'Chanting MVP for a reason': Vlad hits 2 HRs

July 17th, 2021

Hours after the Blue Jays got the green light to return to Toronto on July 30, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got an early start on the move by launching a baseball over the border.

Guerrero opened the scoring in the first inning with his 29th of the season, a rare home run from him that had to be watched until it cleared the wall, but his second blast in the sixth inning was a no-doubter. With 30 home runs and an All-Star Game MVP in his back pocket, this season just continues to belong to Guerrero.

The 10-2 win over the Rangers at Sahlen Field was never close, with the Blue Jays launching five home runs and getting another strong effort from the stacked top half of their lineup. Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernández and Randal Grichuk all left the yard. This is the type of offensive outburst that the Blue Jays are capable of on any night, especially when Guerrero is taking over games by himself.

“He’s one of the best players in baseball right now,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “I’ve been saying that. He showed it today, and he showed it in the All-Star Game. He didn’t really have a break. He flew to Colorado, did all of the stuff he needed to do and then he goes off again today. He’s been fun to watch. That’s what I like about going back to Toronto now. The fans from Toronto get to watch one of the best players in baseball.”

This is no secret. There’s been nothing subtle about Guerrero’s sudden ascent into the elite tier of baseball, and it’s been made more special by the lineup around him. Early in the season, as the Blue Jays’ lineup found its stride, there were too many nights where Guerrero would put on a star performance, but the team would lose. Now, it’s all coming together at the same time with more consistency, which is a nightmare for opposing teams.

“They’re chanting MVP for a reason,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “This kid’s really special, he’s good. But I think top to bottom, they’re young, they’re talented. Like I said, there’s been a lot of growth. Just seeing some of the at-bats. Watching [Bo] Bichette hit the ball the other way [and] with two strikes, battling, fouling some of those pitches off. Semien, I’ve seen for years in Oakland. I’ve watched this guy progress into an elite hitter. So some of it’s not surprising, but some of the younger guys, it’s pretty impressive to watch their growth.”

Guerrero admitted prior to the game that the All-Star break wasn’t much of a break, shuttling in and out of Colorado with all eyes on his every move. Overall, though, he’s feeling much better physically than he has at this point in the season in recent years. Prior to improving his fitness over the offseason, Guerrero admitted that he felt fatigued down the stretch in 2019 and 2020, which had affected his swing.

“I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not going to tell you that I’m at 100 percent right now for the second half, but I’m healthy, I’m feeling good,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “In past years of course, by this time, I couldn’t even talk. I felt very tired in the past. This year, I’m ready and I feel good. All of the hard work I put in over the offseason is paying off.”

That late-season fatigue doesn’t sound major, but as Guerrero’s posture would dip, so would his shoulders, elbows and hands. That led to an inconsistent swing, and as you saw so many times through his first two MLB seasons, it led to far too many ground balls. Now that he’s feeling fresher, Guerrero is back in control.

“It helps a lot. It’s a huge difference,” Guerrero said. “Now I can be more aggressive. I can swing at the first pitch. I’m not thinking about my shoulders, [that] I’m tired, trying to draw a walk.”

The offense got the attention here, but Robbie Ray set the stage yet again. Just like Guerrero, Ray carried over his incredible first half and hit the ground in a full sprint coming out of the break, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings with just four hits allowed and eight strikeouts. With his ERA now at 2.93, Ray continues to be one of the best stories of the season for the Blue Jays, giving the club a true No. 2 option behind Hyun Jin Ryu in the rotation with incredible consistency.

Ray actually asked to pitch in the first game coming out of the break to stay on his five-day schedule, prioritizing a steady routine that has fueled his breakout season. It’s worked in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y., and as long as this lineup keeps supporting Ray like it did on Friday, it will work just fine in Toronto, too.