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.
Jarrod Dyson is expected to be ready for spring training in 2019, according to one report on Thursday. That’s the glass is half full part of the story. The other part: For the second straight year, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star has seen his season halted early by a lower body injury that requires surgery. Last year it was a double hernia, this year an abductor muscle. Dyson is 34. The comeback next spring won’t be a snap. Dyson, in the big leagues since 2010, signed a two-year deal as a free agent with Arizona this past off-season. In 67 games with the Diamondbacks, the speedy outfielder batted .189 with 16 stolen bases. He went on the disabled list on July 5 with a groin injury. He was on a minor league rehab assignment last weekend when the abductor issue flared up. “Jarrod was trying to gut it out and get back here as fast as he possibly could,” D’backs manager Torey Lovullo said in an mlb.com story. Dyson spent the first seven years of his career with Kansas City, winning a ring in 2015, before moving to Seattle in a trade. Though he missed most of the last month of 2017 because of the double hernia, he batted .251 with a career-best 56 runs and 28 steals. For his career, the onetime 50th-round draft pick, a McComb native, is hitting .251 with 220 steals, third-most among Mississippi-born players. P.S. Toronto manager John Gibbons, the old Jackson Mets catcher from 1982 and ’83, won’t return with the Blue Jays in 2019. Gibbons, much-criticized as a manager, has won more than 780 games in 11 seasons spread over two stints with Toronto, twice making the postseason.
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.
Adam Frazier may have found his form, and his discovery comes at a good time. Former Mississippi State standout Frazier delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night for Pittsburgh, capping a three-hit game in the Pirates’ 7-6 win against St. Louis. Frazier’s clutch knock came on a 101 mph sinker from Cardinals gas-thrower Jordan Hicks. “It says a little bit that I’m where I need to be if I can do that on him,” Frazier told mlb.com. Frazier hit .301 in 66 games as a rookie in 2016 and followed that with a strong 2017: .276, six homers, 53 RBIs, 55 runs, six triples, nine steals. But he struggled out of the gate this season and was sent to the minors in June. He made a brief return to the Bucs, went back to Triple-A Indianapolis again and then got another call on July 25. He has 10 hits since, lifting his average to .269 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 66 games. Frazier is a lefty hitter who can play practically anywhere, which, if he continues to produce at the plate, makes him a valuable piece for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. The old Jackson Mets skipper has guided this overachieving club to 17 wins in its last 22 games and into the thick of the playoff chase in the National League. P.S. Still searching for his form is ex-State star Chris Stratton, whose return to San Francisco’s rotation on Friday did not go well. The right-hander from Tupelo allowed five runs in the first inning and six all told in three innings of work as the Giants fell to Arizona 6-3. After a good start this season — he was 6-3 through May — Stratton wobbled and wound up back in the minors for a stint. He has been knocked around in both appearances since his return and is now 8-7 with a 5.52 ERA. His spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy.
The suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates, the hottest team in baseball, are getting a lot of their juice from Corey Dickerson. The ex-Meridian Community College standout homered for the fourth straight game on Sunday as the Pirates beat Cincinnati 9-2 to extend their winning streak to nine games. Don’t look now, but the Bucs, under former Jackson Mets manager Clint Hurdle, are 51-49 and back in the wild card picture in the National League. Dickerson, once thought to be a possible trade chip, may now be sticking around. An All-Star with Tampa Bay in 2017 before being inexplicably cut loose by the Rays, Dickerson is batting .315 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs for the Pirates. He’s been a steady hitter all season but through the first three months had not shown the power he displayed previously in his career. He went from May 5 to June 30 without a homer. He has hit six in July, five in his last four games, including the 447-foot bomb on Sunday at Great American Ballpark. “My approach changes every day,” Dickerson told mlb.com, noting that he doesn’t always try to hit home runs. Batting mainly in the leadoff spot, he has 10 hits in his last four games and is batting .400 in his last 15. Dickerson and his Pirates mates are in Cleveland today, where their rejuvenation will be challenged by Corey Kluber, ace of the American League Central leader.
Nostalgia is thick in the air at Trustmark Park when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos come to call. The field staff for the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A club, which began a five-game series with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday, is replete with big league stars of another era. Fans of a certain age know the names well. Hitting coach Mike Devereaux, who won a ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and bench coach Lenny Harris debuted in the majors in the late 1980s, and pitching coach James Baldwin broke in in 1995. And then there’s Blue Wahoos manager Jody Davis. Not only is he a former big leaguer, he is also a former Jackson Met. Davis made his MLB debut in 1981. Surely there are a few fans around who recall that two years before that, Davis had a breakout season for the Double-A JaxMets, who made their home at Smith-Wills Stadium. Davis batted .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1979, playing on a team that included Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman. Davis also refined his catching skills that year and was named a Texas League All-Star. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (for big leaguer Ray Searage) following that season, then taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs in December 1980. The next April he launched a 10-year MLB career during which he made two All-Star teams. Davis coached and managed in the Cubs’ system for several years and took the reins in Pensacola this season.
Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner hit his first Cape Cod League home run on Monday, going 3-for-4 in his second game since joining the Falmouth team in the vaunted summer circuit. Wallner, a third-team All-America pick as a sophomore in 2018, had been playing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He hit .154 in four games. … Ole Miss’ Parker Caracci is still with Team USA and has a win, two saves and a 0.00 ERA in five appearances. The team just finished a series with a club from Japan and next plays a series in Cuba. … Milton Smith Jr., former Starkville High and Meridian Community College standout, had an interesting Monday. He started for Miami’s rookie Gulf Coast League team, going 1-for-2 to boost his average to .356, then joined the Marlins’ Class A Florida State League club, also located in Jupiter, Fla., and got in the Hammerheads’ game as a pinch runner. Smith was a 22nd-round pick last month out of MCC. … Mississippi State alum Hunter Stovall followed up his two-homer pro debut (see previous post) with a four-hit game on Sunday and is now 7-for-9 for the rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies. … The Biloxi Shuckers walloped Jackson (Tenn.) 12-2 on Monday at MGM Park to become the first Southern League club to notch 50 wins. Corey Ray, a top Milwaukee prospect, drove in five runs and Zack Brown improved to 8-0. The Shuckers won the first half in the SL South and are 9-8 in the second half. … Tough year for former Jackson Mets star Ned Yost, who watched his Kansas City Royals lose their 10th straight game on Monday and fall 40 games under .500. Yost was ejected – for the first time in 2018 — in the fourth inning after disputing a third-strike call. … MSU product Hunter Renfroe, playing right field for San Diego, picked up his third assist on Monday, cutting down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner at second base with a great throw from the right-field corner at Petco Park. … Ex-Meridian CC star Corey Dickerson, batting leadoff for Pittsburgh, went 2-for-5 with a triple, an RBI and two runs as the Pirates beat Washington 6-3. Dickerson is batting .458 in his last seven games and .309 for the year. … Billy Hamilton is cutting it loose again. The Taylorsville High alum got his 22nd stolen base of the year – plus two hits and two runs — in Cincinnati’s 7-5 win over Cleveland on Monday. He now has seven bags, seven runs and 10 hits in his last seven games. “It’s mayhem,” Reds broadcaster and former MSU standout Jeff Brantley said of the impact Hamilton can have when he gets on base.