Daily Dose: Great Greinke

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Perhaps sick of watching the lowly Royals cost him victories with poor support from the bullpen and lineup, Zack Greinke took matters into his own hands Sunday with a complete-game, one-hit shutout against the Mariners. Kenji Johjima’s second-inning single was the lone hit allowed by Greinke, who struck out five and walked one while lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.32.
Greinke ranks just fifth in the AL with 13 wins and has lost eight times despite giving up more than three earned runs only four times in 27 starts, but there’s no doubt that he’s been the league’s best pitcher. He leads the AL with a 2.32 ERA, six complete games, three shutouts, and a 1.08 WHIP while ranking behind only Justin Verlander with 202 strikeouts and second to only CC Sabathia with 190.1 innings.
If ever there was a time to ignore a pitcher’s win-loss record, this is it. Kansas City’s lineup ranks second-worst in the AL and Greinke has received less run support than any starter in the league. Beyond that the Royals’ bullpen ranks dead last in the AL with a 5.15 ERA and the team has gone just 37-66 when Greinke isn’t on the mound, which is a 104-loss pace. Don’t let his team’s awfulness mask his greatness.
While the Cy Young voters hopefully take notice of Greinke’s amazing year, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Chad Qualls has been solid as Arizona’s closer, posting a 3.63 ERA and 45/7 K/BB ratio in 52 innings, and converted his 24th save in 29 tries Sunday. Unfortunately it may be his final save of the year, as he suffered a dislocated kneecap while twisting to deflect a ground ball up the middle on the game’s last play. Qualls collapsed into a heap on the mound before the trainer popped his knee back into place. Not pretty.
He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Monday, at which point the Diamondbacks should know whether he’ll be able to pitch again this year. Jon Rauch had been the primary setup man in Arizona all season and would’ve been in line for saves, but the Diamondbacks dealt him to the Twins on Friday. Juan Gutierrez seems likely to get the nod despite being a rookie with a 4.29 ERA and 55/27 K/BB ratio in 57 innings.
* After taking three weeks to get his 38-year-old arm back into pitching shape, Paul Byrd made his Red Sox debut Sunday with six shutout innings against the Blue Jays. While he was using just 83 pitches to record 18 outs, Daisuke Matsuzaka struggled in a rehab start at Double-A, giving up five runs in two innings. Matsuzaka appeared on track to rejoin the rotation on September 9, but those plans may have changed.
* Jake Peavy’s eventual White Sox debut has been delayed further after he departed a minor-league rehab start over the weekend with elbow soreness. Peavy is on the disabled list because of an ankle injury, but his elbow became a bigger concern after he was hit by a line drive during a rehab outing last week. He lasted just 3.1 innings while trying to pitch through the discomfort and will be examined further Monday.
AL Quick Hits: Roy Halladay lost Sunday for the sixth time in his last 10 starts … As planned, Joba Chamberlain was removed from Sunday’s start after just three innings and 35 pitches … Fresh off the disabled list, Akinori Iwamura went deep Sunday off Justin Verlander for his first homer in 155 at-bats … John Lackey allowed just an unearned run over eight innings Sunday, slicing his ERA below 4.00 … Brian Matusz turned in his first gem Sunday, striking out eight and walking one in seven innings of one-run ball … Mark Teixeira homered Sunday to become the first AL player to crack 100 RBIs … Ryan Rowland-Smith took a tough-luck loss Sunday, striking out seven in eight innings of three-run ball … Kendry Morales smacked his 10th homer of the month and 30th homer of the season Sunday … Jorge Posada returned to the lineup Sunday and plans to play through his finger injury.
NL Quick Hits: Adam Wainwright notched his MLB-best 16th victory with six innings of one-run ball Sunday … Edgar Renteria hit a go-winning grand slam Sunday as the Giants tied the Rockies for the Wild Card lead … Nelson Figueroa had a career-high 10 strikeouts Sunday, allowing just one run in seven innings … Troy Tulowitzki went 4-for-5 and matched a career-high with his 24th homer Sunday … Washington dealt Ronnie Belliard to Los Angeles for Single-A reliever Luis Garcia and a player to be named later … Randy Johnson (shoulder) has been playing catch from flat ground and could return in September as a reliever … Justin Upton homered Sunday and is now 9-for-20 with four extra-base hits since returning from the disabled list … Carlos Zambrano gave up 10 singles and a triple before being chased after just 3.1 innings Sunday … Garrett Jones homered again Sunday, giving the minor-league veteran 16 long balls in 51 games … Clayton Kershaw racked up 11 strikeouts in a no-decision Sunday, giving him 164 on the season.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.