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.
The Chicago White Sox kept testing Tim Elko this season. The ex-Ole Miss slugger passed each one. Elko hit a grand slam in Double-A Birmingham’s season finale on Sunday, giving him 28 home runs over three levels in his second pro season. He batted .295 overall and drove in 106 runs. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman, a 10th-round draftee in 2022, started the season at Low-Class A Kannapolis, where he hit .297 with 17 bombs in 66 games. Promoted to High-A Winston-Salem, he batted .319 with five homers in 31 games before moving up to Birmingham in the challenging Southern League, where hit .269 with six homers in 34 games. Elko, of course, hit a lot of big homers at Ole Miss: 46 over five seasons, including 24 for the 2022 national champions. P.S. Other big knocks from Mississippians on Sunday: In the big leagues, Mississippi State product Adam Frazier lashed a two-out, two-strike double down the left-field line in the ninth inning, driving in the tying run for Baltimore at Camden Yards. The Orioles beat Tampa Bay 5-4 in 11 innings to clinch an American League playoff berth. … In the Low-A Carolina League, ex-State standout Colton Ledbetter, a 2023 draftee, hit a two-run homer and picked up another RBI to power Charleston (a Tampa Bay affiliate) to 4-2 win over Down East in Game 1 of the league championship series. … In the independent Atlantic League, Southern Maryland sent out a message congratulating Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee on his 1,000th career hit, coming in the Blue Crabs’ season finale. Picayune native Lee, who batted .297 for the Blue Crabs, won a Southern League batting title in 2017 and has three MLB hits from 2018 on his ledger. The 1,000 hits includes 76 he got in one year at Ole Miss; the total doesn’t include Lee’s hits at Pearl River Community College.
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.
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.
Though the Mississippi Braves’ record (22-35, last in the Southern League South) isn’t good, the team’s pitching actually is. Heading into a six-game series against Tennessee at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, the last-place M-Braves sport the best staff ERA — 4.07 — in the Double-A league. The Smokies (32-25, first in the SL North), a Chicago Cubs affiliate, have the third-best at 4.52. The series, the M-Braves’ last at home in 2023, offers a couple of intriguing pitching matchups: On Thursday, Luis De Avila, Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect, goes against former Southern Miss star Walker Powell. De Avila’s 3.49 ERA ranks third in the league. The 6-foot-8 Powell leads the SL in wins with 11 and has the fifth-best ERA at 3.76. On Friday, Domingo Robles, with eight wins and the fourth-best ERA in the loop (3.62), faces Kohl Franklin, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect. USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick in July and its No. 2 prospect, makes his second Double-A start on Saturday; he threw three shutout innings last week. M-Braves veteran Alan Rangel, the SL’s reigning pitcher of the week (seven shutout innings, 12 strikeouts), will start on Sunday. P.S. Baltimore has promoted USM product Matthew Etzel, a 2023 draftee, to High-Class A Aberdeen. Etzel hit .33 with two homers, 23 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 25 games at two lower levels.
It looked like an inning-ending double play when the shortstop snagged the ball, but Hunter Renfroe charged hard down the first-base line and, by a whisker, beat the relay throw from the second baseman. The game-winning run scored from third, giving former Mississippi State star Renfroe his first RBI with Cincinnati and the Reds a huge 2-1 victory Saturday night against the Chicago Cubs. “I was doing everything I could to get there as fast as I can,” the 230-pound Renfroe said in a postgame TV interview, adding that he was surprised Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson reached the hard-hit grounder deep in the hole in the ninth inning. Renfroe is 0-for-9 since the Reds claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, but his hustle on Saturday contributed mightily to the Reds’ ninth walk-off and 43rd comeback victory of 2023. Renfroe — “glad to be here” — was swarmed by his teammates. The so-called “Rally Reds” are in a three-way tie for the third wild card in the National League, 2 games back of the Cubs. P.S. Ex-State standout Adam Frazier had an RBI double and scored a run in the middle of a seven-hit, six-run, fourth-inning barrage by Baltimore, which kept its grip on first place in the American League East with a 7-3 win against Arizona, an NL wild card contender. Frazier has 54 RBIs and 53 runs in 119 games for the O’s. … MSU product Brent Rooker’s 23rd homer accounted for all of Oakland’s runs in a much less meaningful 2-1 win over the Angels. … Ronald Acuna continues to put up jaw-dropping numbers: The former Mississippi Braves star’s 32nd homer left the bat at 121.2 mph and went 454 feet, helping Atlanta beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2 in 10 innings, for the third straight night. … In the minors, Kemp Alderman, the 2023 Ferriss Trophy winner out of Ole Miss, belted his first homer as a pro for Low-Class A Jupiter in the Miami system. Alderman, a second-round pick, is batting .181 with 10 RBIs in 28 games. … Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel went 3-for-6 with a double, two RBIs and a steal in a doubleheader for Low-A Delmarva in the Orioles’ chain. Etzel, a 10th-round pick in July, is batting .318 with two homers, 19 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 20 games for the Shorebirds. … USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick, threw three shutout innings with four strikeouts and three walks in his Double-A debut for the M-Braves at Trustmark Park.
Five of the six first-place MLB teams kept their foot on the gas on Friday, and Mississippi college products were a driving force for three of those winners. Brandon Woodruff, Matt Wallner and Lance Lynn delivered praiseworthy performances for Milwaukee, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. Start in Milwaukee, where ex-Mississippi State standout Woodruff threw six innings and allowed one run while punching out 11 batters in the Brewers’ 7-3 win against San Diego. It was Woodruff’s fourth start since he came off a long stay on the injured list (shoulder), and he has won two of them to run his record to 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA. Friday’s outing was his best yet; he has 19 career double-digit strikeout games. “It’s the best time of the year,” he told mlb.com “(A)nd it’s fun when you’re winning.” The Brewers have won six in a row and lead the National League Central by 4 games. At Minnesota, Southern Miss alum Wallner keyed a four-run first inning with a bases-loaded triple and the Twins went on to pound Texas 12-2. Wallner also had a double, scored three times and made a great catch in left field. He is batting .244 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in just 123 at-bats for Minnesota, which leads the American League Central by 6 games. Texas, the first-place team in the AL West, lost for the eighth straight time and fell into a tie with Seattle. Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe went 2-for-4 with an RBI in defeat for the Rangers. At Boston, former Ole Miss star Lynn battled through six innings and got the win as the Dodgers rallied late to beat the Red Sox. Lynn, 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA since moving to LA, gave up a couple of early home runs — a season-long bugaboo — but shut the BoSox down from innings 3-6. The NL West-leading Dodgers scored six times in the sixth and seventh innings to win 7-4. They lead the division by 12 games. … For the record, NL East leader Atlanta won at San Francisco, though DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley had a quiet night, and AL East leader Baltimore topped Colorado with MSU alums Jordan Westburg and Adam Frazier combining for one hit in four ABs.
Matthew Etzel’s first week in pro ball was productive, and the former Southern Miss star was rewarded for it. Etzel was named the Florida Complex League’s player of the week by Minor League Baseball after filling up box scores over four games for Baltimore’s rookie team. The lefty-hitting Etzel went 5-for-11 with three walks, a double, a triple, four RBIs, four runs and two stolen bases for the FCL Orioles. A 10th-round draft pick last month, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound outfielder hit .317 with seven homers, 51 RBIs and 23 steals, playing center field in all 66 games in his only season at USM after transferring from Panola College, a juco in Texas. He was a highly rated juco player. … Etzel is one of four players drafted this year from USM’s Sun Belt Conference championship team. All-America right-hander Tanner Hall (fourth round, Minnesota) has been assigned to the Twins’ FCL team but has yet to pitch. Lefty Justin Storm (seventh round, Miami) has made two appearances for the FCL Marlins. Dustin Dickerson (eighth round, Kansas City), a four-year starter at shortstop for the Golden Eagles, went 5-for-14 in the rookie Arizona Complex League and already has earned a promotion to High-Class A Quad Cities.
Buck Showalter had some good times in Baltimore. Friday night was not one. Ex-Mississippi State star Showalter’s fading New York Mets lost to the surging Orioles 10-3 as another ex-Bulldogs star played a big role for the winners. Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s rookie second baseman, went 2-for-3 with two walks, a homer, three RBIs and two runs. Since his June 26 call-up, Westburg is batting .276 with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs. His homer Friday was his first at Camden Yards. It was a three-run shot in the bottom of the seventh that turned a 6-2 game into a 9-2 rout. “It was cool, pretty cool,” Westburg said in a postgame interview. The Orioles moved to 68-42, 2 games up on Tampa Bay in the American League East. Showalter managed the O’s from 2010-18, posted four winning seasons, made three playoff appearances and won a manager of the year award before the roster was gutted the last two seasons. He was welcomed back Friday with a pregame video tribute and got a standing ovation from Baltimore fans. He won a manager of the year award — his fourth — with the Mets last year and made the postseason. But things have gone sideways in 2023. The roster — with the highest payroll in the game — was gutted at the trade deadline. Friday’s loss dropped the Mets’ record to 50-59, fourth in the National League East, 21 games back of Atlanta. They managed just four hits Friday, and their bullpen was awful in the sixth and seventh innings, when the O’s scored eight times. “We have to play better, and some people that are getting an opportunity have to take advantage of it,” Showalter said in an Associated Press story.