After eight years in the big leagues and 302 regular season appearances, Chris Stratton got in a postseason game for the first time on Wednesday night. It wasn’t an outing the former Mississippi State ace from Tupelo will remember fondly. Stratton yielded two hits and a walk and was charged with two runs in an inning of work during Texas’ 8-5 loss to visiting Houston in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. An effective reliever for the Rangers much of the season (3.41 ERA in 22 games after being acquired in a trade), Stratton was idle for the first seven playoff games. The 33-year-old right-hander entered Game 3 in the sixth inning with the Rangers down 5-2. He got the last two outs of that inning and the first of the seventh before a couple of singles chased him from the game. Will Smith relieved, walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-out, two-run knock to Yordan Alvarez. Stratton, 33, was the 20th overall pick by San Francisco in 2012 after winning SEC pitcher of the year honors — and the Ferriss Trophy — at MSU. He made the majors in 2016 and won 10 games (with a 5.09 ERA) for the Giants in 2018. Traded twice in 2019 and converted to the bullpen, he became a solid reliever, winning 30 games, registering 21 holds and notching 10 saves from 2019-22. He pitched well for St. Louis as a trade acquisition last year, and the Rangers added him to their pen at the deadline this season. The Rangers lead the ALCS 2-1 but the series appears far from over. Stratton may well get another shot, which he surely covets.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.
If history — and coincidence — serve as a guide, a Mississippian will have an impact in tonight’s American League Championship Series opener. Houston, with Mississippi State alum J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger on its roster, hosts Texas, with former State stars Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton on board, in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. Way back on Oct. 15, 1946, in Game 7 of the World Series, Pascagoula native Harry “The Hat” Walker famously drove in Enos Slaughter with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, propelling St. Louis to a 4-3 win against Boston at Sportsman’s Park. The hit was Walker’s seventh and produced his sixth RBI of the Series. Shaw native and MSU alum Boo Ferriss started that game for the Red Sox and pitched well into the fifth inning. On Oct. 15, 2013, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn pitched 5 1/3 innings and got the win as St. Louis beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 and went up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series. It was Lynn’s second win in the NLCS, which the Cardinals won in six. On Oct. 15, 2019, former MSU standout Dakota Hudson, starting for St. Louis, had the dubious honor of allowing all seven runs in Washington’s 7-4 win that finished off a four-game sweep in the NLCS. Hudson retired only one of the eight batters he faced, yielding five hits and a walk. Three of the runs he was charged with were unearned because of an error. Just for the record, on Oct. 15, 2011, the Rangers beat Detroit 15-5 to clinch a second straight trip to the World Series. Amory native and State product Mitch Moreland was on that club, though he did not play in the Game 6 clincher. P.S. Former MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman did not make the Astros’ ALCS roster because of a shoulder problem. … Milwaukee has announced that MSU product Brandon Woodruff will have shoulder surgery and miss most if not all of the 2024 season. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, an MLB vet who finished 2023 in the Chicago White Sox’s system, has become a minor league free agent. … Ex-MSU pitcher Chris Young was fired as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
Nathaniel Lowe made a couple of noteworthy contributions Tuesday night in Texas’ American League Division Series-clinching win. The Mississippi State product blasted a 437-foot homer in the sixth inning, capping the scoring in a 7-1 victory over Baltimore. Less attention-grabbing but certainly significant was a second inning at-bat that ended in an out. Leading off the inning, Lowe battled Baltimore starter Dean Kremer for 15 pitches before lining out to left field. The Rangers proceeded to score five runs in that inning, knocking out Kremer (53 pitches all told) and seizing command at Globe Life Field. Lowe’s homer, on a 1-1 pitch, was one of four by the mighty Rangers, who hit an AL-best 233 this season. Lowe, who has prodigious power, had 17 homers, which ranked just seventh on the team. He has not had a hot postseason — 4-for-22 — but his team has won five straight, by a 32-12 count, and is headed for the AL Championship Series for the first time since 2011. (Another ex-MSU first baseman, Mitch Moreland, was on that club.) Baltimore, the AL East champion and top seed in the playoffs, is going home. Former State star Jordan Westburg had a hit and scored the lone run for the Orioles on Tuesday but also struck out three times, including the game’s final out. MSU alum Adam Frazier was 0-for-2, capping a hitless series. P.S. Texas will meet the Houston-Minnesota winner in the ALCS. The visiting Astros crushed the Twins 9-1 on Tuesday to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5. Ex-Southern Miss standout — and Minnesota native — Matt Wallner was 0-for-2 with two walks for the Twins. The lefty-hitting Wallner should be in the lineup tonight vs. Astros righty Jose Urquidy when the teams meet again at Target Field. … Lance Lynn, the veteran right-hander out of Ole Miss, will make his 28th career postseason appearance tonight for Los Angeles, which faces elimination against Arizona in the National League Division Series. Lynn is 5-5 with a 5.28 ERA in playoff games.
It has been a rather quiet start for the smattering of Mississippi-connected hitters in the MLB postseason. Collectively, the seven have five hits and one RBI. Texas has stormed to four straight road wins, but ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe is just 3-for-18 (.167) with an RBI and two runs in four starts at first base. Baltimore, which trails Texas 2-0 in their American League Division Series, has alternated former MSU standouts Adam Frazier and Jordan Westburg at second base and seen them go 1-for-8. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley went 1-for-4 in Atlanta’s loss to Philadelphia in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park; that was one of just five hits the Braves managed in a 3-0 loss. Riley and Co. need to step up tonight against Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner is 0-for-6 for Minnesota, which swept Toronto in the wild card round and is 1-1 against Houston in the ALDS. Wallner, who typically sits against left-handers, didn’t play in the Twins’ 6-2 win on Sunday. Ole Miss alum Grae Kessinger, an Astros bench player, didn’t get in either game in Houston. Ex-UM standout Nick Fortes has already gone home; he went 0-for-2 as Miami was swept out of the wild card round by Philadelphia. … There is a high standard for Mississippians in postseason play. The record for highest career batting average is held by Charleston native Bill Hoskins, a Negro Leagues star who batted .487 in 43 NL World Series plate appearances between 1937-46. (Baseball Reference now includes Negro League stats in its all-time charts.) Hoskins, a 6-foot-2 left-handed batter, hit .325 with 36 homers in his career, most of it spent with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star still with the Chicago White Sox (for now), has the third-best single-postseason batting average (per baseballreference.com) with a .643 mark in 14 plate appearances in 2020. P.S. Houston kept MSU product Kendall Graveman off the roster for the NLDS because of a shoulder issue, but the right-hander could be activated for the next round. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn reportedly is “in play” to be the Game 3 starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who got bludgeoned by Arizona in the NLDS opener. Game 3 is Wednesday at Phoenix.
A maroon four are bound for the stage in the Baltimore-Texas American League Division Series, with two former Mississippi State Bulldogs on the roster of each team. All four best-of-5 division series get under way Saturday. Baltimore, featuring Adam Frazier (MSU 2013) and Jordan Westburg (MSU 2020), is the top seed in the AL and will host Games 1 and 2 against wild card entrant Texas, which suits up Nathaniel Lowe (MSU 2016) and Chris Stratton (MSU 2012). The veteran Frazier, a lefty-hitting infielder, batted .240 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs and 11 steals in his first year with the Orioles; he has a .217 career postseason average and went 2-for-16 against Rangers pitching this year. Westburg, also an infielder, is a rookie called up in July. He hit .260 with three homers and 23 RBIs and didn’t face Texas. Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, saw a dip in his average (.262 from .302) and homer total (17 from 27) from 2022 but did post a .360 OBP, smack 38 doubles and drive in 82 runs. He has a .154 career postseason average; he was 2-for-24 with a homer against Baltimore this season. Stratton, acquired from St. Louis at the deadline, put up a 3.41 ERA for the Rangers, though he didn’t pitch in many high-leverage situations. The veteran right-hander didn’t face the Orioles in 2023. … In the other ALDS — Houston-Minnesota — the Astros’ roster is expected to include State alum J.P. France (11-6, 3.83 ERA as a rookie), ex-Bulldogs star Kendall Graveman (2.42 in 23 games with Houston in 2023) and former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger (.200 in 40 at-bats). France started 23 games this season, but his postseason role seems unclear. Graveman, a veteran reliever, has a 1.64 career postseason ERA (in nine games with Houston in 2021). Kessinger, a reserve, has played four infield positions. Minnesota trots out Matt Wallner, the ex-Southern Miss slugger who belted 14 homers for the Twins and 11 more in the minors this year. He went 0-for-3 in the wild card round. … In the National League, DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley is the lone Mississippian on either active roster for the Atlanta-Philadelphia series. Riley batted .281 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs this season and finished strong. In the postseason, he has a .216 average, three homers, 13 RBIs and a World Series ring (from 2021). … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn went 7-2, 4.36, as a starter for Los Angeles after arriving at the deadline, and he has pitched in 27 postseason games over a long career. Still, his role for the Los Angeles-Arizona series was undecided at last report; he gives up a lot of home runs (44 all told in ’23), which seem to play an outsized role in the postseason.
While the spotlight was trained on the MLB playoffs on Wednesday, several Mississippi products with big league aspirations put on a nice show in the Arizona Fall League. Olive Branch native Kendall Williams and ex-Mississippi State standout Rowdey Jordan teamed up to spark Glendale to a 7-1 win over Surprise, with MSU alum Eric Cerantola taking a tough loss for the Saguaros. Williams, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of IMG Academy in Florida in 2019, worked four innings for Glendale, yielding five hits and a run with three strikeouts. He got the win. Jordan, a 2021 draftee by the New York Mets, popped out against his former State teammate Cerantola in his first at-bat but finished with two doubles and three RBIs. One of the doubles came in the Desert Dogs’ pivotal four-run fourth after Cerantola had departed the game. Cerantola, a Kansas City farmhand, allowed just one hit and one run while fanning four in his three innings. Jordan hit 13 homers and stole 30 bags for the Mets’ Double-A Binghamton club. Both Williams and Cerantola also reached the Double-A level this year and posted good numbers. … Also making an AFL appearance on Wednesday was Northeast Mississippi Community College alum Tyler Samaniego, now in the Pittsburgh system. The ex-South Alabama star threw a clean inning for Salt River.
On this date in 1989, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Will Clark enjoyed one of the greatest single-game performances in postseason history. Living up to his nickname, “The Thrill,” the former Mississippi State All-America went 4-for-4 with two home runs, six RBIs and four runs, leading the San Francisco Giants to an 11-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Both of the homers — one a grand slam — and all of the RBIs came in the first four innings against Cubs ace Greg Maddux. “Clark had a helluva week tonight,” Cubs manager Don Zimmer told the Chicago Tribune after the game. Clark didn’t stop mashing after Game 1. He went 13-for-20 (an eye-popping .650 average) with eight RBIs and eight runs as the Giants won the best-of-7 series in five games. In the deciding game, a 3-2 win at Candlestick Park, Clark went 3-for-4 and broke a tie with a two-run hit in the eighth inning against nasty lefty Mitch Williams. Yes, Clark was named the NLCS MVP. Alas, he didn’t fare as well in the ’89 Fall Classic, going 4-for-16 with no RBIs as the Giants fell to Oakland in the so-called Earthquake Series. Though he never won a Series ring, Clark was a man for the postseason, batting .333 with five homers and 16 RBIs over 31 games with three different teams.
Observations from a Tuesday locked into televised baseball:
First pitch of game one — Texas at Tampa Bay — of the four wild card series openers is at 2:07 p.m. CDT. … Christian Bethancourt, the former Mississippi Braves catcher, is not in Tampa Bay’s lineup; he played in 104 games this season. … Nathaniel Lowe, former Mississippi State standout, gets a hit in his first at-bat and scores the first run of the day for Texas in the second inning. … Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale, veteran MLB umpire, is at second base for the Rangers-Rays game. … With the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth, Lowe pops up; it’s still 1-0. … Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum and Olive Branch resident, is the ump behind the plate for the Toronto-Minnesota game. He rated relatively low on ball-strike accuracy in 2023, per umpscorecards.com. … In his first postseason at-bat, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner draws a walk for Minnesota in the second inning. He is stranded. … Toronto’s bullpen coach is Jeff Ware, who spent a year as a pitcher/coach with the independent Jackson Senators some 20 years ago. Ware got the bullpen job this spring, 27 years after he last wore a big league uniform as a Jays pitcher. … Texas wins 4-0; Lowe finishes 1-for-5. … Wallner, who made one error all season in 100 chances, is replaced in left field in the seventh inning. … Milwaukee’s starting lineup against visiting Arizona includes four former Biloxi Shuckers — pitcher Corbin Burnes, second baseman Brice Turang and outfielders Sal Frelick and Tyrone Taylor — and a Mississippi Braves alum — catcher William Contreras. … Minnesota wins 3-1, snapping an 18-game postseason losing streak dating to 2004. Former Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire was the Twins manager that season. … In Miami’s starting lineup at Philadelphia is catcher Nick Fortes, the Ole Miss product who has had a tough year (.206, six homers). … The Phillies’ infield coach is Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, father of ex-USM shortstop Dustin Dickerson, now in the Kansas City system. … Taylor — the No. 9 hitter — hits a two-run homer for the Brewers, putting them ahead 3-0 in the second inning. … Milwaukee pitching coach Chris Hook, who pitched briefly for the Jackson Generals in 1998, makes a trip to the mound after Burnes surrenders back-to-back homers that tie the score for Arizona. … Cristian Pache, once a highly rated prospect with the M-Braves, makes a nice running catch in left field to record the first out for the Phillies at raucous Citizens Bank Park. … In the second inning at Philly, ESPN’s Karl Ravech talks about Phillies infielder Bryson Stott’s work with Bobby and Dustin Dickerson in the off-season in Mississippi. … Fortes, in his first postseason AB, hits into an inning-ending double play in the third; the score is still 0-0. … Burnes, a 10-game winner this year, is pulled in the fifth by the Brewers, down 4-3; rookie Abner Uribe, a 2023 Shuckers alum, replaces him. … Pache — whose first big league homer came as a rookie for Atlanta in the 2020 National League Championship Series — gets an RBI knock in the fourth to put the Phillies up 3-0. … In Milwaukee, Taylor lines into an inning-ending double play in the fifth with the bases jammed and the Brewers still trailing 4-3. D’backs veteran third baseman Evan Longoria, 37, who passed through Trustmark Park with the Montgomery Biscuits back in 2006-07, makes the crucial, leaping snag. … Milwaukee goes to its closer, former Shuckers star Devin Williams (36 saves), in the ninth. He issues three walks — around a strikeout and a caught stealing — before Christian Walker doubles to plate two more runs. … In the bottom of the ninth, Frelick makes the last out on a pop up in Arizona’s 6-3 win. … In Philadelphia, the Phillies go to ex-M-Braves star Craig Kimbrel — the occasionally erratic closer — who gets through the ninth to finish off a 4-1 victory. The last out of the fourth and final game is recorded at 9:55 p.m. … What a day. And the postseason has only just begun.
Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith had a game on May 16 he’ll surely never forget. And now he has an award to commemorate it. Keith, playing for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system, went 6-for-6, hitting for the cycle, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Keith received MLB Network’s award for Best Single-Game Performance, announced during Monday night’s MiLB Awards Show. In his third pro season, Keith — Detroit’s No. 2 prospect — reached Triple-A and finished 2023 with a .306 average, 27 homers and 101 RBIs. An all-Mississippi minor league All-Star team would have to include Keith, who could slot in at second base, his secondary position. Here’s a position-by-position roster:
Starting pitcher: Will Warren (Jackson Prep), 10-4, 3.35 ERA, at Double-A and Triple-A (New York Yankees system)
Relief pitcher: Landon Harper (Southern Miss), 6-3, five saves, two holds, 3.34, in Low-Class A (Atlanta)
Catcher: Chuckie Robinson (USM), .290, 13 homers, 74 RBIs, at Triple-A (Cincinnati)
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .289, 22 homers, 85 RBIs, at Triple-A (Texas)
Second base: Keith
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central High), .296, 18 homers, 86 RBIs, at High-A and Double-A (Boston)
Shortstop: Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .283, six homers, 32 RBIs, at Triple-A (now with Houston)
Outfield: Jake Mangum (Mississippi State), .298, five homers, 52 RBIs, 16 steals, at Triple-A (Miami); Emaarion Boyd (South Panola High), .262, 36 RBIs, 68 runs, 56 steals, in Low-A (Philadelphia); Davis Bradshaw (Meridian Community College), .314, .383 OBP, four triples, 47 runs, at High-A and Double-A (Miami)
DH: Tim Elko (UM), .295, 28 homers, 106 RBIs, in A-ball and Double-A (Chicago White Sox)
Utility: Justin Foscue (MSU), .266, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, in Triple-A (Texas)
P.S. The best season by a player drafted from the state this year was posted by USM product Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round selection by Baltimore who batted .323 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 21 steals in 30 games over three levels, topping out in High-A. Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, a sixth-rounder by Milwaukee, hit .356 in 12 games in rookie ball and won a championship. Kellum Clark, the last player picked (20th round) from the state out of MSU, hit .262 with a homer and eight RBIs in 22 games at the rookie and Low-A levels in the Mets’ system.