Daily Dose: Doubleheaders galore

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Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz each turned in gems Sunday as Boston claimed both ends of a doubleheader against Tampa Bay, extending the Rays’ losing streak to 11 games. Lester allowed just two hits over eight shutout innings for his fifth victory in a row and is now 10-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 149/39 K/BB ratio in 129.1 innings since a loss on May 26 dropped him to 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA.
Buchholz hasn’t been nearly that dominant, but seven innings of one-run ball Sunday gives him seven Quality Starts in eight outings. He’s now 5-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 71 innings overall this year, although a 49/30 K/BB ratio isn’t particularly good. With two wins Sunday afternoon the Red Sox widened their Wild Card lead to 3.5 games over the Rangers, putting their odds of making the playoffs at around 85-90 percent.
While the Red Sox prepare to welcome Daisuke Matsuzaka back to the rotation later this week, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Sunday also saw the Phillies take both ends of a doubleheader from the Mets, with each game offering some intrigue. Game 1 had Brad Lidge back at closer just three days after he was officially stripped of ninth-inning duties. A three-run lead gave him plenty of leeway and he needed it, giving up two runs before escaping with his 29th save in an outing that certainly shouldn’t help him reclaim the full-time gig.
Game 2 featured Pedro Martinez turning back the clock with eight shutout innings, at which point Ryan Madson got the nod to close out a 1-0 win. Charlie Manuel clearly couldn’t be sure things would work out that way, but Lidge taking the easy saves and Madson taking the tough saves makes some sense. Martinez tossed 130 pitches for his biggest workload since way back in 2001 and is now 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA. Wow.
* Alfonso Soriano is officially done for the season after the Cubs announced Sunday that he’ll undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this week. Soriano finishes the year at .241/.303/.423 with 20 homers, 55 RBIs, 64 runs, and nine steals in 117 games, all of which represent career-worst totals except for his 18 homers as a rookie in 2001. The surgery is considered minor, but Soriano is still a big question mark for 2010.
* After missing his last start because of back spasms, Tim Lincecum threw a bullpen session Saturday and reported no problems, clearing the way for him to take the hill Monday night against the Rockies. Lincecum hasn’t been great versus Colorado for his career, but shut out the Rockies for eight innings on August and obviously should be in all fantasy lineups for this week.
AL Quick Hits: Michael Young (hamstring) is hoping to rejoin the lineup Friday, which means that he’ll probably return before Josh Hamilton (back) … CC Sabathia picked up his AL-best 17th win Sunday despite walking four versus just one strikeout … Joe Mauer went 3-for-4 with a homer Sunday and is now one RBI short of his career-high of 85 … Jake Peavy (elbow) was encouraging by a bullpen session Sunday and may finally join the White Sox’s rotation this week … Brian Bannister has been told to take the rest of the season off after getting a second opinion on his fatigued arm … Brian Duensing tossed seven shutout innings Sunday and has allowed three runs or fewer in all six of his starts … Dustin Pedroia had an opposite-field homer at Fenway Park for the first time in his career Sunday … Kyle Davis threw six shutout innings Sunday despite six free passes and as many balls as strikes … Justin Morneau was absent from Sunday’s lineup with back and wrist soreness.
NL Quick Hits: Chris Carpenter had a rare ugly outing Sunday, giving up seven runs in six innings for his fourth loss … Randy Wolf (elbow) had a bullpen session Sunday and is now slated to start Tuesday … Ian Desmond collected two more hits Sunday while starting at second base for the first time since high school … Chad Billingsley was pulled after just four innings and 71 pitches Sunday, allowing three runs … Brad Penny tossed seven innings of two-run ball Sunday, making him 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA since returning to the NL … J.A. Happ (oblique) will throw a bullpen session Monday in the hopes of avoiding a third straight missed start … Javier Vazquez allowed two runs in a complete-game win Sunday after taking a shutout into the ninth … Ted Lilly cut his ERA to a career-best 3.05 with six scoreless innings Sunday … Pittsburgh is shutting Ross Ohlendorf down for the season after logging 30 innings more than his previous career-high.

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.