Craig Biggio

Why on earth is Craig Biggio above steroid suspicion?

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Here we have Bill Madden’s latest gem of a column, which contains enough strawmen to fill up Citi Field. In it, he promotes Jack Morris and Craig Biggio for the Hall of Fame, and while he doesn’t unequivocally state that they are the only two players he is voting for, the column certainly suggests it.

I’ve tackled Morris before and will again tomorrow, but let’s concentrate on Biggio for a moment. Biggio is being promoted by Madden and others as this year’s clean candidate, whereas his longtime Astros teammate, Jeff Bagwell, has had his candidacy tainted by steroids.

What I don’t get is why one if not the other?

The case against Bagwell is that he showed little power as a youngster, befriended noted steroids user Ken Caminti, got a lot stronger in the majors and then turned into one of the game’s best players.

And that differs from Biggio how? Biggio hit four homers in 555 at-bats at age 24, four homers in 546 at-bats at age 25 and six homers in 613 at-bats at age 26 before turning in the first of seven 20-homer campaigns at age 27.  His career high of 26 homers came at age 39.

Furthermore, Bagwell and Biggio were good friends who spent 15 years as teammates. I have my doubts that the training methods of one were a secret to the other. If Bagwell was on something, one would think there’s a more than slight chance that Biggio was on it, too.

So why does Biggio get trumped up as clean? Because he was a middle infielder? Because he hit 20 homers per year rather than 40? I’ll give you that Biggio wasn’t quite as stacked as Bagwell in his prime, but the guy had some muscles.

Personally, I’m very much in favor of putting Biggio into the Hall, just as I’m in favor of Bagwell’s candidacy. Part of Biggio’s power spike can be attributed to him leaving the Astrodome for Enron Field/Minute Maid Park. Towards the end of his career, once he realized he could no longer cover the entire plate, he made a conscious decision to become more of a pull hitter and take aim at the shallow left field porch at Enron.

Biggio was a favorite of mine, and I’d like to think he spent his entire career steroid-free. My point here isn’t to label Biggio a cheater. It’s simply to say that we don’t know, and that anyone that would go to lengths to promote him as the clean candidate is either naive or stupid.

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.