St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers - Game Six

Winning ugly: The Cardinals topple the Brewers and win the NL Pennant

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Maybe I should say “beating ugly.”  Because while there were all kinds of things in this game that were hard to look at, the Brewers looked way worse in losing 12-6 to the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Three more errors tonight made for seven in Milwaukee’s final two games.  Fourteen more hits allowed means 24 in those two games.  The Brewers’ defense — never a strength — and their pitching suffered a complete meltdown in Games 5 and 6 of the NLCS.

From the moment Shaun Marcum blew up in Game 2 of the series, people were asking whether he’d get to pitch in Game 6.  The response back, however, was who else could Ron Roenicke use? The next arm on the staff was Chris Narveson and he’s no great shakes himself, so Marcum got the call. And he promptly gave up four runs on three hits.  From there it was Narveson, who was even worse, giving up five runs on four hits.  It seemed that either answer was the wrong one.  The Brewers — whose pitching was vastly improved in 2011 — simply didn’t have enough of it as the season came to a close.  A good arm like Marcum’s was simply too tired. And there was no one else to pick up the slack.

As for the Cardinals, it was the same old story:  a starting pitcher didn’t go deep but the bullpen stepped in and disabused the opposition of any notion that it could get itself back into the game.  Edwin Jackson had nothing on his pitches and his command was nonexistent. But then the pen gave Tony La Russa seven innings of three-hit, two-run ball.

And now we have a World Series matchup: Texas vs. St. Louis, beginning on Wednesday.  We’ll have a more in-depth preview of the festivities between now and then, but my knee jerk reaction: the Cardinals have a good bullpen pitching well and a lot of pop up and down that lineup.  But the Rangers have a better bullpen and more pop in theirs.  Although, I suppose someone could totally disrupt the script at this point and, say, leave a starting pitcher in for as many as five or six innings, but why go crazy now?

If we’ve learned anything this fall it’s that predicting baseball is for suckers.  But we still have our opinions, and this man’s opinion is that the Rangers seem like the stronger team.  We have two full baseball-free days in which to consider the matter, however.  For now: congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals: champions of the National League.

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.