Travis Snider performed well enough to win the Blue Jays’ starting job in left field this spring. Unfortunately for him, Eric Thames played well enough to hold on to it.
Snider was sent packing Sunday despite his four homers and 16 RBI in 17 games this spring. He was hitting .271/.340/.625, though he did strike out 17 times in 48 at-bats.
Thames, the favorite going in, wasn’t bad himself, hitting .333/.380/.511. He has just one homer, but he has doubled five times in 45 at-bats.
Since both Snider and Thames were left-handed hitters, there was only room for one of them on the squad. The Jays are set to carry right-handed hitters Ben Francisco and Rajai Davis as backup outfielders. Francisco likely will pick up a lot of starts in left field against southpaws.
Snider just turned 24 last month, which is easy to forget considering that he’s already spent parts of four seasons in the majors. His successful spring means the Jays probably won’t consider selling him off for a lesser prospect yet, but his next chance in Toronto will probably be his last. He’ll be out of options after this year, so there won’t be any more sending him back to the minors come 2013.
As for Thames, he was the safer choice of the two. The 25-year-old hit a respectable .262/.313/.456 with 12 homers in 362 at-bats last season. However, that did come with 88 strikeouts, a total that only seems modest when compared to Snider’s lofty strikeout numbers. He lacks Snider’s upside, but the Jays are going to hit him ninth most days and he’ll certainly be a much bigger threat in that spot than most teams can boast.
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.