Guerrero celebrates with teammates after they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 5 of their American League Division Series MLB baseball game in St. Petersburg

Plaschke: Five things baseball needs to do in order to fix the postseason

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The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke has a column today offering the five things he’d do in order to “fix” the baseball playoffs.  Let’s take them one-by-one:

Stretch out the Division Series to seven games

This, in theory, I like. Anything that can reduce the fluky nature of a short series would be nice. Plus, more baseball is always a better idea than less baseball. Which makes the second suggestion so awful:

Reduce the season to 154 games

No thanks. Plaschke offers this one as a means of accommodating the longer first round, but I think there are better ways to do it. For one things the owners aren’t going to want to simply eliminate eight games from the revenue stream, er, I mean schedule. Instead, schedule extra double headers. One a month would almost totally make up for the longer first round. The biggest objection to double headers now is that they reduce revenue due to wonky TV times and reduction in gate. I think a lower bit of revenue in this respect is preferable to the total elimination of it for eight games under Plaschke’s plan, don’t you?

Eliminate weekend playoff games

This is the one that bothers me the most on a gut level. Not because the absence of weekend playoff games would gall me so much — to be honest, I’m more likely to watch during the week as it is because of social commitments and whatnot — but because the suggestion for this is to avoid competition with football. Maybe it makes sense. Football ratings are pretty unstoppable, I suppose. But man, that’s defeatist and it just bugs me on a primal level. I realize that everything in the world is for sale and that I’m probably swimming against the tide in this regard, but baseball was there first, dammit. I don’t care if it gets beat in the ratings by a random NFL game. I don’t care if it gets beat by a “Punky Brewster” marathon on ABC Family.  Besides, if Plaschke is really animated about the TV ratings, his next suggestion makes no sense anyway:

Play more day games

The reason: day baseball is charming and baseball needs to “get back to its roots.” Look, if charm is what you’re after, that’s great. I love charm! And I love day baseball. But if you care about the ratings as Plaschke obviously does based on the last suggestion, this would be suicide. We all complain about late baseball games, but there’s a reason for them: better ratings. People aren’t at work (and if the playoffs are only during the week, yes, everyone who still has a job in this economy is going to be at work). The only hope of this working is if you make it a Saturday or Sunday game, and then you’re up against Big State U. vs. Big State Tech or some of that awful NFL business.

Reduce the champagne showers

This is a just because. And as I’ve been writing lately, I’d be on board with it. It’d be silly to ban it, obviously, because players are grownups and they should do whatever the hell they want to do, but if I was running a team I’d really hope that my players would limit it to clinching the postseason and winning the World Series. But I suppose everyone’s mileage on this varies.

So where does that leave us? Surprised, really. I agree with two of Plaschke’s five suggestions entirely and one in theory, even if I think it’s probably unworkable.  A 60% agreement rate has to be some kind of record for me when it comes to Plaschke columns and/or columns about fixing a game that really isn’t broken.

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.