2016 has been a year that Pablo Sandoval would like to forget. He had a miserable spring training, batting .204 in 49 at-bats and lost out on the starting third base job to Travis Shaw. The press took shots at his weight and the Sox front office made it clear that they were unhappy with his overall conditioning. He then went hitless in seven regular season plate appearances before landing on the disabled list with a sprained left shoulder, which ultimately required reconstructive surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the year.
In August there was a report that Sandoval had lost 22 pounds and was proceeding through his shoulder rehab admirably. There was even a brief suggestion that he could be available to play for the Sox towards the end of the season, though that obviously did not come to pass. Either way, the trajectory of the Sandoval narrative was finally beginning to point upward.
And it points upward still, as Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe provides a report of the Red Sox third base situation which makes it sound pretty good for Sandoval’s prospects of winning back the starting third base job.
Abraham notes that Sandoval’s replacements, Travis Shaw and Brock Holt, were wildly inconsistent. Likewise, Yoan Moncada, who many thought would take over the job due to his sheer talent and upside, struggled soon after being given a chance and has shown himself to be strikeout prone and possibly in need of more seasoning. He also injured his thumb in Arizona Fall League play.
None of which is to say that Sandoval will be the man in 2017, but if he’s healthy and he’s in better shape, he should get the longest look for the job in spring training. He’s under contract for a lot of money over the next three years and he has a history of bouncing back strong after off years. Stranger things have happened.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.