It is a three-team scrap, at the moment, in the American League East. Boston clings to a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees with Tampa Bay hanging 2.5 back. The Rays are visiting Yankee Stadium for a four-game series that starts tonight. Boston hosts surging Kansas City, an AL Central and wild card contender, for three starting on Friday. It’s not a good time to be in a slump, but both Corey Dickerson of the Rays and Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox are in one. Former Meridian Community College star Dickerson, a first-time All-Star this year, is batting .209 with one homer and four RBIs over his last 23 games. His average has plunged to .303. Yankee Stadium is a great hitter’s park for lefties, and Dickerson is batting .343 with three bombs against Yankees pitching this season. So … a breakout might be coming. The Rays would love to see it. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, is hitting .124 without a homer in his last 24 games and went 2-for-17 on the club’s recent road trip. His average is down to .239, and he’s been dropped in the BoSox’s order. He suffered a broken toe in mid-June but played through it and says it’s fine now. If there is a positive for Moreland entering the weekend, he is a better hitter at Fenway Park: .253 with six of his 12 homers and a .341 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have a hit in seven at-bats against Royals pitchers this year, so … perhaps he is due. The Red Sox surely hope that’s true.
Mitch Moreland signed as a free agent with Boston in the off-season. One-year deal, $5.5 million. Both parties have to be thrilled with how this has worked out. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory, has been what Red Sox manager John Farrell calls “a bedrock in our lineup,” which no longer features David Ortiz. The Red Sox are 43-35, tied for first in the American League East with the surprising New York Yankees. Moreland, a lefty-hitting first baseman, is batting .275 and is tied for the club lead with 12 homers and 41 RBIs. He leads in slugging percentage at .486. He will be a free agent again after this season, and his performance has no doubt boosted his market value. When Moreland first signed, speculation was he would platoon at first base with Hanley Ramirez and also get some at-bats as the DH. As it has turned out, Moreland, a Gold Glove winner last year with Texas, has been the regular first baseman essentially from Day 1, appearing in 72 of the team’s 78 games. And there’s this: For the last couple of weeks, he has played with a broken big toe. “It’s a lot more fun playing than it is sitting and watching. That’s the way I look at it,” Moreland told the Boston Herald. That’s the definition of a gamer.
As a rookie in 2010, Mitch Moreland was dynamite in the postseason. He batted .348 (16-for-46) with a home run and seven RBIs as Texas made it all the way to the World Series before losing to San Francisco. Since then, the Mississippi State alum’s postseason production has been minimal: 3-for-43. In 30 career games, he is batting .213 with three homers. In last year’s American League Division Series against Toronto, the lefty-hitting first baseman was 0-for-13. “That’s in the past,” Moreland told sportsday.dallasnews.com. “All I’m thinking about is Thursday. Right now, I’m 0-for-0.” The Rangers hook up with the (hated?) Blue Jays again in the ALDS – Game 1 is today in Arlington — and Moreland is not exactly swinging a hot bat. He hit .167 with one homer in September and October, finishing the year at .233 with 22 bombs and 60 RBIs. He is 0-for-3 with two walks this season against Marco Estrada, Toronto’s Game 1 starter, 0-for-3 against J.A. Happ and 2-for-6 against Aaron Sanchez. A strong postseason, like the one Moreland enjoyed as a rookie, would certainly be welcomed by the Rangers — and would also look nice on the resume for Moreland, who is a pending free agent. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz apparently will be on Boston’s roster for its ALDS against Cleveland. The left-hander, who made 13 starts for the Red Sox after being acquired from San Diego, was moved to the bullpen and threw a sharp 1 1/3 innings in the final game of the year. Pomeranz, who had a 3.32 ERA this season (4.59 with Boston), has pitched in relief often in his pro career. … The Indians’ pitching coach is UM product Mickey Callaway, now in his fourth year in that position.
The Texas Rangers look to Mitch Moreland for power. With Prince Fielder done for the year, perhaps now more than ever. Ex-Mississippi State standout Moreland delivered two solo home runs on Thursday night, powering the Rangers to a 3-2 win against Kansas City. “I know that’s what I’m looked upon as … hit the ball in the gap or drive it out of the ballpark,” Moreland told mlb.com, while humbly deflecting praise toward winning pitcher Cole Hamels. Texas, which once had a big lead in the American League West, is up 3 games on second-place Houston. Moreland enjoyed his best season in 2015 (.278, 23 homers, 85 RBIs) but has had his struggles this year. He is hitting just .237 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. But there are indications he has found a groove. In his last 38 at-bats, the lefty-hitting Amory native is batting .289 with five homers. Both of his homers on Thursday were to the opposite field at Globe Life Park, an approach that Rangers manager Jeff Banister made note of. “When he’s locked in like that it’s a huge plus for our offense,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Washington manager Dusty Baker went back to Jonathan Papelbon (see previous post) in a save situation on Thursday. The former State star lasted three batters. The struggling Papelbon, handed a three-run lead against San Francisco, got an out but then yielded a hit and a walk. Two other relievers closed out the Nationals’ 4-2 win. Papelbon was charged with a run that moved his ERA to 4.41.
This was largely a two-horse race. Brian Dozier bolted to an early lead. Mitch Moreland started slow and was briefly sidetracked by an injury. But Dozier began to fade, as did his team. Moreland kept getting big hits, and his team surged to a division title. In the end, it was Moreland by a nose, winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the Mississippian (native or college alum) who has the best season in the big leagues. Moreland, the former Mississippi State star from Amory, hit .278 (.330 on-base percentage) with 23 homers and 85 RBIs for Texas, which went 88-74. Moreland had five homers and 18 RBIs in September and October as the Rangers fended off Houston and Los Angeles in the American League West. Dozier, the Southern Mississippi product from Fulton, was a first-half sensation and made the All-Star Game. For the year, he scored 101 runs, belted 28 homers and drove in 77 runs. But he batted just .210 after the All-Star break and .197 in September/October as Minnesota faded from the AL wild card battle. Moreland joins a group of Cool Papa Bell honorees that includes Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
There was something in the air Thursday. Maybe it was the Perseid meteor shower. Something. Two players from small towns in Mississippi had career-high four-hit games. What are the odds? In Minnesota, Amory’s Mitch Moreland banged out four hits that included his 17th home run of the season. He drove in four runs – giving him a career-high 61 for the year — as his Texas Rangers beat the Twins 10-5. In Los Angeles, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton also went 4-for-4, scored four times and hit his fourth home run in Cincinnati’s 10-3 victory against the Dodgers. As he sprinted around the bases on the homer that easily cleared the wall in left, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said, “He runs out a home run like he’s afraid they’re going to change their mind.” Hamilton also swiped his 53rd bag of the year. (Note: The magic didn’t work for every Mississippi native in the majors: Tupelo’s Brian Dozier went 0-for-4 for the Twins.) P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn (who was born in Indiana) suffered the worst start of his career, getting just two outs before getting pulled in the first inning of St. Louis’ game against Pittsburgh. Lynn allowed six hits and seven runs (three earned), and the Cardinals ultimately lost 10-5. “It was terrible, plain and simple,” Lynn told The Associated Press.
While the Texas Rangers’ season might be in danger of running off the rails, Mitch Moreland remains on track for the best year of his career. The Mississippi State product from Amory hit two homers on Saturday, running his season total to 16. He has had three two-homer games in the last 13 days. He is batting .289, 32 points above his career average. He has 46 RBIs, 14 shy of his career-high from 2013, when he hit 23 homers. This is good timing for Moreland, 24, in his sixth MLB season. He is eligible for salary arbitration next year. Moreland’s bombs on Saturday couldn’t lift the host Rangers past San Diego, which won 6-5. Texas has lost 14 of 19 to fall to 42-45, third place and 5.5 games off the pace in the American League West. P.S. Nice moment at Target Field in Minnesota on Saturday when it was announced between innings that Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier would be going to the All-Star Game as a replacement for the injured Jose Bautista of Toronto. Dozier, who got a much-deserved standing O, will be USM’s first All-Star representative since Jim Davenport in 1962. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton swiped two bases on Saturday – including third base on a throw from the catcher back to the pitcher — to push his MLB-leading total to 44. But his Cincinnati team got pounded by Miami 14-3 and fell to 39-46 in what has been a lost season for the All-Star Game host.