In a battle of squandered opportunities, the Cardinals squandered one fewer. Between the fourth and the twelfth innings, the Cardinals and Dodgers traded zeroes — one part effective pitching, one part curious managerial decisions, one part offensive futility.
Beltran was the heart and soul of the Cardinals tonight. His two-run double in the third inning tied the game at two. His tenth inning throw home from right field to nail Mark Ellis at home preserved a 2-2 tie. And his 13th-inning line drive RBI single to right sent the Cardinals home with a 1-0 lead in the NLCS.
By Win Percent Added (WPA), a statistic that shows exactly how much a player contributed to his team’s chance of winning, Beltran’s two hits and his throw combined for .853 WPA:
- 3rd inning two-run double: .235
- 10th inning catch and assist: .318
- 13th inning RBI single: .300
Mattingly’s decision to save Kenley Jansen for the very end is one that will be second-guessed for quite some time. There were plenty of opportunities earlier in the game for Jansen to come in, but Mattingly opted for inferior arms such as Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell. And rather than let Jansen start an inning from the wind-up, Mattingly brought him in after Chris Withrow had put runners on first and second with one out. Jansen struggled out of the stretch against his first batter, Beltran, falling behind 3-1 before giving up the game-winning hit.
The Dodgers certainly had their opportunities. Michael Young came to the plate twice after replacing Adrian Gonzalez at first base and was responsible for four outs. He hit the fly ball to Beltran when he made the great throw home, and grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the 12th. That was a direct result of another questionable Mattingly decision. Carl Crawford led off with a single, and Mattingly had Mark Ellis bunt him to second. With first base subsequently open, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had Lance Lynn intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez — a vastly superior hitter — to bring up Young, who has historically been very prone to grounding into double plays.
Game 1 was by no means a pristine game of well-played baseball. Rather, it was chock full of mistakes, but in the end, it was an entertaining, tense affair that sets up the NLCS well. If the rest of the games are as competitive as Game 1, we’re in for a treat.
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.
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.