David Wright is struggling lately, and this morning we have two competing explanations for it. First is Tim Smith of the Daily News:
Wright won’t admit it, but Citi Field has gotten inside his head and he
can’t shake it. If a park can haunt a baseball player, then Citi Field
is haunting Wright. How else to explain how it has shrunk Wright’s power
since the move over from Shea?
Then comes Buster Olney:
Clearly, he is not comfortable at the plate; scouts are noticing that he
is flinching at breaking pitches, a tendency that they believe started
after Wright was beaned last summer in a game against the Giants.
To illustrate, Olney posts Wright’s pre-beaning stats from last year and his post-beaning stats through last night. The difference is stark. .324 average and eight homers in the 426 at bats before the beaning, .253 and nine homers in the 217 at bats since. Power up, but contact and strikeout rates way, way down.
I suppose those explanations aren’t mutually-exclusive, but I’ve always been far less impressed with the “David Wright is spooked by Citi Field” line of reasoning. Ballplayers play in all kinds of parks as they come up through the ranks, and Wright has never been some home-run-or-die kind of hitter anyway. If anything, he strikes me as the kind of player who would lament some lost homers but be happy with the extra doubles to the gap. In contrast, if scouts are seeing Wright flinch on breaking pitches it would definitely explain a lot.
Of course a third explanation seems like the most prudent one, at least for now: he’s simply in a mini-slump. Despite the recent wave of strikeouts, the guy is hitting .277/.403/.527 with seven homers on the year. That paces-out to a 36 homer, 114 RBI season. The homers would represent a career high. The .928 OPS he’s currently sporting would be the second best of his career if it lasted all season.
Could it be . . . nah, forget I even considered it. No one ever overreacts when it comes to the performance of a big-name New York player . . .
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.
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.