It’s opening day in the Arizona Fall League, which is sort of a select circuit for minor league prospects. Peoria, which hosts Glendale today, is managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar and features several M-Braves players from this past season. Most notable among that group are Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout; Ronald Acuna, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect; Max Fried, today’s scheduled starter; and Alex Jackson. Ex-Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley (Cleveland) is on the Glendale roster. Southern Miss alum Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) pitches for Scottsdale, which is hosting Mesa. On Mesa’s roster are Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull and ex-Mississippi State standout Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands. Former Ole Miss star Braxton Lee (Miami) plays for Salt River, which visits Surprise. Delta State product Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) is on the Saguaros’ pitching staff. The AFL season runs through Nov. 16. P.S. Boston was knocked out of the American League playoffs by Houston on Monday, but ex-State standout Mitch Moreland went down swinging. Moreland, in perhaps his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, was 5-for-13 (.385) with two doubles in the four games, raising his career postseason average to .236 (26-for-110).
Charlie Morton, Houston’s scheduled starter today in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Boston, spent a largely forgettable season with the Mississippi Braves in 2007. The right-hander, then 23 years old and in his sixth pro season, appeared in 41 games, all but six in relief. He went 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA. He was 0-for-4 in save opportunities. But he got the start for the M-Braves in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoffs against Montgomery at Trustmark Park and delivered what might have been a career-altering performance: seven innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. He made the big leagues the next year after a strong showing in Triple-A. Morton’s MLB career has been unspectacular – 60-78, 4.41 ERA – and stunted by injuries. But he found a footing with the Astros this season, going 14-7, 3.62. Today, at what could be a soggy Fenway Park, he gets his second MLB postseason start. Former M-Braves star Brian McCann (Class of 2005) likely will be the Astros’ catcher today. Waiting in the Boston bullpen, no doubt champing at the bit for a save opportunity, will be Craig Kimbrel, arguably the most dominant closer to pass through Pearl these last 13 years. Kimbrel was 6-for-6 in save opps with two wins and a 0.77 ERA in 12 games for the M-Braves in 2009. … Should there be a Game 4 in the Los Angeles-Arizona National League Division Series, former M-Braves standout Alex Wood is slated to start for the Dodgers. The lefty, a spectacular 16-3, 2.72 this season, went 4-2, 1.26 in 10 starts for the M-Braves in 2013 and made the big leagues that same year.
Way back in 2010, the scouting department of the Cleveland Indians envisioned Drew Pomeranz pitching in big games. The Indians drafted the big lefty out of Ole Miss with the fifth overall pick and signed him for $2.6 million. He was the second pitcher taken – behind Jameson Taillon – and went ahead of Matt Harvey and Chris Sale. Though he no longer pitches for Cleveland – that was four teams ago – Pomeranz’s big game is here. He takes the ball for Boston today at Houston’s Minute Maid Park with his team down 1-0 in the best-of-5 American League Division Series. Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32 ERA) got the win against the Astros last week in the victory that secured the AL East title. That was a big game, too. But this is certainly bigger. It’ll be Pomeranz’s first postseason start. And he’s facing an Astros team that raked Red Sox pitching – including Sale — for 12 hits and eight runs in Thursday’s opener. And he’ll be opposed by Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner who is 14-5, 2.90 ERA. Pomeranz may be able to draw on his success from last week, when he checked the Astros on three hits and a lone run in six-plus innings. “Kind of goes both ways,” Pomeranz told masslive.com. “They got to see me; I got to see them.” And that was at Fenway Park, with the backing of Red Sox Nation. Today will be different. And so much bigger. … It’ll be interesting to see if former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland, a lefty hitter, is in the Boston lineup against left-hander Keuchel. The Red Sox might want Moreland at first base for his defense.
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.