A's celebration

Let’s gear up for another incredible day of baseball

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In case you missed any of yesterday’s mind-boggling action I offer you two things. First, my condolences, because you missed one of the best days of baseball in recent memory. Second, I offer you a quick set of links explaining to you how incredible it was:

But that was yesterday. Today we strap in for another twelve amazing hours of baseball, complete with two certain elimination games and two potential elimination games. And they break down like this:

Giants vs. Reds, 1:07 PM, TBS:  Matt Cain vs. Mat Latos for the right to advance to the NLCS. The Reds are at home, but home field has meant nothing in this series. Perhaps more meaningful: the Reds have beaten up Matt Cain pretty well this year, with the Giants ace going 0-3 with a 5.50 ERA and six homers in 18 innings against the Reds in 2012. Meanwhile, Latos was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two starts against the Giants. The Reds have mostly outplayed the Giants and have certainly outhit them over the four games in this series, but the Giants have shown tremendous resolve. This is a tossup.

Cardinals vs. Nationals, 4:07 PM, TBS: Kyle Lohse against a man in Ross Detwiler who wouldn’t be in this postseason rotation if not for the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.  But the talk of the woulda, coulda, shouldas of the pitching staff will have to wait for the winter. Right now the Nationals need to figure out how to hit again, because their lack of offense these past two games has killed them every bit as much as their poor pitching. As for the Cardinals: we’re now on two straight years of no one really taking them seriously as a playoff team. Last year, that made some sense. This year, as the defending World Series champs, far less sense. It’s almost as if these guys are showing us that playoff experience makes a difference.

Orioles vs. Yankees, 7:37 PM, TBS: How do you get up off the mat after sustaining the gut punch that was Raul Ibanez’s ninth inning home run and the knockout punch that was his 12th inning bomb? If you’re the Orioles you try to shake it off and tell yourself that, contrary to all of the stuff going on in front of you, there is no such thing as Yankee Mystique and Aura. Probably. You also hope that the not-so-good version of Phil Hughes shows up for the Yankees and the good version of Joe Saunders shows up for you.  Because really, these are two guys who are each capable of a short outing, and we should not expect another tense matchup like we saw with Kuroda and Gonzalez yesterday.  Yesterday’s blasts notwithstanding, the O’s have the better bullpen and this is a game in which they’ll likely need it again. For the Yankees, after pulling A-Rod for a hero pinch hitter, and after all of his struggles, what do you do with your $250,000,000 man?

Tigers vs. Athletics, 9:37 PM, TNT: OK, Tigers, get off the ground. Shake it off. I realize that your heart attack-inducing closer coughed up a two run lead when you were three outs from winning the series, but that’s the past and the future is brighter. Why? Because over there in that hangar you have a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in the form of Justin Verlander, warmed up and ready to fire missiles against Oakland A’s hitters who, yesterday’s rally notwithstanding, have not been all that hot. If you’re a betting man, you take the otherworldly ace over the possibility of improbable comebacks and walkoff wins every time.  The only question is, after yesterday’s Jose Valverde meltdown, what on Earth does Jim Leyland do if he gets to the ninth inning with a lead?  My suggestion: set Verlander’s pitch count at approximately 195.

Strap in, baseball fans. Turn your TV on at 1PM Eastern and don’t touch that dial. And while you’re watching, have your computer, tablet or smartphone with you locked in to HardballTalk, because we’re gonna have this stuff covered like nobody’s business.

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.