No All-Star starters would end long run for Red Sox

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Unless Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz draws the nod in the first inning, all signs point to the Red Sox being without a starter on the AL All-Star squad for the first time since 1998.
There is one qualification there. Manny Ramirez was voted into the lineup in 2003, but he skipped the game because of a hamstring injury, leaving Boston without a starter.
The Red Sox, though, have had someone voted in to represent the AL each of the last nine years. The last time they didn’t was 2000, but they had a starter then because Ramirez, in his final season in Cleveland, sat out the game, making room for Carl Everett.
The string is set to be broken this year. Dustin Pedroia is the highest Sock in the balloting and he’s more than 500,000 votes behind Robinson Cano at second base (1,293,724 to 725,081). Victor Martinez is third at catcher, and Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz are all fourth at their positions. The Red Sox don’t have a single outfielder in the top 15.
The Red Sox still figure to be well represented in Anaheim. The two aforementioned starting pitchers are strong candidates for spots, and Jonathan Papelbon has a chance to go in relief. Youkilis has the AL’s third-best OPS, and Pedroia, even in a down year, is as good a choice as any to back up Cano (Ben Zobrist also has a good argument, but he’s playing quite a bit more outfield than second base). Ortiz is probably a long shot. While he’s been the AL’s second-best DH, there are four first basemen having better seasons in Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Youkilis and Paul Konerko.
No starters, though. It’s the end of an era.
Red Sox All-Star Game starters
1999 – Nomar Garciaparra
2000 – Carl Everett
2001 – Manny Ramirez
2002 – Manny Ramirez, Shea Hillenbrand, Derek Lowe
2003 – Manny Ramirez*
2004 – Manny Ramirez
2005 – Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon
2006 – Manny Ramirez*, David Ortiz, Mark Loretta
2007 – David Ortiz
2008 – Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia
2009 – Jason Bay

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.