Keep an eye on Mitch Moreland in today’s American League Division Series opener between Boston and Houston. The former Mississippi State star has very good numbers against Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer who’ll start for the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Moreland, the Red Sox’s lefty-hitting first baseman, is 10-for-29 (.345) against Verlander with six doubles and six RBIs. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs in his first year with Boston; he has a .216 career postseason average in 33 games, all with Texas. Verlander, who has 188 career wins, went 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA this season, 5-0, 1.06 with Houston. … Tony Sipp, the Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum, was not expected to make the Astros’ ALDS roster. Left-hander Sipp had a 5.79 ERA this year, almost two runs higher than his career mark. … There will be two Mississippians in uniform for today’s New York-Cleveland ALDS opener. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway is in his fifth year as the Indians’ pitching coach, and Louisville native and ex-East Central CC star Marcus Thames is in his second as the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach. … Former Mississippi State pitcher Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.89 ERA in 37 MLB games in 2017, was not on the Yankees’ active roster for the wild card game and isn’t likely to be on the ALDS roster. … Belated props to Hawtin Buchanan, the former UM standout from Biloxi who won a championship with the York Revolution in the independent Atlantic League last Friday. Buchanan posted a 3.40 ERA in 38 games for York.
Three members of the Mississippi Braves’ original opening day roster from 2005 are on MLB postseason teams this year. Catcher Brian McCann, the first M-Brave to get the big league ticket, is with Houston – along with fellow ex-M-Braves Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis and James Hoyt – heading into the American League Division Series battle with Boston. Right-hander Blaine Boyer, who was the second M-Brave to be promoted to Atlanta, works out of the Red Sox’s bullpen, as does Craig Kimbrel. Outfielder Gregor Blanco, who waited a little longer – until 2008 – than McCann and Boyer to make The Show, is a bench player for Arizona, which hosts Colorado in tonight’s National League wild card game. Blanco has had a journeyman career but has played in 37 postseason games and won two World Series rings – with San Francisco in 2012 and ’14. Released by the Giants after last season, Blanco signed with the Diamondbacks. In 90 games, the speedy left-handed hitter batted .246 with three homers, 13 RBIs, 43 runs and 15 steals. He is also a good defensive outfielder. His advice for his D-backs teammates, many of whom are making their first postseason appearance? “Have fun and play the game,” Blanco told sfgate.com. “Whatever happens, happens.” P.S. Several other former Jackson area Double-A connections are with teams who made the postseason, including ex-Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, now Arizona’s bench coach, and ex-JaxMets infielder Dave Magadan, the D’backs’ hitting coach. Former JaxMets pitcher Neil Allen is the pitching coach for Minnesota, which was eliminated Tuesday by the New York Yankees. M-Braves alum Chasen Shreve, a Las Vegas native who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium, is a reliever for the Yanks. Dave Hudgens, a onetime Jackson Generals hitting coach, now fills that role for Houston. M-Braves products Alex Wood and Luis Avilan pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella play for the Chicago Cubs. … Tuesday marked the end of an era in Tampa Bay with the unexpected departure – by mutual agreement? — of former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey from the Rays’ staff. Hickey has been the Rays’ pitching coach for 11 years. He’ll have no trouble finding another job. Also on Tuesday, Seattle announced that ex-JaxMets shortstop Tim Bogar will not return as bench coach.
Minnesota lost Wednesday night, but Brian Dozier and his Twins mates still enjoyed a postgame celebration. Boston won, but Mitch Moreland and Co. can’t pop the bubbly just yet. There was gloom in Milwaukee for Brandon Woodruff and the Brew Crew, which is running out of chances for a party. The Twins, despite a 4-2 loss to Cleveland, clinched the second wild card in the American League because Los Angeles lost to Chicago. (East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had a game-tying hit in the sixth for the White Sox, who won on Nicky Delmonico’s 10th-inning homer.) “This is a totally different team,” ex-Southern Miss star Dozier told ESPN, referencing the 2016 Twins, who lost 103 games. “It is a totally different mindset.” In the wild card game, Minnesota will visit either New York or Boston. The Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 – former Mississippi State standout Moreland had a hit and scored in a game-breaking five-run third inning and later added his 21st home run – to remain 3 games up on the Yankees in the battle for the AL East throne. Boston faces a four-game home series against AL West champ Houston to close the season. In the National League, the Chicago Cubs won at St. Louis to clinch the Central Division, eliminating the Brewers, who lost 6-0 at home to Cincinnati. MSU product Woodruff took the loss, yielding the six runs in three-plus innings. “Yeah, it stings a little bit more, especially at the end of the year in this type of race,” Woodruff told The Associated Press. The Brewers are hanging by their fingernails in the NL wild card race, trailing Colorado by 2.5 games with four remaining. St. Louis is 3.5 back, with a game left against the hated Cubs tonight and then three against the Brewers to finish.
Former Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz is due for one more start for Boston before the playoffs begin. Based on his performance on Monday, the big left-hander appears to need a little maintenance work. Pomeranz was knocked out in the third inning by Toronto, yielding five runs on seven hits and a walk with no strikeouts. His velocity reportedly was down and his command was lacking. Pomeranz shrugged it off, telling reporters he felt fine. “I really didn’t have a chance to get settled in …,” he told The Associated Press. The Red Sox, who have not yet clinched the American League East, lost the game 6-4. It was just the second loss Pomeranz has absorbed in his last 19 starts. Overall, in 31 starts, he is 16-6 with a 3.38 ERA. The Red Sox need “Big Smooth” to be just that for the postseason.
It started – and ended – with a Rebel vs. Bulldog confrontation. The worst start of Lance Lynn’s MLB career began on Saturday with a double off the bat of Adam Frazier. Former Mississippi State star Frazier would also be the last batter ex-Ole Miss standout Lynn would face in the first inning of the Pittsburgh-St. Louis game. In between Frazier’s two at-bats – the second resulted in a walk — the Pirates scored six runs. Lynn, who recorded just two outs, would be charged with eight runs all told in the inning and took the loss in the Pirates’ 11-6 victory. Lynn’s ERA jumped almost 40 points to 3.47; his record dipped to 11-8. What’s worse, the Cardinals fell behind Milwaukee in both the National League Central and wild card races. The Brewers’ 4-3 10-inning, walk-off win over the Chicago Cubs moved them 4.5 games back in the division and 1 back of Colorado for the second wild card. St. Louis is 5 back and 1.5 back in those races. In sum, it was a bad time for a bad start for the usually reliable Lynn, a pending free agent. P.S. Ex-State star Mitch Moreland’s 20th homer of the year propelled Boston to a 5-0 win against Cincinnati and closer to clinching the American League East. The New York Yankees clinched at least a wild card by beating Toronto 5-1 but remain 4 back of Boston in the division. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier’s leadoff “little league home run” – he circled the bases on a pair of errant throws – started Minnesota on its way to a 10-4 win over Detroit as the Twins kept a grip on the second wild card in the AL. Kansas City is now third, 4 games back.
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.
Virtually every game played in the American League these days is meaningful, with implications in the division races, the wild card race and/or the best record races. Key situations are magnified, clutch performers identified. Mississippians stepping up on Wednesday included two of the usual suspects: Mitch Moreland and Brian Dozier. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory, hit a go-ahead pinch home run in the seventh inning for Boston, propelling the AL East leader to a 7-1 win at Toronto. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning, and now has 18 homers and 63 RBIs on the year. He is hitting .346 over his last 27 games and .257 on the year. “He’s in a good place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told The Associated Press. Dozier, the former Southern Miss star from Fulton, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a run in Minnesota’s 11-1 romp past the Chicago White Sox. The Twins moved within a game of AL wild card leader New York (and 7 back of Cleveland in the Central). Dozier, batting .263, has 74 RBIs and 75 runs; that’s 149 runs accounted for in 124 games. He also has 26 homers and 14 steals. He’s in a pretty good place, too. Meanwhile, State alum Kendall Graveman, starting for an Oakland team reduced to a spoiler role, got rocked by the Los Angeles Angels, who are third in the wild card scramble. Graveman yielded three homers and five runs all told over five innings in a 10-8 loss. He got a no-decision but saw his ERA rise to 4.54. P.S. In a Pacific Coast League game that mattered (certainly to him), Hunter Renfroe blasted his third homer in nine games for El Paso. The ex-State star has 12 RBIs and a .526 average since San Diego sent him down to Triple-A.