Stephen Strasburg made his latest and perhaps second-to-last Triple-A start last night, tossing 6.1 shutout innings against the Twins’ affiliate in Rochester, New York. My friend and former SABR convention roommate Ben Jacobs was in attendance and offered up this scouting report:
Strasburg touched 99 mph on the park gun a handful of times and worked consistently in the 96-98 range. He made several hitters look silly with his curveball, either freezing them on a pitch that dropped into the strike zone or getting them to swing at a pitch that ended up in the dirt. Throughout the night, he probably hit 15 numbers on the radar gun between 79 and 99.
He did struggle with wildness at times, walking two. In fact, after throwing 24 pitches in the game, he had thrown 12 strikes and 12 balls. He settled down after that, throwing 48 strikes and 20 balls the rest of the way. The Red Wings managed three hits … but none of them were hit hard.
The first hit was an infield single that third baseman Chris Lambin made a nice bare-handed play on, but Trevor Plouffe beat it out at first. The other two were grounders up the middle. In fact, the Red Wings only hit two balls hard all night off Strasburg: a line drive right at center fielder Justin Maxwell and a hot shot down the line on which Lambin made a beautiful diving snare.
Jacobs’ conclusion? “Strasburg has no business being in the minor leagues.”
With one start likely remaining until the Nationals are done suppressing his service time and call Strasburg up to Washington, he’s logged 18.1 scoreless innings in three outings at Triple-A and is 6-1 with a 0.89 ERA, .123 opponents’ batting average, and 49/10 K/BB ratio in 40.1 total innings as a minor leaguer.
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.