23 Sep

ain’t we got fun

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.

18 Sep

found wanting

Cincinnati, feverishly chasing a wild card berth with two weeks left in the National League season, will do so without Hunter Renfroe, who has been designated for assignment. The former Mississippi State star was claimed off waivers by the Reds from the Los Angeles Angels in late August with the hope that he would add some thump to their lineup. He hit one homer in 39 at-bats, struck out 12 times and batted .128. Renfroe, 31, likely has played his last game of 2023 and will be a free agent after the season. He hit .242 with 19 homers and drove in 56 runs for the Angels this year and has 177 career bombs, ranking seventh all-time among Mississippi natives in the majors. Oddly enough, he has played for six different teams the past five seasons. The Reds (78-73) are a half-game back of third place in the NL wild card standings as they welcome Minnesota for a meaningful three-game series beginning tonight at Great American Ballpark. The Twins (79-71), the American League Central leader, saw their magic number for clinching reduced to 5 when Kansas City rallied to beat second-place Cleveland today. (Ole Miss product James McArthur pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his first career save for the Royals.) Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, who is hitting .409 over his last seven games and has 12 homers on the year, is in the Minnesota lineup, batting seventh at the hitter-friendly Cincy park.

16 Sep

on this date

On Sept. 16, 2007, Seth Smith — a September call-up by the Colorado Rockies — made his big league debut, launching an 11-year career that should have gotten more acclaim than it did. The left-handed hitting outfielder, a Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss alumnus, went 0-for-2 in that first game but went 5-for-6 thereafter, making enough of an impression that the Rockies kept him on their postseason roster. He was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs as a pinch hitter as the Rockies rolled into the World Series before losing to Boston. Ten years later, early in his final season, Smith hit a big home run that won a game for Baltimore. “It was a good, professional at-bat,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the time. “He’s a good guy to have up in that situation.” That would be a great summation of Smith’s career. He batted .261 with a .344 on-base percentage, banging out 126 homers among his 934 career hits, scoring 525 runs and driving in 458 while playing for five different organizations. Soft-spoken and deeply religious, Smith never sought the limelight. He never made an All-Star team or won a World Series ring, but he had a positive impact everywhere he went. He played on four teams that reached the postseason, batting .262 with four homers, and on six winning clubs overall. In his last season, with the ’17 Orioles, Smith batted .258 with 13 homers in 111 games. He played his last game on his 35th birthday, Sept. 30. Then he retired — with no fanfare, no formal announcement — and returned to Mississippi, settling into family life.

16 Sep

here and there

Mashing three home runs, including Wes Clarke’s 26th of the year, Biloxi pounded Montgomery 9-2 on Friday night at MGM Park to stay alive in the fight for the second-half title in the Southern League South. The Double-A Shuckers, a Milwaukee farm club, must win the last two games against the Biscuits to make the postseason for the first time since 2019. … South Panola High product Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with a run and a stolen base as Clearwater beat Lakeland 2-1 to reach the championship series in the Low-Class A Florida State League. The Threshers, a Philadelphia affiliate, will play Jupiter (Miami) for the league title. Ex-Ole Miss star Kemp Alderman is a starting outfielder for Jupiter. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim smacked homers No. 19 and 20 and ex-Mississippi State standout Justin Foscue added his 16th as Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) beat Las Vegas 7-3 in a matchup of Pacific Coast League division leaders. Crim and Foscue combined for six RBIs. … MSU alum Zac Houston, 28, now in his seventh minor league season, got a win in relief for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), striking out four Buffalo batters in two scoreless innings. Houston, who has a 4.62 ERA, is averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings for the RailRiders. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has a 3.17 career ERA while averaging 13.7 punchouts per nine. … The independent American Association’s Wolff Cup Finals begin tonight with the Kansas City Monarchs — featuring MSU alums Jacob Robson and Gavin Collins — taking on Chicago Dogs. … In MLB, former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner went 2-for-2 with an RBI to help Minnesota beat the Chicago White Sox 10-2 and reduce its magic number to 7 for clinching the American League Central crown. … Ex-George County High standout Justin Steele suffered a rare rocky outing (six runs on two homers in six innings) as the Cubs fell at Arizona 6-4. Steele is 16-4 with a 2.73. The Cubs are clinging to the second wild card in the National League, with the Diamondbacks and three other clubs in hot pursuit. … MSU products Jordan Westburg and Adam Frazier were a combined 0-for-5 with three strikeouts as Baltimore lost to visiting Tampa Bay 7-1 and fell into a tie for first place with the Rays in the AL East.

10 Sep

four of a kind

A shout-out to a quartet of Mississippians who delivered ace-worthy efforts on Saturday. In Triple-A, Jonathan Holder, ex-Mississippi State star from Gulfport, notched his first win of the season, throwing two scoreless relief innings for Salt Lake of the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. The 30-year-old Holder is still grinding, three years after he last pitched in a big league game. He has filled many roles for Salt Lake, making four starts and registering six holds and one save in four chances. He sits at 1-5 with a 5.55 ERA in 61 1/3 innings. Holder, once a key bullpen piece for the New York Yankees, spent a couple of injury-riddled years in the Chicago Cubs’ system before signing a minor league deal with the Angels this past off-season. Down in Low-Class A, Landon Harper, a Southern Miss alum from Meridian, notched his fifth save of the year, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, for Augusta in the Atlanta system. Harper, a 2022 draftee, is 6-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 31 relief appearances for the GreenJackets. In the big leagues, Lucedale native Justin Steele registered his 20th quality start of the season for the Cubs, throwing seven innings of one-run ball against Arizona in a battle of wild card contenders. Steele, 16-3 with a 2.49, got a no-decision in a game the faltering Cubs would lose in 10 innings at Wrigley Field. At Toronto, former Ole Miss standout James McArthur made his second MLB start — as an “opener” — for Kansas City and threw two clean innings against the Blue Jays, who scored four times against Zack Greinke over the next four innings. McArthur, who yielded seven runs in his MLB debut in June, has an 8.53 ERA in 10 games but hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances.

07 Sep

numbers to crunch

9 — Consecutive wins by the Biloxi Shuckers, who are a half-game out of first place in the Southern League South second-half race. Isaac Collins went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in Wednesday’s 6-4 win at Birmingham.
6 — Walk-off wins for the Mississippi Braves, who beat Tennessee 4-3 on Cody Milligan’s RBI single in the ninth inning at Trustmark Park. The M-Braves are out of the SL South playoff hunt.
11 — Wins this season by Walker Powell, the former Southern Miss standout who’ll go for No. 12 tonight when he starts for Tennessee — a Chicago Cubs affiliate — against the M-Braves in Pearl. Powell’s win total leads the SL, as does his 1.08 WHIP.
20 — Stolen bases this season for USM product Matthew Etzel, who swiped two for High-Class A Aberdeen on Wednesday in his second game at that level. Baltimore’s 10th-round draft pick is 4-for-8 for Aberdeen and is now hitting .348 on the season.
3 — Saves in four opportunities for Jared Johnson, the ex-Smithville High star now pitching for High-A Rome in the Atlanta system. Converted starter Johnson, a 2019 draftee, has a 3.09 ERA in nine relief appearances for the R-Braves after working a clean inning Wednesday.
6 — Wins by Dakota Hudson, the former Mississippi State ace who beat Atlanta despite yielding five runs in five-plus innings for St. Louis. Hudson is 5-1 in seven starts since he moved back into the Cardinals’ rotation in August; he has a 4.43 ERA in 14 games overall.
40 — Home runs allowed in 2023 by Lance Lynn, the Ole Miss alum who yielded three bombs and eight runs in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 11-4 loss to Miami. After a hot start with the Dodgers, Lynn has given up 15 runs in his last two starts and is 4-2, 4.95 for his new club.
9 — Holds by Nick Sandlin, the ex-USM standout who retired the top three batters in Minnesota’s order in the eighth inning of a 2-1 Cleveland win. Sandlin has a 3.59 ERA for the Guardians, who sit 6 games back of the Twins in the American League Central despite winning the season series 7-6.
59 — Strikeouts this season in 157 at-bats by USM product Matt Wallner, who K’d three times for Minnesota, including the final out of Wednesday’s game. Wallner has 11 homers among his 36 hits.

06 Sep

clutch performers

Having lost two straight and with the Chicago Cubs breathing down their necks in the National League Central, the Milwaukee Brewers needed a rescue on Tuesday night at Pittsburgh. Up stepped Brandon Woodruff. The ex-Mississippi State standout from Wheeler threw seven shutout innings, never allowing a runner past first base, to lead the Brewers to a 7-3 win that kept them 2.5 games ahead of the second-place Cubs. Woodruff, who missed almost four months (April 8-Aug. 6) of the season with a shoulder problem, is now 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA in eight starts. Over his last three, the former All-Star right-hander has allowed three runs in 19 innings with 25 strikeouts and six walks. Tuesday’s 97-pitch outing was his longest of the year. “I think Woody is back,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell told mlb.com. “I think he’s really been back for a while.” … In another meaningful game, former MSU stars Jordan Westburg and Adam Frazier delivered in the clutch in Baltimore’s comeback 5-4 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Frazier smacked a pinch-hit double in the ninth and scored the tying run in that frame as the O’s rallied for two to take a 4-3 lead. After the Angels tied it, Westburg bounced into a 6-3 putout — with the infield in — to push the go-ahead run across from third base in the 10th. The first-place Orioles maintained a 3.5-game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League East. Westburg, a rookie, is batting .268 with 20 RBIs in 52 games. P.S. In the minors, Ole Miss product Kemp Alderman had a double and an RBI for Jupiter as Miami’s Low-Class A club clinched a Florida State League playoff berth with a 5-0 victory over Dunedin. Alderman, a second-round pick in July, is batting .196 with six doubles and 11 RBIs for the Hammerheads.

04 Sep

bucking the trend

Nathaniel Lowe is on the board. The Mississippi State alum, much more slugger than speedster, got his first stolen base of the season on Sunday in Texas’ 6-5 win against Minnesota. He’s only 11 behind the leader among Mississippians. Yes, the all-Mississippi stolen base list for 2023 is a little sad. The state that produced the legendary Cool Papa Bell, the amazing Billy Hamilton and Mr. Zoombiya Jarrod Dyson has produced just 38 combined steals, which would rank fifth among the individual leaders in MLB. Ironically, in a year in which stolen bases are up across the majors thanks to rule changes, Mississippians aren’t burning up the basepaths. Most of the Mississippians in The Show are power threats, not speed demons. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star who has had a tough offensive year with the Chicago White Sox, has 12 bags. He got his 1,000th career hit on Sunday but no steals. He has had as many as 26 in a season. Second on the current list is ex-Mississippi State standout Adam Frazier, who has swiped nine bases for Baltimore. Orioles rookie Jordan Westburg, another MSU alum, has four steals in just 50 games. No one else has more than three. Hamilton, the Taylorsville High product, is the all-time leader in steals among Mississippians (native or school alums) with 326. He got two bags in just three games with the White Sox this season; he recently signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay but has yet to play. Second on the all-time list is Starkville native Bell, a Hall of Famer who stole 285 bases in the Negro Leagues, according to baseballreference.com. He probably swiped many more than that. Dyson, a McComb native and Southwest Mississippi CC alum, got 266 bags; his final MLB season was 2021. Gulfport’s Gee Walker is fourth on the list with 223, Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks had 181 and Greenville’s Frank White — celebrating his 73rd birthday today — had 178. The active leader — with Hamilton down in the minors — is Anderson at 116.

02 Sep

watch for it

Featuring an upper-90s fastball and three other pitches, Hurston Waldrep has what Baseball America called “tantalizing upside potential” in evaluating the right-hander’s MLB draft prospects. Atlanta took him with the 24th overall pick in July, and tonight the onetime Southern Miss standout is slated to make his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Waldrep, rated the Braves’ No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has made four previous pro starts, all in A-ball, posting a 1.20 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 15 innings. The Georgia native averaged 13.9 K’s per nine innings in three years of college ball, two at USM and last season with Florida. He went 10-3, 4.16, for the Gators and helped them reach the College World Series finals. When he toes the rubber tonight (6:05) against Rocket City, Waldrep will join a list of Mississippi connections to play for the M-Braves that includes current outfielder Brandon Parker plus Zack Bird, Brent Leach, Van Pope, Jay Powell, Austin Riley, Michael Rosamond and John Thomson. P.S. Colton Ledbetter, a 2023 draftee out of Mississippi State, went 2-for-4 with a run Friday night as Low-Class A Charleston clinched a Carolina League playoff berth by beating Myrtle Beach. Ledbetter is batting .324 in 11 games for the Tampa Bay affiliate. … In MLB, former MSU standout Nathaniel Lowe extended his hitting streak to 13 games Friday for Texas, which lost at home to Minnesota and remained a game back of Seattle and Houston in the American League West. … Hunter Renfroe went 0-for-5 in his Cincinnati debut as the Reds split a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs. MSU product Renfroe started the opener, playing right field and batting cleanup; he entered Game 2 as a pinch hitter. … Ex-Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger was activated from the injured list by Houston and former Rebels standout James McArthur was recalled from Triple-A by Kansas City as MLB rosters expanded to 28. … Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin went 2-for-3 with a walk as Team USA beat Spain 6-2 in the U-18 World Cup at Taipei, Taiwan. The U.S. team is 2-0 in the tournament’s opening round.

31 Aug

here, there and everywhere

Tanner Allen, the former Mississippi State All-America, is finding his groove at Double-A Pensacola, the third level he has played at this season. The lefty-hitting outfielder, a 2021 draftee by Miami, smacked his first Double-A homer on Wednesday night and is 10-for-23 (.323) in eight games for the Blue Wahoos. Overall this season, Allen is batting .275 with nine homers, 39 RBIs and eight stolen bases. … Former Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry Jr., who has reached Double-A in his fifth pro season, is also enjoying success at the game’s herd-cutting level. Garry, a lefty-hitting outfielder, is batting .263 for Wichita in the Minnesota system. He has four doubles, two triples, three homers, 16 RBIs, nine runs and four steals for the Wind Surge. Garry, a 2018 draftee, is still only 23. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger, at Double-A Corpus Christi on a rehab assignment from Houston, delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning to boost the Hooks to a 2-1 win against Frisco. Kessinger, who made his big league debut earlier this season, is batting .194 in 19 games for the Astros. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton has signed a minor league contract with Tampa Bay. The MLB veteran, recently released by the Chicago White Sox (see previous post), could be a serviceable pinch runner/defensive replacement for the Rays, who are battling for an American League playoff berth. … Darius Vines became the fifth Mississippi Braves alum to debut as a starting pitcher for Atlanta this season, throwing six strong innings to notch the win at Colorado on Wednesday night. Former M-Braves Dylan Dodd, Jared Shuster, AJ Smith-Shawver and Allan Winans also debuted this year and are among the 16 different starters the Braves have used in 2023. … The Braves visit the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight for a compelling clash of National League titans, with Atlanta ace — and M-Braves alum — Spencer Strider (15-4, 3.46 ERA) facing former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (4-0, 2.03 in five starts for LA). Of note: Lynn has allowed an MLB-worst 34 homers (six since joining the Dodgers), while the homer-happy Braves just set a franchise record for bombs in a season with 250. P.S. The U-18 version of Team USA, including Jackson Prep standout Konnor Griffin, begins play tonight (local time) against The Netherlands in the U-18 World Cup in Taipei, Taiwan. The U.S. is the defending champion. Griffin had an RBI triple and scored a run in an exhibition victory against Chinese Taipei earlier this week.