Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, has had a big year for Atlanta, but the MVP chatter surrounding the third baseman has diminished lately. He has a chance to revive it this weekend in the series that’s been circled on a lot of calendars seemingly for months. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock all summer, the New York Mets visit Truist Park for a three-game set that could decide the National League East title. The Braves are down a game in the standings. One of Riley’s main rivals for MVP is the Mets’ Pete Alonso, so that’s a subplot worth watching. Riley is batting .275 with 37 home runs and 92 RBIs. But over his last 15 games, he has hit just .200 with one homer and two RBIs. The Braves need better production this weekend. For the record, Riley is batting .294 with two homers and five RBIs career against Jacob deGrom, New York’s starter in tonight’s opener. … There will also be a spotlight on several other former Mississippi Braves. The immensely talented Ronald Acuna (.275, 15 homers, 28 steals) has hit just .214 in his last seven games. Michael Harris II, the likely NL rookie of the year, is batting .305 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs and 20 bags — but is at .267 with one homer in his last seven. And then there are the starting pitchers in three dream matchups. Max Fried (13-7, 2.50 ERA) faces deGrom tonight, followed by Kyle Wright (20-5, 3.18) against Max Scherzer on Saturday and Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) vs. Chris Bassitt on Sunday. The managerial matchup is also pretty sweet: Former M-Braves skipper Brian Snitker rolling the dice against ex-Mississippi State star Buck Showalter. P.S. The M-Braves, Atlanta’s Double-A club, will play an exhibition game against Jackson State next April 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium, it was announced on Thursday. Proceeds from the Hank Aaron Tribute Game reportedly will go to a fund to improve facilities at Jackson parks and schools. Smith-Wills was the longtime home of Jackson’s Double-A Texas League teams, the Mets and Generals, and now hosts the Hank Aaron Sports Academy. The Generals, a Houston affiliate, played JSU in an exhibition game at Smith-Wills in 1991.
The big league season is winding down, and Brandon Woodruff is ramping up. “This is my favorite time of year,” the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout told mlb.com on Wednesday. Woodruff had just thrown six shutout innings to beat St. Louis, setting a Milwaukee Brewers record by fanning 10 or more batters for the fourth straight outing. The Brewers’ 5-1 win against the National League Central champs moved them within a half-game of slumping Philadelphia for the third wild card in the NL. Woodruff, 13-4 on the season, is 4-0 with 42 strikeouts over 26 innings in his last four starts. He has 183 K’s in 147 1/3 innings on the year. One Brewers infielder jokingly remarked that it’s been no fun to play behind Woodruff because he strikes everybody out. Former MSU star Hunter Renfroe drove in the Brewers’ first run on Wednesday, boosting his season RBI total to 70. Milwaukee hosts Miami today, while Philadelphia, in a four-game skid, plays the Cubs in Chicago. P.S. In case anyone was wondering, two of Aaron Judge’s American League record-tying 61 home runs have come against Mississippi products. He got MSU alum Kendall Graveman for No. 15 and Ole Miss’ Mike Mayers for No. 51. … Minnesota has to be pleased with what it has seen from ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner in the first 12 games of his MLB career. The lefty slugger, who had two hits and three RBIs in a win on Wednesday, is batting .275 with two homers and nine RBIs. … MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to crank out hits for Texas, getting two more Wednesday to boost his average to .305, with 25 homers and 73 RBIs. He has 173 hits on the season — tied for seventh-most in the majors — and 39 knocks in his last 30 games (a .345 average).
The 2022 season already had been a good one for Justin Foscue. It got better on Tuesday night when the former Mississippi State standout and his Frisco teammates won the Texas League championship by beating Wichita in the decisive third game of the series. Foscue, rated the No. 5 prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system, batted .288 with 15 homers and 81 RBIs in his second pro season. The second baseman was a first-round pick out of State in 2020. Mississippi College product Blaine Crim also played a big part in Frisco’s success this year, hitting .295 with 24 bombs and 91 RBIs, but he was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock earlier this month. … The Southern League pennant will be decided tonight between Pensacola and Tennessee at Kodak, Tenn. Former McLaurin High star Davis Bradshaw is an outfielder for the Blue Wahoos, a Miami affiliate; he batted .286 in 27 games after a well-earned promotion from A-ball. The host Smokies, a Chicago Cubs affiliate, have Pontotoc native and Itawamba Community College alum Delvin Zinn on their roster; the shortstop batted just .137 in limited at-bats this year but did steal 12 bases. … The Eastern League crown will go to either Erie or Somerset; they play their Game 3 tonight at Bridgewater Township, N.J. Former Jackson Prep standout Will Warren has been a solid starter (7-6, 4.02 ERA) for Somerset, a New York Yankees’ farm club. … The Triple-A Championship final four is set for Las Vegas: Durham and Nashville will play Saturday for the International League title with the winner to meet the Pacific Coast League champ, either El Paso or Reno, in Sunday’s finale. Delta State alum Dalton Moats (3.60 ERA) is a reliever for Durham (Tampa Bay), and ex-MSU standout Ethan Small (7-6, 4.50) pitches for Nashville (Milwaukee). P.S. In the big leagues, Mississippi college products Corey Dickerson, Dakota Hudson and Chris Stratton celebrated a National League Central title with the St. Louis Cardinals, who eliminated Milwaukee from that race with a 6-2 win on Tuesday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, a Minnesota native now with the Twins, hit his first Target Field home run on Tuesday; it came on the last pitch thrown by Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn. Wallner’s Twins beat Lynn and the Chicago White Sox 4-0. … The White Sox, essentially out of playoff contention, announced that former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, their All-Star shortstop, is done for the season with a hand injury. He hit .301 in 79 games. … Ole Miss product Mike Mayers has been designated for assignment (for the second time in 2022) by the Los Angeles Angels. The 30-year-old right-hander had a 5.68 ERA this season.
Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High star, has turned his season around the last two months at Triple-A Round Rock in the Texas organization. In 18 games in August and September, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-handed reliever has put up a 1.00 ERA with a win and four saves, including one on Monday against Sugar Land. A 25th-round draft pick out of Petal in 2015, Evans pitched in the big leagues in 2020-21, posting a 4.75 ERA in 29 appearances. He was expected to contend for a bullpen role this season but was optioned to Round Rock during spring training and didn’t pitch in a game until late May. In late June, off to a rocky start, he was dropped from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Round Rock. His performance the past two months may have put him back on the MLB radar, if not for the Rangers then some other club. For the year, the 25-year-old Evans has a 3.82 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 33 innings over 32 games. P.S. Kudos to Bryce Elder, the Mississippi Braves alumnus who became the first Atlanta rookie in 32 years to throw a shutout. The right-hander beat Washington 8-0 with an impressively efficient six-hitter on Monday, improving to 2-3, 2.76, in nine MLB games this season. Elder, from Texas, went 7-1, 3.21 — with one complete game — for the Double-A South champion M-Braves last season. He was promoted to Triple-A before the postseason.
There was another celebration in MLB on Sunday — the fifth in a seven-day stretch — when Cleveland clinched the American League Central with a 10-4 win at Texas. Former Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, one of the record 16 rookies to suit up for Guardians in their title run, threw two scoreless innings in relief, trimming his ERA to 4.28 over 11 appearances. Fellow rookie Konnor Pilkington, the Mississippi State product, wasn’t on the active roster Sunday but also contributed this season, as did ex-USM standout Nick Sandlin, a second-year player who was in uniform and in the clubhouse for the after-party. … MSU alum Kendall Graveman took the loss against Detroit for the Chicago White Sox, whose sixth straight defeat officially eliminated them from the AL Central race. The ChiSox, the preseason favorite in the division, are still in the wild card chase but barely. … Seattle, an AL wild card contender, blew a nine-run lead and lost to Kansas City 13-12. Ex-State star Adam Frazier went 1-for-2 with an RBI for the Mariners but was on the bench when the Royals scored 11 runs in the sixth inning. … Milwaukee, bidding for a National League playoff berth, saw its five-game win streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati. Former MSU standout Hunter Renfroe’s 28th homer accounted for the Brewers’ lone run. He homered and drove in five runs all told in a 10-2 win on Saturday. … Don Mattingly is out as Miami manager after this season, which means former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames, the Marlins’ first-year hitting coach, probably will be out, as well. Miami has scuffled with the bats this season. P.S. Last week was filled with memorable events in addition to the postseason clinchings, and Mississippians were front-and-center for several. When the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hit his 60th homer on Tuesday, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes — an ex-Yankee — was in the house after a first-pitch ceremony with his son Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh’s third baseman. Ex-MSU star Buck Showalter, the Mets manager, sarcastically called for the ball when his club suffered its MLB-record 106th hit batsman on Wednesday. When Albert Pujols hit home runs No. 699 and 700 for St. Louis on Friday, Mississippi college products Dakota Hudson, Chris Stratton and Corey Dickerson, fellow Cardinals, had front-row seats at Dodger Stadium.
On his way to 700 home runs, Albert Pujols victimized seven different Mississippians for a total of 14 round-trippers during his 22-year career. He took Roy Oswalt and Kendall Graveman deep four times each, got Paul Maholm twice and belted one apiece against Louis Coleman, Drew Pomeranz, Dakota Hudson (his current teammate with St. Louis) and Demarcus Evans. Pujols got Weir’s Oswalt for No. 23 in 2001, when both were rookies. He got ex-Mississippi State star Graveman twice in one game in 2017, Nos. 611 and 612. Evans, the former Petal High standout, made his big league debut on Sept. 18, 2020, for Texas, and, as luck would have it, the first hitter he faced was future Hall of Famer Pujols, then with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Pujols, one of four members of the 700 home run club, has gone deep off a record 455 different pitchers. So far. P.S. Friday night was also a somewhat special occasion for Pujols’ teammate Corey Dickerson. The outfielder from McComb made his first MLB pitching appearance, working a scoreless ninth inning in the Cardinals’ 11-0 win against the Dodgers.
Being in must-win mode, Milwaukee must feel pretty good today with Brandon Woodruff going to the mound at Cincinnati. The former Mississippi State star from Wheeler is coming off one of his best starts of 2022, a 4-1 win against the mighty New York Yankees on Saturday, and is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts. The Brewers aren’t likely to catch St. Louis in the National League Central — they’re 7.5 games back — but they are just 2.5 games back of Philadelphia for the final wild card berth. Woodruff (11-4, 3.26) worked eight innings against the Yankees, allowing five hits and one walk while fanning 10. He got Giancarlo Stanton four times and Aaron Judge once. Judge, the likely MVP of the American League, said Woodruff’s combination of fastballs and off-speed stuff “makes for a tough day trying to pick your poison.” Woodruff should have his way with lowly Cincinnati, even at the hitter’s haven that is Great American Ballpark. The Reds will counter with the flame-throwing Hunter Greene (4-12, 4.97). … At Chicago on Wednesday, the White Sox — also in must-win mode — were counting on a strong outing from ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn against Cleveland, but they didn’t get it. Lynn was knocked around for six runs (three earned) in six innings as the ChiSox lost to the Guardians 8-2. Chicago fell 6 games back of first-place Cleveland in the AL Central, and Lynn fell to 7-6, 4.02.
By some cosmic coincidence, five Mississippi natives debuted in the major leagues on this date between 1917 and 1955: Sammy Vick, Eric McNair, Culley Rikard, Don Blasingame and Fred Waters. Vick, born in Batesville, broke in with the New York Yankees in 1917 and enjoyed his best season in 1919 as the team’s primary right fielder. The next season Babe Ruth arrived in town, and Vick was displaced. They reportedly were pals before Vick was traded in 1921 and faded from the big leagues. He batted .280 over his five-year career. Meridian native McNair, nicknamed “Boob,” debuted with the Philadelphia A’s in 1929 and was a regular on some outstanding clubs. He won a World Series ring with the 1930 A’s. An infielder, he played 14 years in The Show and batted .274 with 82 home runs. Rikard, from Oxford, came up with Pittsburgh in 1941 and batted .270 over three seasons with the Pirates. Blasingame, the “Corinth Comet,” broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and enjoyed an outstanding 12-year career that included an All-Star Game appearance. He hit .258 and stole 105 bases. Benton native Waters, who played at Southern Miss, reached the big leagues in ’55 with Pittsburgh and went 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 25 games over two years. P.S. Born on Sept. 20, 1970: former Ole Miss star Chris Snopek, who played in 215 MLB games over four years in the late ’90s.
It didn’t take long into his big league career for Matt Wallner to do what Matt Wallner does: go yard. The former Southern Miss slugger, called up from the minors by Minnesota today, hit a 414-foot home run against Cleveland’s Shane Bieber in his third at-bat. Wallner is USM’s career home run leader and has 50 minor league bombs on his three-year pro ledger, including 27 this year split between Double-A and Triple-A. He also crushed a homer in the All-Star Futures Game in July. Wallner becomes the 25th Mississippian to play in the majors in 2022 and the fifth to make his debut, the third from USM. (The other rookies are Ethan Small, Konnor Pilkington, Kirk McCarty and Chuckie Robinson.) … St. Louis recalled ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson from a brief hiatus in the minors to start against Cincinnati today, and the right-hander threw eight innings, allowing one unearned run, and departed with a comfortable lead. Hudson had a 7-7 record entering today’s game.
Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.