 3.99 ERA (and three W’s) in 16 games for the Brewers, who lead the NL wild card standings and lurk just 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the Central Division.
Chuckie Robinson added to his bling collection on Tuesday, scoring the winning run in the Carolina League championship game for Buies Creek. If you’re keeping score, that’s three titles in three years for the former Southern Miss standout. USM won a Conference USA crown with Robinson behind the plate in 2016, and he picked up a championship ring last year with Quad Cities, Houston’s low Class A club in the Midwest League. Robinson was the MVP in the MWL Championship Series, capping a year in which he batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. At high-A Buies Creek this season, he didn’t have the big numbers — .238, seven homers, 30 RBIs – but he came up large in the one-game title showdown against Potomac. With the score tied 1-1, Robinson led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a single and later scored from second base on another single. The former 21st-round pick, an outstanding defensive catcher, slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart at midseason this year but is no doubt still on the club’s radar.
Of the 93 hits Mitch Moreland has this season, No. 93 on Sunday night might have been one of the least well-struck. Still, it set off a mad celebration at Fenway Park. Mississippi State product Moreland sliced an opposite-field flare into left field, scoring a runner from second base with two outs in the ninth and giving Boston a 6-5 win over Houston in a battle of American League juggernauts. “Yeah, I mean, I’ll take it every time,” Moreland, who has been battling a slump, said in an mlb.com story. Moreland, an All-Star this summer, is hitting just .200 over his last 30 games. For the year, the lefty-hitting first baseman is at .251 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs. Nicknamed “2 Bags” last year for his knack of smacking doubles, Moreland has 40 extra-base hits and is slugging .450. The win was Boston’s 98th of the year, its seventh walk-off, and salvaged the third game of the series against the Astros. … Meanwhile, in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., another ex-Bulldogs star got mobbed on Sunday after registering a three-pitch save that secured the New York-Penn League championship. Jacob Billingsley, a 32nd-round pick out of State in June, closed out Tri-City’s 4-2 victory over Hudson Valley in the short-season Class A circuit. “That was fun. Man, that was fun,” Billingsley told milb.com. “It means everything to a lot of these guys.” Billingsley pitched in nine games for the Astros affiliate and posted a 5.63 ERA (inflated by one bad outing) with one save. The 24-year-old right-hander entered Sunday’s contest – Game 2 of the best-of-3 – in the 12th inning with the bases loaded and two outs. He induced a fly ball with his third pitch to set off the ValleyCats’ celebration.
It’s no shocker, really, that Florida high schools produce more pro baseball players per capita than any other state. Lot of athletes, lot of warm weather. From 2011-17, 1,311 Sunshine State products appeared on MLB-affiliated rosters, which comes to 4.16 players per 100,000 people, according to a study by Baseball America published in its Sept. 7-21 issue. Fourth on this list is — drumroll, please — Mississippi, with 3.31 players per 100,000 people. That’s more per capita than California, Texas, Arizona or Louisiana, to name a few. That’s kind of amazing. Magnolia State high schools produced 149 pros in the seven-year span that BA surveyed. Hattiesburg — presumably, the baseball-rich Pine Belt area — produced 11, earning the designation of “hotbed” in Mississippi. Another Hattiesburg kid was drafted in the second round this year — Joe Gray, now in the Milwaukee system. … Among those 149 prep products is Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Copiah Academy. Renfroe, now with the San Diego Padres, is about as hot as anybody from anywhere of late. He hit two home runs on Saturday, giving him 12 in his last 30 games and 19 for the year. He is batting .259 — .302 over his last 30 games — and has 56 RBIs, including a major league-best 27 in August. Also deserving of a nod is Tony Sipp, the ex-Moss Point High star who threw another clean inning in middle relief for Houston in a win on Saturday. The situational lefty has a 2.20 ERA in 44 games and is at 1.61 over his last 30 appearances for the first-place Astros. Renfroe and Sipp are among the 15 Mississippi prep products who have appeared in the big leagues in 2018. Don’t know the per capita rating on that but it’s gotta be up there.
Ah, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Mississippians experienced both on Friday — and something in between, as well — in the wide world of big league baseball. Start with the agony. In the big Houston-Oakland showdown, former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Tony Sipp, an Astros reliever, surrendered a walk-off home run to Matt Olson that gave the A’s a 4-3 win in 10 innings and cut Houston’s lead to 1 game in the American League West. Sipp has been very good this season. His ERA entering Friday’s game was 1.50. He hadn’t allowed a run since June 24. He hadn’t allowed a home run all season. So, yeah, that one hurt. On to the thrill: Mitch Moreland, the Mississippi State product, is also having a helluva year — and so is his team, the Boston Red Sox, who have the best record in the game. They trailed early on Friday against Tampa Bay in Fenway Park but rallied, going ahead to stay in the fifth inning on an RBI hit by Moreland, his 62nd RBI of the year. He scored a run in the seventh inning as the Red Sox, 87-36 and 43-15 at home, stormed to a 7-3 win. Meanwhile, at Yankee Stadium, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who had been lights out in his first three appearances for New York, gave up four runs in the first inning against Toronto but his personal agony was erased by a thrilling Yankees rally. They won a rain-shortened affair 7-5, staying within shouting distance — if only barely — of the Red Sox in the AL East. Lynn now has a 2.61 ERA in four games, three starts, with the Yanks since arriving in a trade with Minnesota.
If you didn’t become a fan of Billy Beane during his three seasons as an outfielder with the Jackson Mets, then surely “Moneyball” won you over. The longtime Oakland A’s executive is still trying to win that last game of the season, and he might have a team that can do it this year. As they say in the movie, What is happening in Oakland? From a ho-hum start – and on the heels of three straight losing seasons – the A’s have caught fire. They are on a 38-13 roll and have climbed to within 2 games of Houston, the defending World Series champion and leader of the American League West, heading into a rather large weekend series at Oakland Coliseum. These A’s aren’t a team of household names – Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Matt Olson, et al. – but that could change by October. Beane is now the A’s vice president of baseball operations but still works like a GM. With his club surging into playoff contention in mid-July, he engineered several moves just before the trade deadline that might prove huge. The A’s added Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley, Mike Fiers and Fernando Rodney, greatly enhancing their pitching depth. “We just went through three years where we didn’t have that opportunity (to make the postseason),” GM David Forst told Yahoo Sports. “And you know Billy’s personality. As soon as he sees it, he’s going to jump on it.” The A’s still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. They might not be buried under “50 feet of crap” as they were in the “Moneyball” season of 2002, but they’re still an underdog in this fight. It just kinda feels right to pull for Billy Beane.
In a Carolina League contest in North Carolina on Sunday, a couple of former Mississippi college stars played their own little game of “top that.” Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson ultimately came out ahead. He hit a grand slam in the third inning and then added a tie-breaking three-run blast in the eighth as Buies Creek (a Class A Houston affiliate) beat visiting Down East (Texas Rangers) 10-7. LeDarious Clark, the former East Mississippi Community College standout, went deep twice for Down East, which rallied from a 7-0 deficit and eventually tied the score on Clark’s three-run homer in the seventh inning. Clark, a 12th-round pick in 2015 by the Rangers out of West Florida, had three hits and raised his average to .278 with five homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games for the Wood Ducks. Robinson, a 21st-rounder in 2016 by the Astros out of USM, hit homers No. 5 and 6 on the year for Buies Creek and now has 23 RBIs. A recent surge (.324 in his last 10 games) has boosted his average to .218. “It’s always good and rewarding when you have a good game at the plate, but I’ve been working hard and I’ll continue to work hard,” Robinson told milb.com. He was a Midwest League All-Star at catcher in 2017 and is the Astros’ No. 26 prospect (per MLB Pipeline).