TORONTO -- The calendar hasn't even switched over to July yet, and Justin Smoak has already set a new career high in home runs.Toronto's first baseman continued to make his case for a spot in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard with a solo homer in the Blue
TORONTO -- The calendar hasn't even switched over to July yet, and Justin Smoak has already set a new career high in home runs.
Toronto's first baseman continued to make his case for a spot in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard with a solo homer in the Blue Jays' 4-0 victory over Baltimore on Wednesday night.
Smoak currently sits fourth in the American League in home runs behind New York's Aaron Judge (26), Houston's George Springer (23) and Tampa Bay's Logan Morrison (22). Smoak's previous high in homers was 20, back in 2013, and that took him 454 at-bats. This year it took him just 254.
"None of us have seen him look this good, but he's under control," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "His swing looks great. He looks balanced. I can't say enough good things about him ... both sides of the plate, it doesn't really matter. Hopefully he continues that and he could have a monster year."
The 21 home runs are the most by a switch-hitter before the All-Star break in Toronto franchise history. Jose Cruz previously held the record with 20 back in 2000. They are also the most by any Major League switch-hitter before the All-Star break since New York's Mark Teixeira had 22 in 2015.
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Smoak's latest came as part of a three-run fourth inning vs. Orioles lefty Wade Miley. According to Statcast™, Smoak's ninth homer of June was projected to travel 430 feet and left his bat at 106 mph. Twelve of Smoak's 21 home runs this season have an estimated distance of more than 400 feet.
The 30-year-old Smoak has reached base in 23 of his last 24 games and is batting .349 (30-for-86) with 15 RBIs over that same span. He arguably has been Toronto's most valuable player this year and one of the main reasons the Blue Jays still have a chance to get back into contention in the American League East.
"It's pretty cool," Smoak said after the game. "I've had a great first half but it's not really how you start. It's how you finish. But it's an honor to be with those names and I just have to keep it going."
Toronto recently launched a social media push to support Smoak's bid for the All-Star Game. The #SmoakTheVote campaign has received a lot of attention in recent days, with Smoak's teammates wearing custom-made T-shirts supporting the cause during batting practice and after games. Voting is set to end Thursday night at 11:59 p.m. ET and as of the last ballot update Smoak was ranked second (1,348,233) behind Kansas City's Eric Hosmer (1,419,887).
Smoak entered play on Wednesday ranked third in the AL with a .583 slugging percentage, and he's fourth with a .952 OPS. Perhaps most surprising of all is that Smoak is batting .301, and per Statcast™ he is making contact on 89.2 percent of his swings on pitches within the strike zone. He used to be a power-or-bust type of hitter but has become a more all-around slugger during this banner season.
"He should be starting in the All-Star Game at first base," Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman said. "The guy has been unbelievable all year for us. He needs to be starting at first base. There's no way he can't be. Let's do everything in our power to go out there and vote as many times as possible and make sure Justin Smoak is starting in the All-Star Game, as he should be."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.