The current list of National League ERA leaders includes an array of familiar names, from Clayton Kershaw to Marcus Stroman to Atlanta sensation Spencer Strider. But the leader of this pack is a left-hander from Mississippi who is having a breakout season. Justin Steele, former George County High standout, trimmed his ERA to a 1.19 by throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 win against San Diego at frigid Wrigley Field. Steele is 4-0 — tied for the NL lead in wins — over five starts with victories against the Padres, Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. “I’ve just been trying my hardest to be consistent …,” Steele said in an Associated Press article. He has gone at least 5 1/3 in each of his starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of them. His WHIP is 0.89. Drafted out of high school in 2014 (fifth round) by the Cubs, Steele battled through injuries before finally reaching the majors in 2021. He moved into the Cubs’ rotation last year and went 4-7, 3.18, in 24 outings. That effort appears to have been just a tease about what was to come.
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).
Mississippian Lance Barksdale had a great view of a wild and wooly affair in St. Louis on Monday night. The Brookhaven native was the home plate umpire in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over the Cardinals, a game that had major postseason implications. This one turned when St. Louis right fielder Jose Martinez, who spent a year with the Mississippi Braves, misplayed an Eric Thames fly ball into a triple in the eighth inning. Thames scored the go-ahead run on an errant pickoff throw at first base. The game “featured” 16 pitchers, including an “opener” who threw three pitches. There were three home runs, one by Martinez, whose bat – certainly not his glove — keeps him in the lineup. Brewers bullpen ace and strikeout machine Josh Hader, the former Biloxi Shuckers star, yielded two homers, two walks and three runs, though he did manage two K’s. Ex-Shucker Corbin Burnes got two outs in the seventh and claimed the win; he is 7-0. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson walked in a run (on his first four pitches) and gave up a sac fly that put St. Louis behind in the sixth inning. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers gave up a big RBI double in the ninth to Brewers star – and likely league MVP – Christian Yelich. Eighteen batters struck out all told, and — oddly — neither team got a hit with a runner in scoring position. There was a runner thrown out at the plate. There were two hit batsmen. There was even a rain delay. When all was said and done, the Brewers stood 1.5 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central. The Cardinals are 3 games back of the Brewers and just a half-game up on Colorado in the wild card standings. P.S. Jonathan Holder, the former State star from Gulfport, made his first career start – in his 103rd appearance — for the New York Yankees, serving as the “opener” against Tampa Bay. He walked a pair but didn’t allow a run in his one inning of work and the Yanks went on to beat the Rays 4-1, handing Oakland a postseason berth in the process.
Anything that happens in the MLB playoffs that rekindles memories of the 1986 postseason has got to be pretty special. And it happened on Tuesday night. The Chicago Cubs’ comeback victory at San Francisco was the biggest in postseason-series clinching history, according to mlb.com. Down 5-2 in the ninth, the Cubs scored four times against the Giants’ tattered bullpen, surpassing what the New York Mets – a team loaded with former Jackson Mets – accomplished against Houston in the National League Championship Series 30 years ago. Davey Johnson’s Mets scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the Astros, then won the game and the series 7-6 in 16 innings. Ten former JaxMets played in that epic Game 6. Lenny Dykstra ignited the ninth inning rally with a leadoff triple, and Mookie Wilson knocked him in and later scored himself. Rick Aguilera and Roger McDowell combined for eight innings of scoreless relief, and Jesse Orosco, despite blowing a save in the 14th and yielding two runs in the 16th, nailed down the win by fanning Kevin Bass with two runners on. Ole Miss alum Jeff Calhoun came on in relief for the Astros in the 16th and yielded a hit, a walk and a run and threw two wild pitches during the three-run inning. That NLCS was a thrill ride from start to finish, and the World Series that followed was pretty interesting, too. P.S. Spotted in the Giants’ dugout on Tuesday: former Delta State standout Eli Whiteside, now a bullpen catcher for the club. Whiteside played for the Giants during their 2010 and 2012 championship runs and last played in the majors with the Cubs in 2014.