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.
From a promotional standpoint, they couldn’t ask for much better than this: The Mississippi Braves, making a postseason push, play their final homestand of the season against one of the teams in front of them in the standings, that team down south, the Biloxi Shuckers. The five-game Southern League series opens tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves are 31-26, in third place in the SL South, 2.5 games behind first-place Biloxi, which won the first-half title. In the overall standings, which come into play if the Shuckers also win the second half, the M-Braves are 60-67, trailing Mobile by 3.5 games and Pensacola by 3. The M-Braves aren’t exactly surging but have won seven of their last 10. They’ve been led at the plate by Luis Valenzuela, 7-for-13 in four games at Mobile and a .287 hitter on the year, and Travis Demeritte, .323 over his last 10 games and the club leader in homers (16) and RBIs (58). Cristian Pache, the 19-year-old prospect added earlier this month, is at .311 with five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs in 19 games. The brilliance of the starting rotation has been well-documented, but don’t overlook the contributions of closer Jason Hursh, who has saves in each of his last four appearances and a 2.13 ERA in 10 games. Biloxi features two of Milwaukee’s top hitting prospects, former first-round draftees Corey Ray (.242, 27 homers, 72 RBIs, 33 steals) and Keston Hiura (.278), and league ERA leader Zack Brown (2.33 with a 9-0 record). P.S. The M-Braves are averaging just over 2,200 a game (announced attendance). … The M-Braves have reached the postseason four times since the franchise relocated to Pearl in 2005, most recently in 2016. The club won its only SL pennant in 2008.
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.
The Cleveland Indians, running away with the American League Central, may not need the help that Bobby Bradley could provide down the stretch. But, if that need does arise, the left-handed slugger from Gulfport looks ready to launch. Bradley, 22, playing at Triple-A Columbus, hit his second home run in the past four games on Tuesday. He has 26 homers on the year, including the 24 he hit in Double-A. After a slow start with Columbus, the Indians’ No. 7 prospect is batting .273 over his last 10 games. … Apparently, there was something in the air on Tuesday. Mississippians all over the minors were in launch mode. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley homered in both games of a doubleheader for Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system. Riley has seven homers in Triple-A and 14 on the year, including six he hit for the Mississippi Braves. Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker smacked a grand slam, his 22nd homer, for Double-A Chattanooga in the Minnesota organization. He is batting .263 with 77 RBIs in his second pro season. First-year pro Zack Shannon, the ex-Delta State slugger, belted his 12th homer at Missoula in Arizona’s system. He is batting .343 with 50 RBIs. (And to think there were questions about whether he’d even be drafted.) Worth noting: Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed homered on Monday, his 14th at low Class A Hickory in Texas’ chain. Reed, batting .274 on the year, is hitting .324 over his last 10 games.
They just keep coming. On Monday, it was Bryse Wilson, the latest fresh, young arm summoned from the minors by Atlanta. Like so many of the others, the 20-year-old Wilson impressed, throwing five shutout innings at Pittsburgh to win his debut, 1-0. All the recent hype about the pitching talent in the Braves’ farm system appears to be very real. Truth is truth, so to speak. Followers of the Double-A Mississippi Braves have been witness to their rise. Of the 33 pitchers Atlanta has employed this season, 18 passed through Pearl. Five M-Braves pitching alums have made their big league debut since July 31. Over the last two years the likes of Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, A.J. Minter, Luiz Gohara, Jesse Biddle, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and now Wilson have made The Show and made a positive impression. Wilson, 3-5 with a 3.97 ERA for the M-Braves this season, certainly looked like he belonged from the get-go on Monday. He struck out the first two batters he faced, Mississippians Corey Dickerson and Adam Frazier. And there are more arms on the minor league runway: Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, et al. It’s hard to keep track. Where will they all fit in? For the Braves, it’s a nice problem to have.
While Braves Nation stews and awaits more news on Ronald Acuna’s injured arm, here’s something to cheer them up: Cristian Pache. Acuna – recklessly drilled by Miami’s Jose Urena on Wednesday night – is the current big thing in Atlanta; Pache, now playing center field and leading off for the Mississippi Braves, might be the Next Big Thing. The 19-year-old Pache, rated the Braves’ No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is batting .327 in 12 games for the Double-A M-Braves. He drew a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning on Wednesday to give the team a 3-2 win over Chattanooga at Trustmark Park. He has yet to homer or steal a base but those will come. Pache is 6 feet 2, 185 pounds with plus speed (32 stolen bases in A-ball in 2017) and developing power (eight homers in A-ball this season). Some consider the Dominican Republic native the best defensive center fielder in the minors. The Braves’ prospect chart is dominated by an armada of arms that seems to get most of the hype, but there are some position players of note. In addition to Pache, there’s former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley at Triple-A Gwinnett and outfielder Drew Waters and catcher William Contreras at Class A Florida. All in all, it’s a good time to be a Braves fan.
For any fan of the game, this is a pretty cool confluence of events: Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker comes to Trustmark Park in Pearl, where, assuming he is in tonight’s lineup for Chattanooga, he’ll likely face Ian Anderson, the No. 3 prospect in Atlanta’s system who is expected to make his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves. Rooker, in his second pro season after a decorated career at State, is batting .271 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He is rated the No. 7 prospect in Minnesota’s system, primarily based on his power potential. He hit 18 homers at two levels in the lower minors in 2017. Anderson, 20, a slender right-hander, was the third overall pick in the 2016 draft out of a New York high school. He was 2-6 with a 2.52 ERA at Class A Florida with 118 strikeouts in 100 innings and a .198 batting average against. In his last six games, he posted a 0.77 ERA. Hence, the promotion. Rooker is hitting just .200 with one homer over his last 10 games. He went 4-for-17 with five strikeouts in a series against the M-Braves in Chattanooga Aug. 2-6. The M-Braves’ rotation has been a revolving door much of the season, caused mainly by top prospects moving up. (See: Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright.) And yet the current group can be quite formidable. Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez, Wednesday’s probable starter, has been on the prospect radar for several years and is currently the Braves’ No. 27. Enderson Franco (5-7, 3.89), slated for Thursday, was the Southern League pitcher of the week for July 30-Aug. 5. And recent addition Kyle Muller, expected to start Friday, is the Braves’ No. 11 prospect. He has won both of his Double-A starts. P.S. Toussaint, who got the win for Atlanta in his MLB debut on Monday, is the 12th M-Braves alum to make the big leagues this year. The others: Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson, Evan Phillips (now with Baltimore), Wes Parsons, Willians Astudillo (Minnesota), Michael Reed (previously up with Milwaukee), Kolby Allard, Adam McCreery and Chad Sobotka.