Will Middlebrooks; Mike Napoli

Will Middlebrooks hits three homers as Red Sox crush Blue Jays 13-0

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Third baseman Will Middlebrooks hit three homers and doubled Sunday in Boston’s 13-0 rout in Toronto.

The 24-year-old Middlebrooks became the first player to hit three homers in a game this year, and he’s the youngest player to accomplish the feat since the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen on Aug. 1, 2009.  He was the first member of the Red Sox to pull it off since Dustin Pedroia did it on June 24, 2010 against the Rockies.

Given a chance to go for a fourth homer in the eighth, Middlebrooks flew out to the warning track in left field.

The Red Sox hit six homers in all. Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava went back-to-back in the seventh, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli added bombs in the eighth.

Boston got to 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey for eight runs — seven earned — in 4 2/3 innings today. Only two of the homers were hit off Dickey, though. The remaining four came off journeyman Dave Bush, who was just added to the roster this weekend.

The game featured an odd moment in the top of the fifth, when Edwin Encarnacion opted to play behind Jackie Bradley Jr. on first base with the Jays down 8-0. Bradley took off for second, only to see a foul ball return him to first base. Encarnacion immediately resumed holding him on afterwards, and there were no repercussions when Bradley came to the plate in the seventh. One imagines there would have been had Bradley been running in the seventh or eighth inning instead.

But while not holding runners on in blowouts is a somewhat common occurrence, there’s no way a team should be doing it in the first half of an 8-0 game. More than just about any other team in baseball, the Jays are capable of scoring eight runs in five innings. In Boston’s September 2011 collapse, the Jays once scored six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to beat the Red Sox 11-10.

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.