September is not the time to fall into a hitting funk. With their teams fighting for postseason berths, three Mississippians, all toiling in the American League East, are fighting slumps. With less than three weeks left in the season, Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith and Corey Dickerson need to rise and shine. Boston leads the division but only by 3 games over the New York Yankees. Moreland, the former Mississippi State star from Amory, has had a productive first year with the Red Sox (.248, 18 home runs, 68 RBIs) but currently finds himself in a 6-for-38 skid. He is homer-less in September. Jackson native and Ole Miss product Smith is just 2-for-23 in September for Baltimore, which sits 4.5 games out in the wild card chase and is desperate for some offensive spark. Smith, batting .259 overall, has contributed 13 homers and 31 RBIs in his first (and probably last) year with the Orioles. Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are also rather dim; the Rays are 5 games out. Dickerson, the McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College standout, is just 3-for-35 this month and has been slumping for a while. He was hitting .312 at the All-Star break – when he started for the AL – but has hit .218 since with just 18 RBIs. For the year, he’s at .277 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs. The Rays would certainly love to see the All-Star version of Dickerson reemerge. P.S. For the record, ex-State star Dakota Hudson got the win for Memphis in Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League title series on Wednesday night; former Bulldogs slugger Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-4 for El Paso.
Crackle … buzzzz … crackle … We interrupt coverage of the heated major league races to take you to Memphis’ AutoZone Park, where, tonight, the Memphis Redbirds and El Paso Chihuahuas will open the best-of-5 Pacific Coast League Championship Series. Mississippians could play prominent roles. Dakota Hudson, former Mississippi State star, will start Game 1 for the Redbirds, a St. Louis affiliate, and he’ll likely face another ex-Bulldogs standout, Hunter Renfroe, an outfielder for the Chihuahuas, a San Diego farm club. Hudson was the Double-A Texas League pitcher of the year but scuffled a bit in Triple-A, going 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA in seven starts. He delivered a strong start in winning Game 1 of the PCL semifinals, yielding one run in six innings. Ole Miss product Mike Mayers works out of the Memphis bullpen. He had a 3.28 ERA in 31 games and made three scoreless appearances in the semifinal series. Renfroe, sent down by the Padres last month, hit .509 with four homers in 14 games in his return to El Paso, which he led to the PCL pennant in 2016. He had a homer and three RBIs in the Chihuahuas’ semifinal series sweep of Fresno. Renfroe should have some fond memories of AutoZone Park; he made his Triple-A debut there last summer and hit a home run, one of the 105 he has blasted in his five pro seasons.
He’d surely much rather be in the big leagues, but Hunter Renfroe is doing something now that he wouldn’t be doing in San Diego: Chasing a championship. The ex-Mississippi State star, demoted by the Padres last month, has helped Triple-A El Paso reach the Pacific Coast League finals. He drove in the go-ahead run on Friday night as the Chihuahuas beat Reno 7-6 to complete a three-game sweep in the semifinals. In 14 regular season games for El Paso, Renfroe batted an eye-popping .509 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 18 runs. He went 3-for-12 with a homer and three RBIs in the Reno series. “Hunter came down here with a smile on his face, ready to play some baseball,” El Paso manager Rod Barajas told milb.com. Renfroe was hitting .230 with 20 homers for the Padres when he was sent down, ostensibly to work on making more contact. El Paso awaits the winner of the other PCL semifinal between Memphis and Colorado Springs. Former Ole Miss standout David Goforth pitches for Colorado Springs, a Milwaukee affiliate, and worked in Friday’s game, a 16-15 win that put the Sky Sox up 2-1 in the series. MSU product Dakota Hudson, one of St. Louis’ top prospects, got the win for the Redbirds on Wednesday night, allowing one earned run in six innings. P.S. In his first MLB appearance since July 31, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Tony Sipp pitched a clean inning for Houston in its 9-8 loss to Oakland. Veteran left-hander Sipp, having a difficult year, has a 6.27 ERA. … Ex-Northwest Mississippi CC star Cody Reed made his first big league appearance since May 3, pitching an inning (one unearned run) for Cincinnati in a loss to the New York Mets.
A sliver of the baseball spotlight will be trained tonight on Memphis’ AutoZone Park, where Hunter Renfroe will lead El Paso against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a one-game showdown for the Triple-A championship. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, hit .306 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs and won Pacific Coast League MVP honors with the Chihuahuas, a San Diego affiliate. International League champ SWB, a New York Yankees affiliate, is managed by former Jackson Mets star Al Pedrique. Both clubs feature several top prospects. Jonathan Holder, another MSU product, spent part of this season with SWB but is now in the big leagues. Renfroe, rated the Padres’ No. 3 prospect by mlb.com, may be in line for a call-up to The Show, but he says all he is focused on at the moment is his current team and tonight’s game. “San Diego will always be there, and when the time comes for them to make a decision, I’ll be here,” he told The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. The NBC Sports Network will televise the 7:05 game. P.S. For the first time in his seven seasons in the majors, Mitch Moreland was ejected from a game. Former State standout Moreland got tossed in the fourth inning Monday by home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley after “disputing,” while walking away, a called third strike during Texas’ game against the Los Angeles Angels. “It was obviously a pitch I didn’t agree with,” Moreland said in an mlb.com article. The Rangers won 3-2 in walk-off fashion, reducing their magic number for clinching the American League West to 3.
The El Paso Chihuahuas’ season goes on, which apparently means Hunter Renfroe’s much-anticipated big league debut is on hold. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League MVP, hit a go-ahead home run on Saturday that propelled El Paso into the PCL Championship Series, which will begin on Tuesday. When San Diego traded Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp in late July, it appeared it was clearing space in the outfield for prospects like Renfroe, who is among the Padres’ most highly regarded. The 2013 first-round pick has had a big year with the bat in the hitter-friendly PCL: .306, 30 homers, 34 doubles, 105 RBIs, .557 slugging percentage. And he’s also a good right fielder with a plus arm. If the Padres wait until El Paso’s playoff run is over to promote Renfroe, he’d still have a couple of weeks to audition for a regular job in 2017. Eight Mississippians (natives or college alums) have debuted in MLB in 2016: Chad Girodo, Chris Stratton, Tim Anderson, Cody Reed, Adam Frazier, Mike Mayers, JaCoby Jones and Jonathan Holder. P.S. Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney got the save in Saturday’s clincher as Triple-A Gwinnett beat Columbus 5-4 to advance to the International League finals. Roney is 4-for-4 in save chances with a 3.57 ERA and three wins in 27 games for the G-Braves this season. He had a 2.82 in 17 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who are now in the Southern League title series. Atlanta’s low-A Rome club reached the South Atlantic League finals, fueled in part by DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, who went 3-for-10 with four RBIs in the first round series. Riley, Atlanta’s top pick in 2015, is batting .270 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs.
Ex-Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull could get the start tonight for West Michigan in Game 5 of the Midwest League Championship Series. Turnbull, an 11-game winner this season, is 1-1 in the postseason, including a loss to Cedar Rapids in Game 1 of the title series. Selected by the Detroit Tigers in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, Turnbull already is rated their No. 5 prospect by mlb.com. As a junior at Bama, Turnbull went 5-7 with a 2.22 ERA, and he had a 3.54 career ERA there. He was on a state championship team at Madison Central. … Ole Miss alum Alex Presley went 2-for-5 and homered to help Fresno claim the Pacific Coast League pennant with a 7-3 win against Round Rock on Sunday. Presley batted .390 in the postseason for the Grizzlies, Houston’s Triple-A team, which will meet International League champ Columbus (Cleveland) on Tuesday for the Triple-A “national championship.” … Biloxi and Chattanooga will play a fifth and deciding game tonight in the Southern League title series. Former UM standout Stuart Turner is the Lookouts’ catcher, and Jackson native Stu Cliburn is the pitching coach for Minnesota’s Double-A club.
Watched a few innings of the Pacific Coast League game of the week on TV Thursday night. Eli Whiteside, the ex-Delta State star from New Albany, was catching for Iowa (Chicago Cubs) and Mississippi State product Ed Easley was behind the plate for Memphis (St. Louis Cardinals) at AutoZone Park. These are two guys who must really love the game. They are backup catchers in Triple-A. Both are scuffling in their limited time: Whiteside is batting .168, Easley .204. Whiteside, who’ll be 35 in October, is in his 15th pro season. He has 208 MLB games under his belt and won a World Series ring with San Francisco in 2010. The Cubs are the seventh organization Whiteside has played for. He last appeared in the majors — briefly — in 2012. Easley, 28, is in his eighth season. He has yet to play in a big league game. He hit .334 with six homers and 49 RBIs in Triple-A for Arizona in 2013, never got a call-up, then signed with St. Louis in the off-season as a minor league free agent. The chances that either Whiteside or Easley will get called to the big leagues this season are pretty slim. Yet they keep plugging away at the game’s most demanding position. There is something admirable about that kind of devotion. P.S. Tony Sipp has shown that he still has some gas in the tank. The Pascagoula native has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings over eight appearances with Houston. Sipp, given his release from a minor league contract with San Diego so that he could sign with the Astros, has yielded just one hit and one walk with 13 strikeouts for a club that is suddenly playing well. The Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum is in his 11th pro season.