Vladdy a spark as Toronto bats rake top to bottom

Guerrero's single fuels decisive 4-run 1st inning as Blue Jays pick up Kikuchi in series opener

May 31st, 2023

TORONTO -- It’s been too long since we last saw this Blue Jays offense, calmly and confidently, look like itself.

Toronto’s struggles over the past two-plus weeks have brought some worrying lows, digging a hole that this team will need four months and an extendable ladder to climb out of. Even the highs, like a lopsided 20-run road win against Tampa Bay, didn’t feel entirely real or sustainable.

Tuesday night’s 7-2 win over the Brewers at Rogers Centre finally felt like the model again. The Blue Jays took a lead and held it, lulling the Crew to sleep the rest of the way while getting contributions from every corner of their lineup.

This is what the Blue Jays are supposed to look like, but you’ll be forgiven if you’ve forgotten what it looks like.

It’s difficult to pick a unanimous star of the game, and that’s the beauty of this win. Most encouraging of all was the production Toronto got from the bottom of its lineup, because while the Blue Jays need more from their star players like and , it’s always been this lineup’s length that could separate it from the rest.

“It’s huge,” manager John Schneider said. “It’s no secret how we’re built at the top with George, Bo [Bichette] and Vladdy with whoever else, like [Matt] Chapman, [Alejandro] Kirk or [Brandon] Belt. It’s just kind of how we’re built. We’re having good at-bats down lower with Cavan Biggio getting back to his normal self a little bit.

“It starts with Whit Merrifield in the middle there, getting on base and making things happen. When they get on base for the top of the order, that’s how we’re built to have success.”

Merrifield acted as that secondary leadoff man in the middle, going 2-for-4, while Kirk singled three times and Biggio reached base three times. These are the types of numbers that keeps success sustainable and avoids the peaks and valleys.

“Everybody did their job and we got a lot of people on base,” said Kirk, who has been working to lift the ball in the air more consistently. “Everybody did their job and hopefully things keep going that way.”

Everybody doing their job, as opposed to taking turns trying to play the role of hero, is exactly what Toronto needs.

Getting this done early helped, too. All of the Blue Jays’ runs were scored in the first three innings, with four coming in the bottom of the first after Yusei Kikuchi had gotten off to a rocky start by allowing a two-run home run in the top half.

“Having four runs right after was huge. The batters always have my back and they have always told me that they always have my back,” Kikuchi said through a club interpreter. “Scoring right after really helped with my confidence. I was able to attack the hitters more with a lead.”

There’s never a bad day to get production from the bottom of your lineup, but the Blue Jays have been spoiled by Kevin Kiermaier.

That’s the last thing anyone expected offensively when Kiermaier signed a one-year, $9 million deal last offseason, but Kiermaier came into camp saying he wanted to be the best No. 9 hitter in baseball and has put together one fine campaign.

Kiermaier is batting .319 with an .877 OPS through two months, even chipping in an unexpected four home runs alongside five stolen bases and some fantastic baserunning.

The problem? Kiermaier is hurt, dealing with some right lower back discomfort that the Blue Jays will need to make an IL decision on soon. He has been the spark on some otherwise dark nights for this offense, but this offense was never built for one player to be the face of it. Not even Vladdy.

The Blue Jays’ depth is being tested beyond just Kiermaier, of course. Danny Jansen is on the IL with a groin injury that sounds like it will stretch beyond the 10-day minimum, forcing Kirk into more action after a start to his season that’s been below expectations. Toronto spent nearly two months as baseball’s healthiest team, but in baseball, the clock is always ticking.

More than anything Tuesday’s win just felt … normal. The Blue Jays have desperately needed that, because their version of “normal” can be one of the best in baseball when every player, one through nine, is simply doing their share of the job.