I said last night that this World Series is shaping up to be a classic. But how do I know?
In my case, my gut. At some point while watching Derek Holland make the Cardinals look more foolish than he does with his mustache, it just struck me that I’ve been watching something special. But Chris Jaffe — in the spirit of Bill James and Joe Posnanski — has tried to come up with a formula that tells us whether what we’re watching is, in fact, fantastic.*
He came up with several factors that make a great postseason series. Walkoff wins, close games, extra innings, multiple elimination games, pitchers duels, lead changes and, of course, the longer the series the better. At the end of all of that he made a list of the top ten postseason series of all time. For reasons Jaffe explains it’s weighted more heavily in favor of recent series, but given that there are more series now and more seven-game series now than there used to be, that makes sense. It’s also worth noting that anyone under 40 — which I suspect is the majority of HBT readership — didn’t see many series before the 1980s anyway, so it’s hard for us to criticize.
I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised at the series that ranked number one. But in thinking about it, yeah, it was damn, damn exciting and stomach-churning and all of that.
I’m sure your mileage will vary, but I sort of like this little formula, if for no other reason than because it made me think of some postseason series I haven’t thought about much lately.
*Please, save your “statheads take all the fun out of baseball” outrage. Anyone who has read James, Posnanski or Jaffe realizes that these kinds of formulas are themselves designed to be fun. James himself has always admitted that many of his metrics were for nothing but the giggles and yuks — he called one of them his “favorite toy” — and no one but the ignorant haters out there can honestly suggest that these sorts of exercises are either calculated to take the fun and wonder out of the game or that, in practice do so.
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.