The 2023 phase of Baltimore’s long-term rebuild, which culminated Thursday night in a division title, included the off-season signing of free agent Adam Frazier and the late June call-up of rookie Jordan Westburg. The two Mississippi State alumni made solid contributions as the Orioles, predicted to finish near the bottom of the American League East, won their first division title since 2014 — back in the Buck Showalter era — by beating Boston 2-0 at Camden Yards. The young Orioles also clinched home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Westburg, a 2020 first-round pick who started at second base Thursday, is batting .259 with 21 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and 25 runs in 65 games. He was raking in Triple-A when the O’s brought him up. Frazier, an eight-year veteran signed for $8 million for 2023, pinch hit for Westburg in the eighth inning, walked and scored the big second run. The lefty-hitting Frazier is hitting .242 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs, 59 runs and 11 steals in 138 games. Both also made numerous highlight-reel plays on defense at various positions. Two years after losing 100 games, the Orioles celebrated their 100th win in a raucous clubhouse Thursday. “Pretty damn awesome,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. P.S. In Atlanta, the Braves whipped the Chicago Cubs for the third straight night and clinched home field through the World Series, should they get there. Ex-DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley went 3-for-4 — single, double and triple — and scored three times in the Braves’ 5-3 win. Now hitting .282, Riley has 116 runs, third on the team and fifth in the National League. The fading Cubs, in a 6-13 skid, fell to fourth in the NL wild card standings, a half-game behind Miami; the Marlins’ game against the New York Mets was suspended (until Monday?) with Miami leading 2-1 in the ninth. … In the AL West, where nothing is settled, third-place Seattle walked off division-leader Texas 3-2 on a clutch knock by J.P. Crawford; Mississippi Braves alum Dylan Moore scored the winning run in the ninth. The Mariners are 3 games back of the Rangers in the division and 1 game back of Houston in both the division and the AL wild card race. The Astros are third in the wild card standings — a game back of Toronto — and will throw J.P. France (11-6, 3.83), the rookie out of MSU, in tonight’s game at Arizona, which will start Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen (17-8, 3.49). The Diamondbacks are second in the NL wild card standings, just ahead of the Marlins and Cubs. … A pair of former first-round draftees out of MSU faced off — sorta — in the inconsequential St. Louis-Milwaukee game. Ethan Small (28th overall pick, 2019) notched his first MLB save in his fourth appearance over two years as the playoff-bound Brewers beat the also-ran Cardinals 3-0. St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson (34th overall, 2016) allowed all three runs in five innings of work to fall to 6-3, 4.98, this season.
Another wild night in Atlanta saw another clinching for the Braves, another amazing milestone for Ronald Acuna and another crippling loss for the Chicago Cubs. Former Mississippi Braves star Acuna stole his 70th base on Wednesday night — notching the first 40 homer-70 steal season in MLB history — and scored the game-winning run on an Ozzie Albies hit in the 10th inning as the Braves topped the Cubs 6-5 at Truist Park. (If Acuna doesn’t win MVP, it’s a crime.) Atlanta clinched the top seed and home-field advantage in the National League postseason. M-Braves alum Albies homered and drove in three runs all told; he has 33 and 107. The Cubs, suffering a second straight heart-breaking defeat in the ATL, are now tied for third in the NL wild card race with Miami, which holds the tiebreaker. In other games of note: Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman pitched a tidy fifth inning in relief and plucked the win as Houston beat Seattle 8-3 and clung to the third wild card in the American League, 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners. Graveman has two wins, four holds and a 2.45 ERA in 22 games for the Astros, who have won just five of their last 15. (Nothing has been clinched in the AL West, which Texas still leads.) Baltimore, with MSU product Jordan Westburg contributing a hit and an RBI walk, beat Washington 5-1 and reduced its magic number for clinching the AL East to 1. Rookie Westburg is batting .261. P.S. Milwaukee, which has clinched the NL Central, recalled former State standout Ethan Small from Triple-A Nashville. The former first-rounder did not pitch Wednesday. … Four Biloxi Shuckers and two M-Braves made milb.com’s Southern League All-Star team. The Shuckers’ Carlos F. Rodriguez (9-6, 2.77 ERA) was named the pitcher of the year, and outfielder Jackson Chourio, catcher Jeferson Quero and utilityman Tyler Black also made the team. The M-Braves were represented by pitcher Luis De Avila and second baseman Luke Waddell. … Mississippi State ranks 10th and Ole Miss 11th in Collegiate Baseball’s 2024 recruiting rankings. Arkansas’ class was rated No. 1, and 10 of the top 11 are SEC schools (if you include Texas). Southern Miss did not crack the top 50.
It was at some point during the fourth inning Tuesday night that Atlanta broadcaster Tom Glavine, who knows a thing or two about crafty pitching, remarked that Chicago Cubs lefty Justin Steele was giving “a clinic on pitching.” Indeed, the former George County High star shut out the powerful Braves through five innings, retiring eight in a row at one stage, and carried a six-run lead into the sixth. Then Kevin Pillar crushed a leadoff homer — the Braves’ 300th of the season — and everything changed — at Truist Park and elsewhere. The Atlanta crowd woke up and so did the Braves, who knocked out Steele, rallied to win 7-6 — aided greatly by a two-out, two-run fielding error in the eighth inning — and delivered the Cubs a crushing blow in the National League playoff race. On a night when Philadelphia secured the top wild card seed in the NL, the Cubs’ loss also clinched the Central Division title for Milwaukee. In addition, the Cubs fell to third in the wild card standings, a game back of Arizona and just a half-game ahead of Miami. Steele, an All-Star this year and a darkhorse Cy Young Award candidate, went 5 1/3 innings vs. the Braves and was charged with three runs. He has been stuck on 16 wins since Sept. 4. He is 0-2 in his last four outings as his ERA has risen to 3.06. He could get one more start, in the season finale. … The Phillies — and Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, their infield coach — partied hard at Citizens Bank Park after a walk-off hit in the 10th inning against Pittsburgh. They’ll host a wild card series next week. … The Brewers, who had already clinched a playoff berth, celebrated their division title with much more fervor, despite having lost their game Tuesday at American Family Field against St. Louis. They will also host a wild card series. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner hit a 463-foot grand slam for playoff-bound Minnesota at Target Field, his second slam and 13th homer of 2023. “One of the furthest balls I’ve ever seen hit. Ever. That’s 20-something years of professional baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told The Associated Press after Minnesota’s 11-3 win over Oakland. … Ex-USM star Walker Powell celebrated a Southern League pennant after Tennessee, the Cubs’ Double-A team, beat Pensacola 10-3 to sweep the best-of-3 finals. Walker, an 11-game winner this year, did not pitch in that series.
As the Texas Rangers were blasting their way into first place in the American League West over the last seven days, Nathaniel Lowe was relatively quiet. Maybe that’s about to change. The former Mississippi State standout hit his first home run since Sept. 13 on Monday night, the third of three straight bombs that propelled the Rangers to their sixth straight victory, 5-1 against the Los Angeles Angels. Hitting seventh for the first time this year in the Rangers’ stacked lineup, Lowe launched his 17th home run in the sixth inning, following blasts by Adolis Garcia and Mitch Garver. It was the first instance of back-to-back-to-back homers for the Rangers since August 2015, when ex-MSU star Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Elvis Andrus performed the trick. “Three in a row is pretty cool,” Lowe said in a postgame TV interview. “I’ve never been a part of something like that before.” Also pretty cool for the Rangers is that they’ve reduced their magic number for clinching the division to 4 and for clinching a wild card spot to 2 with six games remaining. Lowe is just 2-for-25 during the current win streak and has seen his average drop to .267. He hit .302 last year and has been the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter most of the season. It should be noted that Lowe has drawn 90 walks this season, and his .365 on-base average is eighth in the AL. With power bats up and down their lineup, much like Atlanta, the Rangers lead the league in homers. If Lowe has rediscovered his power stroke, that would be quite a bonus for a club that hasn’t made the postseason since 2016.
The 1-2 punch of Blaine Crim and Justin Foscue, a pair of Magnolia State college products, delivered again for Round Rock on Sunday and powered the Express into the Triple-A Pacific Coast League playoffs. Ex-Mississippi College star Crim went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue added a double and two RBIs as Round Rock, a Texas affiliate, beat Tacoma 11-6. The Express, winners of seven of their last nine, will tangle with Oklahoma City (Los Angeles Dodgers) for the PCL title. Crim hit .289 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs in his fourth pro season. Foscue, the Rangers’ sixth-rated prospect in his third season, batted .266 with 18 homers and 84 RBIs. … Biloxi High product Colt Keith went 1-for-5 for Triple-A Toledo to finish his 2023 season with a .306 average, 27 home runs and 101 RBIs. Detroit’s No. 2 prospect, Keith, 22, played at Double-A and Triple-A this season, his third in the minors. … Kudos to Rick Sweet, who was the Jackson Generals’ first manager in 1991-92, for becoming Triple-A Nashville’s all-time winningest skipper with 321 victories over four seasons. Nashville is a Milwaukee farm club; ex-MSU standout Ethan Small went 2-4 with a 3.18 ERA and three saves in 38 games for Sweet’s Sounds this year. … In the big leagues, James McArthur, former Ole Miss star, struck out Yordan Alvarez with the tying run on base to save Kansas City’s 6-5 win at Houston, the last-place Royals’ third straight win vs. the Astros. Combined with Texas’ sweep at Seattle, the Astros are now 2.5 games back of the first-place Rangers in the American League West. McArthur, a rookie, has a win and two saves vs. Houston in his last five appearances. He has not allowed a run in 10 September games. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn posted a third straight strong start (two runs in six innings) for the playoff-bound Dodgers, who beat San Francisco 3-2 in 10 innings. On the heels of a pair of bad outings, the 36-year-old Lynn has allowed just seven runs in 18 innings (3.50 ERA) in his last three; he is 6-2, 4.50, since the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline. Lynn has extensive postseason experience, having made 27 appearances since 2011.
J.P. France, the rookie out of Mississippi State, wasn’t bad on Saturday night. But he wasn’t good enough, nor was his team, the Houston Astros, who lost a big game, 3-2, at home to last-place Kansas City. France yielded a run in the first and two more in the fifth (the last on a wild pitch), and the Astros’ late rally came up short. They fell 1.5 games behind surging Texas in the American League West and are clinging to the third wild card by a half-game over Seattle. “Stuff was great, I’m pleased with that outing,” France told The Associated Press. The right-hander, who won seven of eight starts in one stretch this summer, went five innings Saturday and took the loss, falling to 11-6 with a 3.83 ERA. With losses in four of its last five games — two in a row to the Royals at Minute Maid Park — Houston does seem to have a problem. … Meanwhile, at Miami, ex-MSU star Brandon Woodruff also tasted frustration. Going to the bump with a chance to clinch the National League Central title for Milwaukee, the Wheeler High product gave up a three-run homer in the first inning and another run in the fourth before departing after five. The Brewers rallied to tie and get Woodruff off the hook but lost 5-4 to a Marlins team still in the chase for a wild card berth. “You know what?,” Woodruff told mlb.com. “It’s one of them ‘baseball days.’ You move on.” Woodruff’s ERA moved up to 2.28 over 11 mostly sterling starts. P.S. In a relatively short time, Hurston Waldrep’s home address has changed from Hattiesburg to Gainesville, Fla., to North Augusta, S.C., to Rome, Ga., to Pearl to Lawrenceville, Ga., where the Southern Miss alum made his Triple-A debut on Saturday. Atlanta’s first-round draft pick in July — 24th overall out of Florida — pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings for the Gwinnett Stripers. In eight appearances at the four levels of the minors, including a three-game stint with the Double-A Mississippi Braves, the gas-throwing Waldrep has a 1.53 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. It would appear that the Braves have made another shrewd pick.
Minnesota clinched its division; Milwaukee clinched a playoff berth with a 16-run outburst; Texas won its third straight and moved into first place in the American League West; and San Diego won its eighth straight to cling to its wild card hopes. Mississippians were involved in many of Friday night’s big events. At Minnesota, former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner drew a pair of walks and picked up an RBI in the Twins’ AL Central-clinching 8-6 win against the Los Angeles Angels. The Brewers, who lead the National League Central by 8 games, put up a 12-run second inning en route to pounding Miami 16-1. Ole Miss alum Nick Fortes had the misfortune to be behind the plate for the Marlins, whose NL wild card hopes took a blow. Former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff (5-1, 1.89) goes to the mound today at loanDepot Park with Milwaukee a win away from clinching the division title. MSU product Nathaniel Lowe scored a run and drove in a run — his 80th RBI — to help Texas beat Seattle 8-5 and move a half-game ahead of Houston and 1 up on the Mariners in the crazy AL West. Ex-Ole Miss star James McArthur, a sudden sensation for Kansas City (see previous posts), got the last five outs for the last-place Royals as they beat Houston 7-5. McArthur, a rookie, is 1-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in his last seven appearances. MSU alum Dakota Hudson, who has pitched well down the stretch for St. Louis, threw six innings, allowing two runs, but couldn’t stop San Diego, which rallied for a 4-2 victory. The red-hot Padres (76-78) are 4 games back of the third NL wild card and behind three other clubs. Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley smacked his 37th homer and drove in four runs — 96 RBIs — as Atlanta beat Washington 9-6 and moved closer to clinching home field throughout the NL playoffs. The Braves (99-55) have a 4.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost Friday. In games of lesser import: Former State star Brent Rooker homered for the third straight game and sixth time in his last nine, giving him 29 on the year for Oakland, which beat Detroit. Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet, making his first MLB appearance since June 15, blew a save and took the loss for the Chicago White Sox against Boston. P.S. Billy Hamilton, the veteran big leaguer out of Taylorsville, went 1-for-3 with a run and stolen base as Triple-A Durham beat Gwinnett 3-0 and clinched an International League playoff berth. Hamilton, hoping for a call-up, is 4-for-13 with five steals in six games for the Tampa Bay affiliate.
The most interesting name among the handful of Mississippi products headed for the Arizona Fall League is Will Bednar. The Most Outstanding Player in the 2021 College World Series for champion Mississippi State, Bednar has been beset by injury issues in pro ball. San Francisco drafted the right-hander with the 14th overall pick in ’21, but he has pitched in only 20 games since. A lingering back injury limited Bednar to four appearances in rookie ball this year; he went 1-2 with a 4.22 ERA and finished the season on the injured list. He’ll face much stiffer competition in the prospect-packed AFL, which begins on Oct. 2. Others on AFL rosters: Former Southern Miss pitcher Ben Ethridge put up a 3-6 record with a 2.99 ERA in Low-Class A for Minnesota in his second pro season. … MSU product Rowdey Jordan, a member of the ’21 champs, hit .230 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 steals in Double-A for the New York Mets. … Ex-Northeast Mississippi Community College left-hander Tyler Samaniego, 15th-round draft pick by Pittsburgh out of South Alabama in 2021, was 2-1 with six saves and a 5.51 in Double-A this year. … MSU alum Eric Cerantola, a fifth-rounder in 2021, was 3-4, 3.66, at the High-A and Double-A levels for Kansas City. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of IMG Academy in Florida in 2019, went 4-6, 3.42, at the High-A and Double-A levels in 2023. … Tyler Tolve, a catcher with the Mississippi Braves this season, is among Atlanta’s AFL reps, and Wes Clarke, a slugging catcher/first baseman who played in Biloxi, is part of Milwaukee’s contingent.
Thursday’s game represented Brent Rooker’s season in a nutshell. The ex-Mississippi State star blasted a two-run homer — his fifth in eight games and 28th of the year — for Oakland. Yay. It came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the A’s would lose 7-3 to Detroit, the eighth straight loss for the worst team (46-107) in baseball. Ugh. Rooker also struck out three times, giving him 160 on the year in 432 at-bats. That’s not a good ratio. On top of that, he made a throwing error in right field, one of three Oakland misplays. Perhaps it was a good thing only 6,160 people were there to see all this. Rooker, in his fourth MLB season with his fourth team, made the All-Star Game this season. But he isn’t guaranteed a job with the A’s for 2024, when the Las Vegas-bound team will be a lame duck at Oakland Coliseum. Rooker, 28, is batting .241 this year with a .324 on-base percentage and 64 RBIs. P.S. In Triple-A, former MSU star Justin Foscue hit a grand slam and drove in six runs all told for Round Rock in the Texas system. Foscue, the 14th overall draft pick in 2020 and a highly rated Rangers prospect, is batting .265 with 17 home runs, 79 RBIs and 14 steals for the Express, which is contending for a playoff berth in the Pacific Coast League. He has played first, second and third base this season. … In Double-A, Southern Miss product Walker Powell worked five inning (three hits, one run, six strikeouts) to boost Tennessee (Chicago Cubs) past Chattanooga and into the Southern League Championship Series. Powell won a league-high 11 games for the Smokies during the regular season. MSU alum Rowdey Jordan, a .230 hitter with 13 bombs this year, had a 1-for-4 night as Binghamton (New York Mets) beat Somerset and reached the Eastern League finals.
Blaze Jordan finished the 2023 season in the Double-A Eastern League, but the former DeSoto Central High masher left his mark in the High-Class A South Atlantic League. Jordan was named the third baseman on milb.com’s SAL All-Star team. Rated the No. 12 prospect in Boston’s organization, Jordan hit .324 (.533 slug) with 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 73 games for High-A Greenville, helping the Drive win a first-half division title before his promotion to Double-A Portland on July 14. The Drive won the league championship on Tuesday. Jordan, at age 20 the youngest player on Portland’s roster, batted .254 with six homers and 31 RBIs for the Sea Dogs. A Portland teammate recently said this about Jordan in an milb.com piece: “He’s one of those guys that will roll out of bed and just hit .300, just rake, his first swing of the day is just a backside missile at 107 mph. It’s unbelievable.” A 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, power is Jordan’s best tool; he has 36 homers in 270 pro games. P.S. A couple more Mississippians got to celebrate minor league championships on Wednesday. Decatur native and ex-Ole Miss standout Kemp Alderman helped Jupiter, a Miami affiliate, win the Low-A Florida State League pennant, beating Clearwater 7-4 in the deciding game. Alderman, a second-round draftee this year and the Marlins’ No. 9 prospect, batted .313 in the playoffs and .205 with a homer and 15 RBIs for the season. He went 0-for-2 with three walks, a run and an RBI in Wednesday’s game. Mississippi State alum Christian MacLeod, a third-year pro, partied with the Cedar Rapids Kernels after the Minnesota affiliate won the High-A Midwest League title. MacLeod, a lefty, went 5-2 with a 4.13 ERA this season. … MSU product Jacob Robson went 1-for-4 with two RBIs as Kansas City beat Chicago 7-6 on Wednesday to claim the independent American Association’s Wolff Cup. Robson hit .250 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs for the Monarchs this season and hit three bombs in the postseason. Ex-MSU standout Gavin Collins, who didn’t play in the clincher, batted .314 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs for KC. The Monarchs’ first-base coach is Greenville native and former MLB All-Star Frank White.