29 Sep

building blocks

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.

28 Sep

down the stretch

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.

25 Sep

rounding third …

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.

24 Sep

not happening

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.

17 Sep

have a month

It has been a September to remember for James McArthur. It took the former Ole Miss star six years to get to the majors and his debut back in June was a real clunker. But in six appearances this month for Kansas City — one of the worst teams in MLB – the 26-year-old right-hander has not allowed a run over 8 2/3 innings. On Saturday, he notched his first big league win, retiring all four batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings as the Royals upended Houston 10-8. The 6-foot-7 McArthur, who went 15-8 in three years in Oxford, was a 12th-round draft pick in 2018 by Philadelphia. He made the 40-man roster after the 2021 season but was designated for assignment in May of this year and then traded to Kansas City. He has pitched well in Triple-A but yielded seven runs in one inning in his big league debut on June 28. Recent results have been much more encouraging, to say the least. … Recent results for J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who started for Houston on Saturday, have not been so positive. After a sensational start to his rookie campaign, France has a 6.69 ERA in his last seven games, though he has won three of them. He gave up five runs on Saturday before being knocked out in the fifth inning. He is 11-5, 3.84, in 23 games for the season. P.S. Three former Mississippi Braves pitchers got wins on Saturday, none of them working for Atlanta. Evan Phillips picked up the W in relief in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ division-clinching victory; Viktor Vodnik got a W in relief for Colorado in his second MLB game; and Touki Toussaint went five innings for the Chicago White Sox to beat Minnesota. … The Biloxi Shuckers lost to Montgomery at MGM Park, handing the Biscuits the second-half title in the Double-A Southern League South.

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

24 Aug

something different

On this date in 2010, Roy Oswalt the MLB pitcher became Roy Oswalt the MLB left fielder, appearing at a position other than on the bump for the only time in his 13-year career. The former Weir High and Holmes Community College star, with Philadelphia at the time, came in as a replacement for an ejected player in the 15th inning of a 16-inning game against Houston. And, of course, the ball will find you, as they say. The first batter of the inning, Jason Castro, hit a fly ball to left field, which Oswalt caught without incident. Oswalt came to bat in the bottom of the 16th and grounded out for the final out of the Astros’ 4-2 win in the 5-hour, 20-minute affair. Oswalt, who retired in 2013, was 163-102 with a 3.36 ERA for his career, making three All-Star Games. He wasn’t a terrible hitter, either, banging out 101 hits (.154 average) with a homer and 36 RBIs. P.S. Tim Anderson returned Wednesday from his five-game suspension and went 2-for-5 with an RBI and scored the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory for the Chicago White Sox against Seattle. East Central CC product Anderson was the ghost runner in the bottom of the 10th, took off for third base on a failed pickoff attempt by the Mariners catcher and scored when the shortstop’s throw got past the third baseman.

17 Aug

to the rescue

On a night when ace Justin Verlander got a little wobbly, Kendall Graveman led a four-man relay team of relievers who carried home Houston’s 12-5 win against Miami. Former Mississippi State standout Graveman, rescued from the sinking Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline, has been just what the Astros wanted, posting a 2.35 ERA in seven appearances. After Verlander allowed a five-run lead to shrink to one on Wednesday night, Graveman replaced him in the sixth inning and put the Marlins down 1-2-3 on eight pitches. (None of the four Astros relievers allowed a hit.) It was Graveman’s fourth straight scoreless outing for a team that is trying to chase down Texas in the American League West. (The Rangers lost Wednesday and lead by just 2.5 games.) Graveman, a converted starter now in his ninth MLB season, is in his second stint with the Astros, who acquired him from Seattle in a deadline trade in 2021. After helping Houston reach the ’21 World Series, he went to the White Sox as a free agent. He pitched well there, racking up 14 saves and 35 holds in 110 games before the Astros, the reigning world champs, got him back. “It’s an organization that’s run very well and … (I’m) thankful that they would want me back,” he told the Houston Chronicle at the time of the trade. P.S. Charlie Morton was masterful for Atlanta in a 2-0 win against the New York Yankees, notching his 12th win of 2023 and 128th career. That total leads all former Mississippi Braves by a wide margin on the career wins list. For the record, the leader among former Jackson Generals is Freddy Garcia with 156. Kevin Tapani, with 143, is tops among ex-Jackson Mets. … Tough break for ex-Ole Miss star Justin Bench, who was hitting .354 at Low-Class A San Jose (San Francisco system) when he went on the injured list on Wednesday. A utility player who made the All-College World Series team for the ’22 champs, Bench hit .370 in rookie ball before moving up to San Jose in mid-July.

13 Aug

three-pronged success

One by one, three Magnolia State products took the mound on Saturday and delivered the kind of performance playoff-chasing teams need this time of year in the big leagues. “Bring in the sheets,” as Oppenheimer might say. Former George County High star Justin Steele and Mississippi State alums Brandon Woodruff and J.P. France steered their teams to meaningful wins. Steele, a 2023 All-Star and a Cy Young contender in the National League, toughed out five innings for the Chicago Cubs at Toronto, yielding six hits and three runs. The left-hander left with a lead, which the bullpen squandered, but watched the Cubs rally to win 5-4. He is 13-3 with a 2.79 ERA, tied for the NL lead in wins and second in ERA. “(T)he year he’s had has been insane,” teammate Julian Merryweather told mlb.com. The Cubs, on a 19-6 roll, stayed within 2.5 games of NL Central leader Milwaukee, which beat the White Sox 3-2 behind Woodruff. The big right-hander from Wheeler worked 6 1/3 innings in his second start after four months on the injured list. He allowed four hits, a walk and two runs. In four outings this year, the two-time All-Star is 2-1 with a 1.99. “He’s in a really good place after two starts (off the IL),” manager Craig Counsell said in an mlb.com piece. In Houston, France continued his remarkable season, which might garner some rookie of the year consideration. He went seven innings in an 11-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels. He has won five straight — one in relief — and stands 9-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 17 games. He leads American League rookies in wins and would be second in the league in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify. “(J)ust trying to pitch my game,” the bespectacled righty told mlb.com. The Astros’ win kept them 2.5 games back of AL West leader Texas, which never seems to lose. (Ex-State star Chris Stratton pitched three scoreless innings in the Rangers’ 9-3 win vs. San Francisco on Saturday, his fifth scoreless appearance since being acquired at the trade deadline.) P.S. Tanner Allen, the 2021 SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner at MSU, was promoted to Double-A Pensacola in the Miami organization. He did not play Saturday. … Northwest Mississippi Community College product Dalton Fowler made his pro debut in the Florida Complex League, throwing an inning (two runs) for Tampa Bay’s rookie team. Fowler, a Southaven native, was a ninth-round pick by the Rays out of Memphis, where he was the American Athletic Conference’s pitcher of the year in 2023. … Fowler’s Memphis teammate Dalton Kendrick, an Hernando High alum and the AAC’s saves leader last season, was drafted in the 18th round by the Angels but has yet to appear in a game.

27 Jul

hot take

Things got a little hot in Houston on Wednesday night. There were six home runs — one by hot-hitting former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe — two hit batsmen, two ejections, one benches-clearing incident and many angry words. When the final bell rang at Minute Maid Park, Texas had a 13-5 victory over rival Houston, salvaging the finale of the three-game series and leaving town with a 2-game lead in the American League West. Lowe had two of the Rangers’ 17 hits, drew two walks, drove in three runs and scored twice. He also had his tower buzzed on a ball-four pitch by erratic Astros starter Framber Valdez, who had surrendered the homer to Lowe in his previous at-bat. Lowe, who has 12 bombs on the season, is hitting .435 over his last seven games with 10 hits, eight walks, nine RBIs and eight runs. The Rangers (60-43) have scored 10 or more runs in 21 games and have won 20 of them. … Ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner also has swung a hot bat of late, but his two-homer game on Wednesday was not enough to push Minnesota past Seattle. The Mariners won 8-7, getting a pair of homers from Mississippi Braves alum Dylan Moore. Wallner is batting .320 over his last seven games and has four homers in 51 at-bats this season. The Twins saw their lead in the AL Central shrink to 2 games over Cleveland, which beat Kansas City 5-3 as ex-USM star Nick Sandlin picked up his fifth win in relief. P.S. Kemp Alderman, the Ferriss Trophy winner out of Ole Miss, went 1-for-6 in a doubleheader in his pro debut for Low-Class A Jupiter in the Miami system. Alderman was a second-round pick. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith went 2-for-3 with his third homer for Triple-A Toledo in the Detroit chain. The 21-year-old Keith — the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect — is batting .290 with 14 RBIs in 19 games at this level; he hit .325 with 14 homers in Double-A.