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Vladdy locked in; Blue Jays clinch No. 8 seed

@KeeganMatheson
September 27, 2020

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks like he’s ready for his turn to carry Toronto's lineup, and his timing couldn’t be better. Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Orioles in their regular-season finale locked in the Blue Jays against the division-rival Rays in the Wild Card Series beginning on Tuesday. Toronto’s gone 4-6

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks like he’s ready for his turn to carry Toronto's lineup, and his timing couldn’t be better.

Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Orioles in their regular-season finale locked in the Blue Jays against the division-rival Rays in the Wild Card Series beginning on Tuesday. Toronto’s gone 4-6 this season against the Rays, who have typically had its number, so the Blue Jays will look to Guerrero to carry this recent hot streak into the postseason.

Box score

Guerrero launched his ninth home run of the season in the third inning Sunday, a towering shot to center field. The 21-year-old also had a two-hit game earlier in the series, and in the four-game set against the Yankees prior to this, broke out with nine hits, including a pair of doubles, a triple and a homer.

“It’s maturity. He’s locked in right now,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It took him a little bit longer this season, but he’s there now and it’s great. Going into the playoffs, seeing him swinging the bat the way he is, it’s great for us. We all know that’s what he can do. He feels really good at the plate right now.”

While the numbers have told most of the story, the eye test still holds some value for Guerrero. When the season opened, Guerrero simply wasn’t himself. His swing was all arms, which too often left him off balance and prevented him from tapping into the incredible power housed in his legs. Lately, you can see Guerrero stepping back into the swing that made him the No. 1 prospect in baseball entering the 2019 season.

Part of this equation is Guerrero’s bat speed. That’s the reason he produces such impressive exit velocity numbers, even if he’s beating the ball into the ground. Montoyo feels that Guerrero has his top-end bat speed back, which wasn’t the case earlier in the summer, and he’ll need that early in the Wild Card Series as the Rays are expected to open with a hard-throwing tandem of starters in Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.

This progress has been slow and steady, which is part of the plan. Guerrero has been focused on getting back to his version of “normal", not overhauling or changing the fundamentals of his game.

“I don’t need too much. I don’t want to do too much,” Guerrero said. “I’ve just got to be me, myself. I’ve got to keep coming to the field very early, keep working hard on my routine, working on everything that I have to. Keep it simple, be myself and don’t do too much.”

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looks like he’s ready to go stride-for-stride with Guerrero, too. Gurriel went 4-for-4 with a home run and a double to finish the season with a .308 average. Finally playing a fully healthy season and appearing in 57 of 60 games, Gurriel’s all-around game had a chance to shine as his improving defense in left field has supported his underrated bat.

Gurriel knows Guerrero as well as anyone on this roster, as the two energetic young core pieces seem to be in conversation from the moment they arrive at the ballpark until the final out. He’s seen Guerrero’s improvements first-hand, and feels confident there’s plenty more to come.

“That’s some of the best news for us as a group, having Vladdy, the way he’s swinging the bat right now,” Gurriel said through a translator. “It’s great for us. We needed that bat, obviously.”

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.