Hughes likely to be named fifth starter today. Here's why it doesn't matter

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UPDATE: It’s Hughes.

8:29 A.M. The Yankees fifth start competition has been the most celebrated race for a meaningless job since the last vice presidential search. It’s enough to make me wish for a giant scandal in Yankees camp. I mean, at least it would be fun to talk about, say, a fistfight between Nick Swisher and Mick Kelleher over a card game or a big Marcus Thames steroids beef or something.

But no, we’ve been stuck with Joba and Phil. It’ll likely be resolved today with Joe Girardi naming Phil Hughes his starter and sending Chamberlain to the pen to set up for Mariano Rivera.  Joba fans will complain. The people who think he was born with a bullpen phone stuck to his ear will rejoice. The tabloid writers will spend far too much time talking about how Girardi’s choice reveals important truths about each man’s character and destiny. It’ll be a gas, man. But one tabloid writer makes a pretty wise point. It’s Joel Sherman of the Post, who notes today that the stakes of this fifth starter race aren’t all that high.

Why? Because the Yankees have every Monday in April off and won’t need a fifth starter until the 17th at the earliest, and even later if it rains. Also because Phil Hughes, like Joba before him, will be subject to an innings limit, probably around 170. When you figure that the Yankees are far more likely to make the playoffs than miss them, that means Hughes will need to be pretty severely limited in the early going if they want him to be available for the playoffs (where he’ll likely be a reliever again anyway).

Sherman thinks that the Hughes rules will require that he either start the season in Scranton, where he can be yanked after three or four innings without anyone making a federal case out of it, or split his starts, with him taking the first few innings and having either Alfredo Aceves or Sergio Mitre as scheduled relievers to take, say, the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

The upshot: the conclusion of The Great Fifth Starters Race of 2010 is going to be pretty anticlimactic.  As it should be.

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.