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).
Brian Dozier makes his first trip to the postseason tonight, and it could be a short stay for the Southern Miss product. Dozier’s Minnesota Twins meet the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the American League’s wild card game. One game, loser goes home. The Yankees are heavily favored. Of course, no one gave the Twins much of a chance of making the postseason at all back in July, after they traded away a couple of key pitchers. Nevertheless, they persisted, to borrow a phrase. From Aug. 5 to season’s end, they went 33-21. They clinched the second wild card with four days left in the season. Dozier, the leadoff batter and emotional leader of the team, batted .303 with 17 home runs and 41 RBIs in August and September. He hit a clutch homer on Sept. 26 that beat Cleveland and reduced Minnesota’s clinching magic number to 1. Tonight’s game will start with Dozier at the plate facing right-hander Luis Severino. The numbers don’t tell us much. Dozier is 0-for-1 with a walk this season against Severino, who went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 2017. Dozier is 2-for-9 this season at Yankee Stadium, 15-for-62 (.242) with two homers there in his career. But there is more to consider than numbers. Dozier, floated as a trade piece in the off-season, wanted to stay with Minnesota, the team that drafted him eight years ago, even though the Twins were not expected to contend. “He had a lot of unfinished business that he wanted to get done,” USM coach Scott Berry told WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg on Monday. Dozier persisted, and he might just be getting started.
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.
While the frontrunners for American League MVP appear to be Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, Brian Dozier deserves at least some honorable mention. The ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton is the engine driving the Minnesota Twins toward an improbable playoff berth. He hit the big home run on Tuesday that helped beat Cleveland and reduced the Twins’ magic number for the second wild card spot to 1. A team that lost 103 games in 2016 is now 83-74 with 38 come-from-behind victories. The Twins, who deployed 10 pitchers in Tuesday’s game, had squandered two leads and were down 6-4 in the eighth when Dozier connected for an opposite-field, three-run bomb. They won 8-6. “That’s what it’s all about … people picking each other up,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. Dozier leads the team in games played, hits, runs, RBIs, home runs and walks. He’s also an excellent second baseman. He started rather slowly this season but has hit .291 with 20 homers since the All-Star break. He has 16 homers and 38 RBIs in August and September. For the year, he’s at .264 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 102 runs. And to think, there were rumors in the off-season that the club was seeking to trade him. As the analysts like to say, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make.
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.
Chuckie Robinson, the former Southern Miss star, capped an ascendant season with a brilliant performance in the Midwest League Championship Series clincher. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer, three RBIs and four runs as Quad Cities, a Houston affiliate, beat Fort Wayne 12-2 on Saturday to claim the Class A league’s pennant. “Talk about your storybook ending,” Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn told the Quad-City Times. Robinson, a second-year pro, was the only player from the River Bandits’ opening day roster still with the team for the playoffs. Robinson, named the series MVP, also homered in Game 1 of the best-of-5, which the River Bandits swept. “Since the playoffs started, all season really, we’ve shown a resilience. We never quit,’’ Robinson told the QCT. Robinson, a catcher, batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs during the season. He earned MWL midseason and postseason All-Star honors. And he’ll probably get an invite to the Astros’ big league camp next spring.
It’s becoming clear what kind of hitter Tim Anderson is. In a word: streaky. The East Central Community College product, now the Chicago White Sox’s shortstop, went 2-for-4 on Tuesday to boost his September average to .405. Anderson batted .204 in April but rebounded to hit .319 in May. He hit a summer swoon in June and July, batting .206. He started hot in August, hitting safely in 14 of his first 16 games that month before cooling off. But he has cranked it back up in September. He has three three-hit games this month and is up to .252 for the year with 16 homers, 60 RBIs and nine steals. He hit .283 as a rookie. White Sox fans best get used to this streakiness: Anderson, drafted 17th overall out of ECCC in 2013, is signed for five more years. P.S. Some magic numbers from Tuesday: Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit his 30th homer, marking the second time he has reached that figure. He was a double shy of a cycle in Minnesota’s 16-0 drubbing of San Diego. … Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart reached the 20-homer plateau for the first time, taking former Rebels teammate Lance Lynn deep. But Lynn, now 11-7, won the day as St. Louis whipped Cincinnati 13-4. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Ozzie Albies stretched his hitting streak to 10 games as Atlanta zapped Washington 8-0. Albies, the rookie second baseman, went 3-for-5 with his third homer and is hitting .293 with 18 RBIs in 39 games.