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.
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.
It went in the box score as a hold (H, 20 to be precise), but that designation doesn’t do justice to what former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader did for Milwaukee on Monday night. In a huge game at Wrigley Field, Hader struck out all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings, preserving the Brewers’ one-run lead in what ended as a 3-2 win against the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to 1 game heading into tonight’s contest, the second of the three-game set. In the eighth inning, Hader cut down Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. That’s big time. A lefty with vicious stuff, Hader now has 127 punchouts, a Brewers record for relievers. “To have any type of record is a great feeling,” he told mlb.com. Hader pitched, as a starter, in Biloxi in 2015 and ’16. In the latter season he gave a preview of what was to come in The Show, posting a 0.95 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings. … In San Francisco, the fingerprints of former Mississippi Braves were all over Atlanta’s 4-1 win against the Giants, which moved the Braves 5 games ahead of Philadelphia atop the NL East. Ozzie Albies went 2-for-4 (with a triple) and scored twice, driven in both times by Dansby Swanson (sac fly, squeeze bunt). More significant perhaps was the pitching of three left-handers, all M-Braves alums. Sean Newcomb worked six innings for the W, moving to 12-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Jonny Venters tossed a scoreless eighth inning for his 12th hold, and A.J. Minter closed it out for his 14th save. Though he has had some notable hiccups, his ERA is now 3.36. Minter was in Mississippi in 2016 and ’17, pitching mostly in middle relief. He had only two saves in his minor league career.
The Mississippi Braves started their 2018 season with a win in April and ended it with a win on Labor Day. But there weren’t enough W’s in between for the Double-A club, in its 14th season in Pearl, to make the Southern League playoffs. A late run in the second half came up short of what would have been a fifth playoff appearance. Managed by Jackson native Chris Maloney, the M-Braves finished 67-71 overall. A bunch of prospects appeared on the roster: 13 of Atlanta’s Top 30 as rated by MLB Pipeline, five of the top seven. Most came and went quickly. Pitching once again was the M-Braves’ calling card. The team finished second in the SL in ERA, allowed the fewest homers and ranked fourth in strikeouts. Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, among others, took star turns on the bump. But Trustmark Park can be tough on hitters, and they didn’t hit well on the road, either, which is a bad combination. The M-Braves’ .308 on-base percentage ranked 10th — last — in the league, as did their home run total. They were ninth in runs. Luis Valenzuela, at .282, was the only M-Braves batter to rank in the league’s top 20 in batting average. Travis Demeritte had the most interesting numbers: 17 homers, 22 doubles, 63 RBIs with a .222 average and 140 strikeouts. Tyler Marlette, Tyler Neslony and Ray-Patrick Didder had some moments. Cristian Pache, a top 10 prospect added late in the season, showed promise and might be a centerpiece of the 2019 team. … Meanwhile, Biloxi has enjoyed a big year, sweeping both halves in the SL South and claiming the MVP, pitcher and manager of the year awards. The Milwaukee-affiliated Shuckers, managed by Mike Guerrero, are slated to host Pensacola tonight at MGM Park in Game 1 of the South Division Series. Corey Ray, who led the league in homers and steals, was the MVP, and Zack Brown, the ERA champ, was voted top pitcher. If there were a closer of the year award, Nate Griep (34 saves) would’ve won it.
Though there is no opening at third base in Atlanta at the moment, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley continues to build his resume, prepping for an opportunity that can’t be far off. Riley, 21, one of the Braves’ highest-rated prospects, is batting .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. He extended his hitting streak to nine games on Thursday with a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort that included his fourth homer in his last eight games. He has 18 bombs this season, including six he hit at the start of the year in Double-A Mississippi. Riley’s progress this season, his fourth in pro ball, was stalled by a knee injury in early June. It took a while, but he seems fully recovered now. “I think the biggest thing was trusting that my leg was 100 percent … and being able to put all my weight on it pressure-wise, whether it’s a swing or defense,” Riley said in an milb.com story. “Just being able to trust that it’s 100 percent.” Riley isn’t on the Braves’ 40-man roster – and M-Braves alum Johan Camargo is handling third base very well — so a September call-up isn’t a foregone conclusion. But Riley stands ready. “I think he’s more than capable of helping that club win right now,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill told the Gwinnett Daily Post. P.S. Former M-Braves pitcher John Gant homered for St. Louis — while also throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to notch a win – and is now 2-for-36 in his MLB career, both hits homers. His other bomb came earlier this month and was the first since high school for the eight-year pro.
Thanks to a run of brilliant pitching, the Mississippi Braves are enjoying a new view today. They’re on top of the Southern League South with a division title perhaps coming into focus. M-Braves pitchers have yielded exactly one run while powering a sweep of the first three games of their showdown series with Biloxi at Trustmark Park. Dominant starts from Michael Mader on Friday, Kyle Muller on Saturday and Ian Anderson on Sunday – plus quality relief work across the board – have carried the M-Braves (34-26) to a half-game lead on the Shuckers, with third-place Pensacola a game behind. Anderson, Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), got his first win in three Double-A starts, going 6 2/3 innings and fanning nine in a 2-0 victory. Jason Hursh pitched the ninth for his seventh save. The Shuckers, the first-half champs in the division, are in town for two more games. Lefty Ricardo Sanchez (2-4, 4.44 ERA), who won his last start with a strong outing at Mobile, gets the ball tonight for the M-Braves. They finish with a six-game series at last-place Jacksonville. The club is chasing its fifth postseason appearance in its 14th year in Pearl. This year marks the 10th anniversary of its lone SL pennant.
90 – Losses by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, who fell to Toronto 6-0 on Wednesday. The O’s went 0-10 at Toronto this year and have 50 road losses all told.
4 – Wins, against no losses, for ex-State standout Dakota Hudson, who worked a scoreless inning in St. Louis’ win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rookie Hudson has a 1.29 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the surging Cardinals.
5 – Earned runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings by ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who took his first loss with the New York Yankees against Miami. Lynn has allowed 10 runs in his last two starts for the Yanks after yielding one in his first three appearances.
15 – Home runs by Mitch Moreland, the former State standout whose latest bomb helped Boston beat Cleveland and snap a rare three-game losing streak.
17 – Homers by East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, who went deep for the Chicago White Sox and matched his season total from 2017.
20 – Homers for Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star whose sixth leadoff blast of the season helped Atlanta beat Pittsburgh. Rookie Acuna has reached the 20-homer mark in just 290 at-bats.
3 – Wins by former M-Braves starters: Atlanta’s Julio Teheran beat Pittsburgh for his ninth W of the year, Texas’ Mike Minor snuffed Oakland for his 10th and Houston’s Charlie Morton notched his 13th as the Astros held off Seattle.
1 – Run scored by State product Adam Frazier, the only run Pittsburgh tallied against Atlanta, which held the Pirates to two runs total in sweeping a three-game series at PNC Park.
38 – Hits in his last 30 games by ex-M-Braves star Mallex Smith, who got two more knocks for Tampa Bay to raise his average to .304, seventh in the American League.