Let us take a moment to praise Charlie Manuel

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I promise you that I’m not panicking. I know that every team goes through a bad stretch and the Braves are just having one right now. I know they are merely a half game back and still lead the wild card race. I know that things could change tomorrow and they could rocket back into first place. I’m just not in the mental space this morning to be optimistic because, you know, the Pirates.

But nor am I going to get all gloomy and doomy either. Rather, I’m of a mind that, my rooting interests not withstanding, it’s a good day to reflect on the job Charlie Manuel has done in Philly. Sam Donnellon does that today and sums it up pretty perfectly:

Say before the season that someone told you Chase Utley would miss two months, Jamie Moyer would tear up his arm, Joe Blanton would be awful for the first three months, Madson would break his toe throwing a tantrum, Kyle Kendrick again would be demoted, J.C. Romero would be ineffective, Rollins and Victorino would get hurt and not hit, and Ibanez would be an automatic out for the first half of the season. What would you say their record should be on Aug. 31?

Donnellon’s point — and it’s a good one — is that Manuel never panicked like so many managers would have in his situation. Indeed, he begins his article with a list of moves that many managers — and no small number of talk radio listeners — would have made or demanded had they been faced with what Charlie Manuel has had to deal with. He’s kept an even keel, however. He has constantly made the correct judgment that he has the most talented team in the NL, and that he was either going to win or lose with that talent deployed in reasonable ways.

Which is one of the reasons I like the guy so much (well, that and the 1940s-speak he occasionally whips out).  He doesn’t need to prove to anyone that he’s a technical genius. He doesn’t need to make a show out of chewing people out. He doesn’t pass the buck to his front office or blame the media or any of that stuff. He goes in, does his job, pencils in reasonable lineups most of the time and lets his talent win out.

I’m guessing Bud Black will get most of the Manager of the Year votes this fall. But Charlie Manuel deserves his fair share of them, brother. Because the answer most people would have given to Donnellon’s question at the end of the blockquote would be “80-60; first place NL East.”

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.