When Andre Ethier tries to extend his hitting streak to 30 games tonight, he’ll be doing so against southpaw Jon Niese and the Mets. Some numbers:
Ethier vs. LHP in 2011: .229 average (8-for-35)
Ethier vs. LHP career: .246 average
Niese vs. LHH in 2011: .275 average (11-for-40)
Niese vs. LHH career: .286 average
Ethier and Niese have never faced off. Let’s look at the relievers Ethier is most likely to face:
Ethier vs. Tim Byrdak: 0-for-1, 1 BB
Byrdak vs. LHH in 2011: .227 (5-for-22)
Byrdak vs. LHH career: .204
Ethier vs. Mike O’Connor: 0-for-2
O’Connor vs. LHH in 2011: .182 (4-for-22) for Triple-A Buffalo
O’Connor vs. LHH career: .241
Ethier vs. Taylor Buchholz: 2-for-4, 1 BB
Buchholz vs. LHH in 2011: .222 (6-for-27)
Buchholz vs. LHH career: .243
Ethier vs. Jason Isringhausen: 0-for-2, 1 BB
Isringhausen vs. LHH in 2011: .167 (2-for-12)
Isringhausen vs. LHH career: .254
Ethier vs. Francisco Rodriguez: 1-for-4, 2 K
Rodriguez vs. LHH in 2011: .310 (9-for-29)
Rodriguez vs. LHH career: .211
Byrdak is the Mets’ primary lefty specialst. With Pedro Beato on the DL, the team just added O’Connor to help out against left-handers. He’s back in the majors for the first time since 2008.
The ideal scenario for the Mets has Niese facing Ethier three times and then Byrdak getting him once in the seventh or eighth inning. With the left-hander going, it’s probably their best chance of shutting down Ethier’s hitting streak. Not that that’s really the priority. But it is what many will be watching.
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.