Charlie Morton, Houston’s scheduled starter today in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Boston, spent a largely forgettable season with the Mississippi Braves in 2007. The right-hander, then 23 years old and in his sixth pro season, appeared in 41 games, all but six in relief. He went 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA. He was 0-for-4 in save opportunities. But he got the start for the M-Braves in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoffs against Montgomery at Trustmark Park and delivered what might have been a career-altering performance: seven innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. He made the big leagues the next year after a strong showing in Triple-A. Morton’s MLB career has been unspectacular – 60-78, 4.41 ERA – and stunted by injuries. But he found a footing with the Astros this season, going 14-7, 3.62. Today, at what could be a soggy Fenway Park, he gets his second MLB postseason start. Former M-Braves star Brian McCann (Class of 2005) likely will be the Astros’ catcher today. Waiting in the Boston bullpen, no doubt champing at the bit for a save opportunity, will be Craig Kimbrel, arguably the most dominant closer to pass through Pearl these last 13 years. Kimbrel was 6-for-6 in save opps with two wins and a 0.77 ERA in 12 games for the M-Braves in 2009. … Should there be a Game 4 in the Los Angeles-Arizona National League Division Series, former M-Braves standout Alex Wood is slated to start for the Dodgers. The lefty, a spectacular 16-3, 2.72 this season, went 4-2, 1.26 in 10 starts for the M-Braves in 2013 and made the big leagues that same year.
In Baseball America’s recent rankings of the Best Tools in the major leagues, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier and Alex Gordon were 1-2-3 in the American League’s Best Outfield Arm category. In the NL, it was Yoenis Cespedes, Mississippi’s own Hunter Renfroe and Yasiel Puig. The MLB leader in outfield assists is … none of the above. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops that list with 11. The Seattle center fielder got one on Tuesday night, cutting down Baltimore’s Manny Machado at the plate in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory in a meeting of AL playoff contenders. Dyson has 47 assists in his eight-year career, and he hasn’t played regularly for much of that time. Dyson did show up in three of the Baseball America Best Tools rankings, which are based on a poll of managers, coaches and scouts. He was the AL’s Best Bunter – he put down a nice sacrifice on Tuesday – and ranked second in Best Baserunner and Fastest Baserunner. … It’s impressive that the names of four Mississippi natives show up in the rankings. In addition to Dyson and Crystal Springs’ Renfroe, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was No. 1 in the NL’s Fastest Baserunner – duh – and Best Baserunner categories and No. 3 in Best Defensive Outfielder, and Amory’s Mitch Moreland was second in the AL’s Best Defensive First Baseman chart. P.S. East Central CC product Tim Anderson led off with a first-pitch home run against Alex Wood in Tuesday night’s Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium. It was Anderson’s 14th homer and fifth in nine games. It was the only run former Mississippi Braves ace Wood would allow in seven innings, but he took a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win. He is 14-1 for a team that is now a jaw-dropping 84-34. … Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles homered in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in York, N.Y. Bortles has only one homer in 35 regular season games for Connecticut in the Detroit system. A 2017 draftee, he is batting .273 with 15 RBIs.
Atlanta fans cringed again on Wednesday night when Alex Wood, the Mississippi Braves alumnus who was once a hot young commodity in the ATL, won for the 10th time without a loss this season in sparking the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 1-0 win over Arizona. Wood, likely to be picked as an All-Star Game replacement, is the first Dodgers starter to hit 10-0 since Don Newcombe in 1955. “It’ll be cool to even be mentioned with him, so it’s pretty neat,” the 26-year-old left-hander told The Associated Press. Wood’s seven scoreless innings on Wednesday cut his ERA to 1.67. A second-round pick by Atlanta out of Georgia in 2012, Wood went 4-2, 1.26 ERA in 10 games for the M-Braves in 2013 and made his big league debut that same season. In July 2015, the Braves sent Wood to the Dodgers as part of the regrettable deal for Hector Olivera and two other players no longer in Atlanta’s system. (Former M-Braves Luis Avilan and Jose Peraza also went to LA in that three-team trade.) … A scan of MLB box scores on any given morning shows a remarkable number of ex-M-Braves making contributions on clubs other than Atlanta, where only a handful are playing. To wit: Gregor Blanco went 1-for-4 for the Diamondbacks in the loss to LA; Peraza had a hit for Cincinnati; Mallex Smith was 4-for-4 with three runs for Tampa Bay; Gorkys Hernandez had three hits and Cory Gearrin a hold for San Francisco; Andrelton Simmons had a couple of hits for the Angels; Evan Gattis went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run in Houston’s 10-4 win against the Braves; Tommy LaStella reached on an HBP and scored a run for the Chicago Cubs; Chasen Shreve threw two scoreless innings for the New York Yankees; Mike Minor improved to 5-1 with a relief win for Kansas City; Ryan Buchter notched a hold for San Diego. Not mentioned: Craig Kimbrel, Martin Prado, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Yunel Escobar … . Some of those guys are sorely missed.
By the numbers and under the circumstances, it was Lance Lynn’s best start of the season and among the best in his seven-year big league career. Alas, the Ole Miss product got a no-decision and his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, took a loss, 2-1 in 13 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Lynn went up against Clayton Kershaw in a battle of aces at Dodger Stadium and certainly held his own. In eight innings – 123 pitches – Lynn allowed just two hits and one run – a homer by Yasmani Grandal in the first inning – while striking out 10. Kershaw went nine, also struck out 10 and yielded just three hits. But a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth cost him a run and sent the game into extra innings. “(Y)ou knew when we headed into this, I figured it was going to be a well-pitched game on both sides,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told The Associated Press. “It was just going to be who got that big hit, and it was them.” Specifically, that would be a Logan Forsythe RBI double in the 13th. Lynn, a pending free agent who missed 2016 after Tommy John surgery, is 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 50 punchouts in 53 1/3 innings. P.S. Mark it down: Former Petal High star Anthony Alford got his first MLB hit on Tuesday, a pinch double in the seventh inning for Toronto against Milwaukee’s Rob Scahill.
While wondering if Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier will soon be a Los Angeles Dodger, here’s more stuff to chew on: D.J. Davis, seemingly in need of some positive reinforcement, hit his first home run of the Australian Baseball League season today. The former Stone County High standout launched a three-run bomb – boosting his RBI total to seven – for Canberra in a 5-2 win against Perth. Davis, a first-round pick in 2012 by Toronto, is coming off a rough year in A-ball and is batting just .125 (6-for-48) in the ABL. … East Mississippi Community College product LeDarious Clark (a Texas farmhand) has eight hits – including his first ABL homer – over his last five games to boost his average to .250 for Adelaide. He is second in the league (to Atlanta prospect Ronald Acuna) with nine steals. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with Toronto. House, a left-hander, posted a 4.44 ERA over parts of three seasons with Cleveland, which drafted him in 2008. He spent most of 2016 at Triple-A Columbus, where he had a 3.98 ERA. A starter for most of his career, House worked out of the bullpen the latter half of last season. … Mitch Moreland played on some good teams during his seven seasons in Texas but none could compare with what Boston will trot out in 2017. “I’m super excited,” Amory native Moreland said in a recent mlb.com story. “I’ve always been a fan of Boston, the fans, the background, history of the team.” The lefty-hitting first baseman hit .233 with 22 homers and won a Gold Glove for the Rangers in 2016. He should be a good fit on a Red Sox club that shapes up as a real threat to steal the Chicago Cubs’ crown.
The last time San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs played in the postseason, a former Mississippi State star stole the show. The year was 1989 and the player was Will Clark, who went 13-for-20 with two homers, eight RBIs and eight runs as the Giants won the National League Championship Series in five games. Clark, on the recently announced “Today’s Game Era” Hall of Fame ballot for 2017, hit .333 with 23 homers for San Francisco in 1989, his fourth year in the big leagues, and .303 with 284 for his career. The Giants and Cubs meet again today in the NLDS, and there’s a Mississippi college alum in uniform. Former Ole Miss standout Chris Coghlan isn’t a steal-the-show kind of player – though he was the NL rookie of the year in 2009 — but he could still have an impact for the Cubs. Coghlan, a veteran of eight MLB campaigns, was a hot hitter down the stretch, batting .280 over his last 14 games. He finished the year at .252 in 48 games for the Cubs. He’s got some pop from the left side – six homers in 2016, five while with Oakland – and he has played six different positions in his career. Cubs manager Joe Maddon will find a use for him. The Giants don’t have an MSU alum to turn to, but they do have Wild Card Game hero Conor Gillaspie, the son of former Bulldogs star Mark Gillaspie. Conor was born in Nebraska and went to Wichita State. P.S. Louis Coleman, the ex-Pillow Academy star from Greenwood, did not make the Los Angeles Dodgers’ NLDS roster. Coleman, a right-handed reliever, posted a 4.69 ERA in 61 games this year and had some rough outings down the stretch. He has a career 3.51 ERA over six seasons.
Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster year for the Mississippi Braves in 2011 (.297, 26 homers, 99 RBIs), is playing in Japan for the Seibu Lions and has hit 90 homers over the last three seasons. He is batting .262 with 26 bombs and 80 RBIs in 2016. … Tommy La Stella, who had a big year for the M-Braves in 2013 (.343), is back in the Double-A Southern League with Tennessee. La Stella was sent to the minors — despite his .298 average — by the Chicago Cubs when they acquired Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan at the trade deadline. La Stella initially refused to report but finally did so on Wednesday. He has a hit in his only at-bat for the Smokies. … Willie Cabrera, who played for the M-Braves from 2008-11, is in his fifth season in the independent American Association. Playing for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Cabrera is batting .326 with eight homers and 26 RBIs. He hit .281 during his tenure with the M-Braves and also got some time in Triple-A. … Jordan Schafer, the former M-Braves outfielder (and No. 1 prospect in Atlanta’s system in 2008), is currently on a rehab assignment in rookie ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now a pitcher, the left-hander has a 3.15 ERA over 31 games in Double-A Tulsa and an 11.81 in five games at Triple-A Oklahoma City.