Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers

Rays fall into tie with Indians for wild card spots, Rangers one back

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The AL wild card battle tightened up Friday, with the Rays losing in Toronto and both the Indians and Rangers gaining a game.

The current standings:

Rays: 90-70 (two in Toronto)
Indians: 90-70 (two in Minnesota)
Rangers: 89-71 (two vs. Angels)

The Rays, who had won seven straight, were undone by some sloppy defense in the third and fourth innings, when they gave up all of their runs in the 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays. Evan Longoria committed two of the team’s three errors. Jeremy Hellickson, who was picked earlier this week to make the start, was charged with thel six runs — three of them earned — in his 4 2/3 innings.

Hellickson fell to 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA for the season, and he’s nearly certain to be left out of the rotation should the Rays advance to the ALDS. David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer are their top four now.

The Indians jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over the Twins and held on to win 12-6. Pedro Hernandez was brutal once again for the Twins, with his ERA jumping to 6.83. He lasted six innings in just one of his 12 starts this year. The Indians got a surprisingly disappointing performance from Corey Kluber after all of the early support. He ended up allowing six runs in 5 1/3 innings, yet he got the win anyway.

Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera both had three hits for the Indians, while Carlos Santana went 2-for-3 with two walks and three runs scored.

The Rangers prevailed in another tight one against the Angels, winning 5-3. With the score tied 3-3 in the seventh, Alex Rios singled in Ian Kinsler. Rios went on to steal second and then came around to score on A.J. Pierzynski’s grounder up the middle after Erick Aybar made a nice play to snare the ball, then pulled Mark Trumbo off the bag with his throw. Rios never stopped running on the play and beat Trumbo’s relay home.

Saturday’s action will see all three contenders playing simultaneously in the afternoon after the Angels-Rangers tilt was moved up due to the expectation of some evening storms. The Rangers will throw Derek Holland in their 11 a.m. local-time start, while the Angels will counter with Garrett Richards. Holland, coming off a shutout of the Astros, is 7-6 with a 5.81 ERA lifetime versus the Halos. He gave up eight runs in a loss in Anaheim three weeks ago.

The Indians get to face another pushover in the form of Cole De Vries. He has an 11.70 ERA in his three starts for Minnesota. The Twins lost those three games by a combined score of 41-11. The Indians will use Scott Kazmir.

The Rays-Jays game will feature a Chris Archer-J.A. Happ matchup. Archer is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, but he’s 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts against Toronto.

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.