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.
As the Texas Rangers were blasting their way into first place in the American League West over the last seven days, Nathaniel Lowe was relatively quiet. Maybe that’s about to change. The former Mississippi State standout hit his first home run since Sept. 13 on Monday night, the third of three straight bombs that propelled the Rangers to their sixth straight victory, 5-1 against the Los Angeles Angels. Hitting seventh for the first time this year in the Rangers’ stacked lineup, Lowe launched his 17th home run in the sixth inning, following blasts by Adolis Garcia and Mitch Garver. It was the first instance of back-to-back-to-back homers for the Rangers since August 2015, when ex-MSU star Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Elvis Andrus performed the trick. “Three in a row is pretty cool,” Lowe said in a postgame TV interview. “I’ve never been a part of something like that before.” Also pretty cool for the Rangers is that they’ve reduced their magic number for clinching the division to 4 and for clinching a wild card spot to 2 with six games remaining. Lowe is just 2-for-25 during the current win streak and has seen his average drop to .267. He hit .302 last year and has been the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter most of the season. It should be noted that Lowe has drawn 90 walks this season, and his .365 on-base average is eighth in the AL. With power bats up and down their lineup, much like Atlanta, the Rangers lead the league in homers. If Lowe has rediscovered his power stroke, that would be quite a bonus for a club that hasn’t made the postseason since 2016.
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.
Thursday’s game represented Brent Rooker’s season in a nutshell. The ex-Mississippi State star blasted a two-run homer — his fifth in eight games and 28th of the year — for Oakland. Yay. It came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the A’s would lose 7-3 to Detroit, the eighth straight loss for the worst team (46-107) in baseball. Ugh. Rooker also struck out three times, giving him 160 on the year in 432 at-bats. That’s not a good ratio. On top of that, he made a throwing error in right field, one of three Oakland misplays. Perhaps it was a good thing only 6,160 people were there to see all this. Rooker, in his fourth MLB season with his fourth team, made the All-Star Game this season. But he isn’t guaranteed a job with the A’s for 2024, when the Las Vegas-bound team will be a lame duck at Oakland Coliseum. Rooker, 28, is batting .241 this year with a .324 on-base percentage and 64 RBIs. P.S. In Triple-A, former MSU star Justin Foscue hit a grand slam and drove in six runs all told for Round Rock in the Texas system. Foscue, the 14th overall draft pick in 2020 and a highly rated Rangers prospect, is batting .265 with 17 home runs, 79 RBIs and 14 steals for the Express, which is contending for a playoff berth in the Pacific Coast League. He has played first, second and third base this season. … In Double-A, Southern Miss product Walker Powell worked five inning (three hits, one run, six strikeouts) to boost Tennessee (Chicago Cubs) past Chattanooga and into the Southern League Championship Series. Powell won a league-high 11 games for the Smokies during the regular season. MSU alum Rowdey Jordan, a .230 hitter with 13 bombs this year, had a 1-for-4 night as Binghamton (New York Mets) beat Somerset and reached the Eastern League finals.
It seemed like a good omen for Atlanta, which hits tons of home runs and scores bunches of runs in the first inning, when Austin Riley blasted a 447-foot, two-run homer in the opening inning Wednesday night to put the Braves on top of Philadelphia. And a good omen it was. With Spencer Strider and a couple of relievers taking it home, the Braves clinched the National League East by beating the Phillies 4-1 at Citizens Bank Park, celebrating their sixth straight division crown on the field of one of their main rivals. DeSoto Central High alum Riley’s homer was his 35th, three off his career-high set in 2022. That bomb was one of a handful of noteworthy homers by Mississippians in pro ball. Former Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe hit his 16th, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, as Texas won its fifth straight game, 10-0 at Toronto, and remained one game back of Houston in the wild American League West. For the Rangers, that win may have helped assuage the pain they felt in learning that ace Max Scherzer is done for the year. Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner’s 12th homer of the season got Minnesota on the board in the third inning against visiting Tampa Bay, but the Twins ultimately fell 5-4. Wallner has homered roughly once every 14 at-bats for the Twins this year. The Twins lead the AL Central by 7.5 games over Cleveland but have lost three of four and have yet to clinch. In the minors, Biloxi High product Colt Keith continued his breakout path, belting his 11th home run for Triple-A Toledo and 25th overall in 2023. Keith, 22, a third-year pro in Detroit’s system, is batting .309 (.932 OPS) with 95 RBIs. In the independent Atlantic League, ex-Ole Miss standout Thomas Dillard extended his league-leading homer total with his 37th for Lexington. Dillard hit 37 homers in three years in affiliated ball in Milwaukee’s system and 31 in three seasons at UM. The Greenwood native is batting .254 with 97 RBIs for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks, who are out of playoff contention in the APBL. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his debut for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday as a defensive replacement in center field. Hamilton, 33, who has 931 professional stolen bases, was signed by Tampa Bay on Aug. 30 after being released by the Chicago White Sox. There is speculation the Rays, a playoff contender in the AL, will bring him up as a speed specialist for the stretch run.
Garrett Crochet, the former Ocean Springs High star now in the Chicago White Sox’s system, made his first appearance in a game in two months on Wednesday, when he threw a scoreless inning for Double-A Birmingham. The 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Tennessee, Crochet made a fairly dazzling MLB debut a couple months later. The 6-foot-6 left-hander struck out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 inning and threw six of his 13 pitches at 100 mph or better. He didn’t allow a run in six innings that season and posted a 2.82 ERA with 14 holds and 65 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings in 2021. He has struggled to stay healthy ever since. He missed all of the 2022 season after spring Tommy John surgery and began 2023 in the minors on a rehab, making his White Sox debut on May 16. No longer throwing 100, Crochet put up a 3.60 ERA in 10 games before going on the injured list with a shoulder problem, which apparently has persisted. Crochet, 24, struck out two of the three batters he faced for Birmingham on Wednesday — a positive sign. Reports are he wants to return to the White Sox before their season, which has gone off the rails, comes to an end. P.S. As the Texas Rangers have gone into freefall in the American League West, their bullpen has been heavily criticized. Don’t point at Mississippi State alum Chris Stratton. Since coming over from St. Louis at the trade deadline, Stratton has a 2.08 ERA, a win and three holds in 14 games for the Rangers. He allowed a run Wednesday — after starter Max Scherzer had been KO’d — but 11 of his 13 other appearances have been scoreless. … Rangers first baseman and ex-MSU star Nathaniel Lowe was ranked as the best defensive first sacker in the AL in a poll of managers, scouts and execs conducted by Baseball America.
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.
The Texas Rangers have won 74 games this season, rapped out an MLB-best 1,226 hits and scored an American League-leading 731 runs. So when manager Bruce Bochy says that Nathaniel Lowe’s ninth-inning single on Monday was “as big a hit as we’ve had this year,” he is saying a lot. Former Mississippi State standout Lowe’s two-out, two-RBI knock gave the slumping Rangers a 4-3 lead over the New York Mets, and they held on to win for just the second time in 11 games. The Rangers, recently passed in the AL West standings by red-hot Seattle, remained a game back of the Mariners and tied with Houston. With a 3-2 lead in the ninth, Mets manager Buck Showalter, another State product from way back, elected to walk Corey Seager and load the bases ahead of Lowe. Lowe, who had previously extended his hit streak to 10 games, smacked a 2-1 pitch from Trevor Gott into right field to put Texas ahead. Lowe called it a “team win.” It was the team’s first win in 48 games this season in which they trailed after eight innings. While many of the Rangers have slumped of late, Lowe — a Silver Slugger winner in 2022 — has not. He is batting .297 over his last 15 games and is at .282 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs for the year. P.S. In what passes as a showdown in the AL Central, first-place Minnesota beat second-place Cleveland 10-6, getting a 438-foot homer from Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, his 10th. The Twins’ lead is 7 games. … Other than that bizarre and somewhat scary incident involving several so-called “fans,” former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna enjoyed an MVP-caliber night at Colorado. Acuna went 4-for-5, hit his 29th homer, stole his 60th and 61st bases, drove in five runs and scored four to power Atlanta to a 14-4 win. No player in MLB history has hit 30 homers and swiped 60 bags in the same season.
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.
They played a Triple-A baseball game in Louisville on Tuesday that produced a football-type score and saw a couple of Mississippi products deliver big hits. Biloxi High alum Colt Keith hit his seventh homer, drove in three runs and scored three to help Toledo smack down the host Bats 24-10. Ex-Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson went 2-for-4 with his 11th homer and drove in five runs for Louisville. Keith, one of Detroit’s top prospects, is hitting .258 and appears on the cusp of a big league call-up, though it might not happen in 2023. Robinson, in his seventh pro season, is having a huge year for Cincinnati’s top farm club, batting .315 with 66 RBIs. He is a .261 career hitter in the minors and hit .136 in 25 games with the Reds last summer. (Former Madison Central standout Spencer Turnbull, on a rehab assignment with Toledo, started and yielded three runs in 3 2/3 innings, running his ERA to 7.71 in four starts for the Mud Hens.) … At Triple-A Round Rock, where the scoring also ran high, Mississippi College product Blaine Crim went 4-for-5 with his 16th homer to power the Express to a 9-6 win over Salt Lake. Crim, in his fourth season in Texas’ system, is batting .296 with 62 RBIs. He has yet to receive an MLB look.