What we're watching: Halladay takes on the Yankees

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– It’s the fourth of the month, which of course means that Roy Halladay is facing the Bombers. He’ll be attempting to halt the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. He’s come up short in his last two starts against New York, giving up five runs in seven innings to take a no-decision in the Jays’ loss on July 4 and five runs in a complete-game defeat on Aug. 4. The opposition tonight will be Joba Chamberlain, for a couple of innings anyway. Chamberlain has pitched six, five, four and three innings over the course of his last four starts. It’s part of the Yankees’ new plan to guarantee that he’ll be healthy and terribly inconsistent in the postseason.
– Adam Wainwright can and should become the year’s first 17-game winner when he faces the Pirates tonight. Including a win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 8, he’s gone 4-0 over his last five starts. The Pirates have lost seven straight to the struggling Brewers and the abysmal Reds, and they now own the game’s third-worst record ahead of only the Nationals and Royals.
– Freddy Garcia, who was roughed up by the Royals in the first start of his latest comeback, has turned in consecutive quality starts against the Red Sox and Yankees. He’ll get another test tonight when he tries his assortment of breaking balls against a Red Sox team that faced him just 10 days ago. Garcia is back throwing in the high-80s consistently now, but he’s relying more on his slider and changeup than his fastball. If he can handle Boston’s lineup again while using the same assortment, it’d be an encouraging development as he prepares to reenter free agency.
Game of the Night
Detroit vs. Tampa Bay – Unless one wants to pretend the White Sox still have a chance, then this is the only series this weekend involving two contenders. Of course, even that’s debatable, given that the Rays fell six games back of the Red Sox in the wild card after losing to Boston on Thursday. Tampa Bay will send Rookie of the Year contender Jeff Niemann to the mound in the series opener against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. It’ll be a rematch of an Aug. 30 game that the Tigers won 4-3, even though Niemann (2 R in 7 IP) turned in the slightly better performance than Verlander (3 R in 8 IP). The Rays may have the edge this time, given that the game will be played in St. Pete. They’re 43-23 at home this year, while the Tigers are 27-39 on the road.

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.