Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Two

Mike Minor pitches in as Braves bring the NLDS to Los Angeles at 1-1

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We knew going into the playoffs that the Braves’ biggest strength was their pitching and it shone through tonight against the Dodgers. Starter Mike Minor held the Dodgers to one run over six and one-third innings of work on eight hits and a walk while striking out five. The Dodgers’ lone run against him came on a Hanley Ramirez RBI double in the first inning that staked the Dodgers to a 1-0 lead.

The Braves struck back in the second as Andrelton Simmons doubled to right field to score Evan Gattis, tying the game at one apiece. They would take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth following a Freddie Freeman lead-off double and a two-out RBI single by Chris Johnson.

The Dodgers appeared to be in prime position to at least tie the game in the seventh, putting runners on first and third with one out on two infield singles by Skip Schumaker and pinch-hitter Michael Young, but Carl Crawford sharply grounded back to reliever Luis Avilan, who fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to complete an inning-ending double play.

The Braves added two crucial insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh, taking advantage of some overmanaging by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (which we will cover in upcoming posts). Rather than let right-handed reliever Chris Withrow pitch to the light-hitting left-handed hitter Jose Constanza, Mattingly opted to call on lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez. That prompted Fredi Gonzalez to pinch-hit for Constanza with Reed Johnson, which then allowed Mattingly to walk Johnson to reacquire the platoon advantage by allowing Rodriguez to face Jason Heyward. Heyward responded by driving a single up the middle, scoring two runs.

In the eighth inning, Braves reliever David Carpenter helped breathe new life into the Dodgers, walking Mark Ellis to lead off the inning, then surrendering a two-run home run that just barely got over the fence in the left field corner, bringing the score to 4-3. He calmed down, striking out two, then gave way to closer Craig Kimbrel attempting a four-out save. Kimbrel got Juan Uribe to ground out to end the eighth inning, then worked around two ninth inning walks to seal the 4-3 victory for the Braves.

With the series tied at 1-1, play will resume on Sunday in Los Angeles as Braves starter Julio Teheran will oppose Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

 

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.