Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Rays high five.jpg1. Rays: They dropped two out of three to split a four game series with Kansas City at home and could have easily lost three, but we’ll keep them in the top spot for now. The nine-game west coast swing on which they are about to embark will tell us just how strong these guys really are.

2. Yankees: And with Mark Teixeira heating up, the Rays may get knocked out of the top spot even if they don’t turn in a bum road trip.

3. Cardinals: It’s not just the Pujols show so far this year. David Freese had a great week and while last year they only had two real go-to starters, this year they appear to have four.

4. Phillies: The Giants series hurt, but seeing the offense wake up against the Mets is an encouraging sign. The next four games against the Cardinals could be an NLCS preview.

5. Tigers: Are they as strong a team as the Twins? I’m a bit dubious, but they took two of three from them, and swept the Angels, so I have to put them a notch above. They play Minnesota three more times this week, though, so this may be temporary.

6. Twins: Oh, and with Mauer gone, you have to figure that Twins futures are selling a bit lower today than they were, right?

7. Padres:  If the Padres were a stock I’d consider selling high, but I’ve said that for a couple of weeks now and look how wrong that was. In other news, my portfolio is like a bloody car wreck these days, so take all my financial market analogies with a grain of salt. Oh, and don’t doubt the Padres, because they don’t like it. Of course every team that has some unexpected success says that, so such stories are boring. If and when they tank, however, I think I’ll call them back for comment to see if it’s OK to doubt them. That’s a story you never see.

8. Giants: I’ve been saying that San Francisco needs some offense for a couple of years now, though I guess if they continue to have four world-beating starters they can get by like they’re the 1988 Dodgers or something.

9. Mets: I’m not going to call off the Mets’ happy-party just because they lost 2 of 3 to a strong Phillies team. Let’s see if they take care of business against the Reds before we make any declarations.

10. Rangers: I decided to be audacious and pick the Rangers to win the west last year and they didn’t. Cowed at my failure, I went back to picking ol’ reliable Anaheim this year. My prognostication patterns are much like my fashion sense: often wrong, but for radically different reasons depending on when you catch me.


11. Athletics: I don’t know if Billy Beane signed Ben Sheets to
actually make a run at the division or to simply hope for a hot first
half after which he could flip the guy, but
neither plan is panning out very well
.

12. Cubs: They’re playing much better baseball and now they get
series against the Pirates, the Reds, the Marlins and then the Pirates
again. I predict that there will be much more enthusiasm about this team
that is actually warranted come mid-month.

13. Marlins: Nice weekend, Marlins, but now you have Lincecum,
Zito and Cain coming to town.

15. Rockies: They’re still only four games out, so it’s not a
lock that Colorado is going to need another one of their patented
ungodly tears to win the division, but we’re getting closer to that
point each day.

14. Nationals: Great
post over at Federal Baseball
explaining why the Nats are above
.500, but why it won’t last.

16. Blue Jays: I repeat, there is absolutely no truth to the
rumors that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are going to start shaking
down visiting U.S. ballplayers for proof of legal immigration status
when they’re in town to face the Blue Jays.  That’s nothing more than a
hilarious, hilarious rumor.

17. Angels: I would officially like to use my one mulligan of the
week to take back my “slowly but surely, the Halos are righting the
ship” comment from last week.

18. Braves: I’ll believe that they’re back on track when they
beat someone who isn’t the Astros.

19. Dodgers: I’ll believe that they’re back on track when they
beat someone who isn’t the Pirates.

20. Mariners: I should probably drop them down a couple of
notches given the sweep at home against the Rangers, but (a) the return
of Cliff Lee; and (b) the exile of Eric Byrnes may have worked off the
weekend’s karma just enough to keep them stationary.

21. Reds: Same Houston caveat applies to the Reds that applied to
the Braves, but let’s be clear: the starting pitching is improving and
guys who need to hit well for this team to be successful (i.e. Jay
Bruce) are heating up. They may have some of that widely-predicted
pre-season friskiness in them yet.

22. Diamondbacks: These fellows give up so many runs that the
State of Arizona should divert anti-immigration resources to
arson-prevention.

23. Red Sox: The cartoon at
this post
would be much cuter if I didn’t believe that a healthy
portion of Red Sox fans thought that the current plight of the team was
worse than the plight of the gulf coast.

24. Indians: A year ago at this time it was controversial to
suggest that the Tribe could trade Grady Sizemore as a part of its
rebuilding effort. Now it’s hard to imagine that they’d get a hell of a
lot for him (.207/.271/.310).

25. Brewers: I really need to make a honorary last place on this
list for teams that aren’t truly the 30th best in baseball but who do
things to make them worse than the 30th team for one brief shining
moment. Things like getting shut out in three of four games.

26. White Sox:  This team misses Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik
and Jim Thome. That’s a pretty sad statement, but it’s true.

27. Royals: You know what’s gonna be a hoot? In 15 years, after
Zack Greinke plays out his string in Kansas City and is winding down his
career in New York or someplace like it, BBWAA members are going to be
talking about how, while he’s close, Greinke just isn’t worthy of making
the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t a “winner.”

28. Orioles: They still have the worst record in baseball, but if
you sweep the Red Sox, you deserve to be elevated out of the cellar.
NOTE: offer not good later in the season when sweeping the Red Sox is
seen as no big trick.

29. Pirates: They beat the Dodgers on Thursday and I figure
they’ve turned a corner. Then they get outscored 20-6 in the final three
games. Say what you want about the 2010 Pirates, but they are not a
team that does anything half-assed.

30. Astros: What
he said
.

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.