The American League lineup was stacked with Blue Jays on Tuesday night in Colorado, so it’s no surprise the 2021 All-Star Game played out like most of Toronto’s games.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the star of the show as usual, launching a 468-foot home run and driving in two runs for the AL en route to All-Star Game MVP honors, but Teoscar Hernández, Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette rounded out a strong effort from the Blue Jays in the AL’s 5-2 win. All four players were making their first career All-Star appearance, but the paths they’ve taken to get there are drastically different.
This was always expected for Guerrero, who broke through in 2019 as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball with generational offensive potential and a Hall of Fame name. The same can’t be said for Hernández, who is breaking out in his late-20s as one of the game’s most dangerous power hitters.
Hernández doubled to right-center field in the fifth inning and was later driven in by Guerrero, flipping the script of how it usually happens with the Blue Jays. Tuesday was a special moment for the 28-year-old outfielder, who just two years ago was demoted to Triple-A while he struggled both at the plate and in the field. Hernández looked at that as an opportunity, though, and he was one of the breakout stars of the 2020 season, winning a Silver Slugger Award before getting the All-Star nod in ‘21.
Semien has taken a long road of his own, but through the Major Leagues. Now in his ninth season, Semien spent the first six years of his MLB career hitting .249 with a .713 OPS while playing defense not nearly as polished as what you see today. Then came his breakout 2019 season, when Semien deserved an All-Star appearance and finished third in American League MVP voting. He bet on himself coming to Toronto on a one-year, $18 million deal, and it’s worked brilliantly for both sides as the second baseman remains a fixture atop one of baseball’s best lineups.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” Semien said prior to the All-Star Game. “You’ve seen the ups and downs, what I’ve been through. I still have a lot to learn. Being in Toronto with a change of scenery, a new position, I’ve handled it well and swung the bat well in the first half. I’m here.”
It was Semien who opened the scoring in the 2021 All-Star Game, driving home Aaron Judge on an infield single to third base in the second inning.
Bichette’s All-Star debut brought things full circle for his family. His father, Dante, played seven seasons for the Rockies as a power-hitting member of the Blake Street Bombers, but Bo is blazing his own trail as one of the most talented young shortstops in the AL. Guerrero might get the spotlight, but Bichette is also a cornerstone of this franchise both today and moving forward.
“Over the past two years, we’ve started to play cleaner baseball. Obviously everybody knows what we’re capable of offensively and we have a lot of great pitchers as well,” Bichette said. “It’s been fun to just grow with my teammates, and continue to learn with my teammates. Hopefully we take that step forward.”
As the Blue Jays enter the second half of their season at 45-42, the club has clear needs to address when it comes to pitching, but the lineup is a force. Semien, Bichette, Guerrero and Hernández made up the top four of that lineup for most of the season before manager Charlie Montoyo moved George Springer into the leadoff spot, but regardless of how they’re lined up, this group of stars will need to continue being the engine of this team as they push for a spot in the postseason.
“A lot of our wins have been big blowouts, then you get to close games and we’re not doing as well in them,” Semien said. “That takes better pitching, better defense and timely hitting. That’s what it always comes down to in close games. We can blow a team out some nights, and we have the bats to do it.”
The Blue Jays open their second half of Friday at home against the Rangers, and if their four All-Stars can keep performing at this level with Guerrero chasing the bigger MVP Award, that’s a fine starting point for the run the Blue Jays think they’re capable of.