Let's not get ahead of ourselves in praising Fredi Gonzalez

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Let’s specify — because I think it’s beyond reasonable dispute — that Hanley Ramirez is in the wrong in all of this business down in Florida. Wrong for not running after that ball, and more wrong for unloading on his manager to the press yesterday morning.  He’s history’s greatest monster (this week), no question.

But I’m not joining in with the people who want to fall all over themselves to praise Fredi Gonzalez either. Sure, it’s nice that he stood up to his superstar and delivered for the 24 other guys in the clubhouse who, it seems clear now, desperately needed that to happen.

But it’s not like Gonzalez has handled this perfectly.  In fact, I think he made a big mistake. My beef: the public way in which Gonzalez suggests this spat should end:

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday that he will continue to
bench All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez for not hustling in Monday’s
loss to the Diamondbacks until he apologizes to his teammates.

“He
needs to take care of the situation. When he handles that in the right
way, we’ll be fine,” Gonzalez said. “It could be good. He needs
to talk to his teammates a little bit. Whatever feelings he has with me
is fine and dandy. We don’t have to get along. I think he needs to get
along with 24 other guys on this team. When that happens, we’ll run him
back in there and when he sets his ego aside I think this will be
good.”

This isn’t terrible — Ramirez should apologize — but wouldn’t it be better to deal with this in-house?  As it is, Gonzalez has created a public showdown situation where one didn’t need to exist. Instead of demanding good behavior from his bad-behaving shortstop, he is demanding public contrition as well, which however satisfying that may be, is likely to draw this out even longer and prevent the wounds from healing as completely as they otherwise might.

Wouldn’t it have been better for Gonzalez to have (a) simply said that he would be meeting with Ramirez about Monday night’s events and yesterday’s comments; (b) given Ramirez his “apologize, shape up or else” speech behind closed doors; (c) watched the apology happen; and (d) made it clear after the fact that the controversy is in the past?

Such a thing wouldn’t be a cave-in to a petulant superstar. Gonzalez would still demand and get the apology he feels his players need and, because these things always get out, it would still be abundantly clear to everyone that Ramirez admitted he was wrong. The biggest difference — and I think it’s a critical one — is that rather than it being seen as Gonzalez forcing Ramirez to apologize,  this could be portrayed as Ramirez coming to the realization, following some heart to heart talk, that an apology was necessary.

Wouldn’t everyone look better at the end of that process?  Wouldn’t it make it less likely, not more, that Hanley Ramirez could maybe learn something out of it all?  As it is, even if Ramirez apologizes to his teammates before batting practice today, everyone — most especially Ramirez — will view it as coerced.  I can’t help but think that will lead to resentment, and that we’ll be back in this situation in the not too distant future.

Small stuff? Maybe. But managers are supposed to be good at the small stuff, and I think Gonzalez messed this up.  

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.