'Dangerous' Blue Jays lineup rolls to 7th straight win

July 27th, 2022

TORONTO -- Everyone was back where they belong on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was back to his old self -- if a 23-year-old can have an old self -- launching his 21st home run of the season to continue a scorching hot streak that feels a lot like 2021.

George Springer was breaking the game open in the biggest moment, which is exactly what he was brought here to do, launching a grand slam in the sixth inning that decided the 10-3 win over the Cardinals and gave the Blue Jays a seven-game winning streak.

Up in the booth with the best view in the house, calling the latest chapter in the Blue Jays’ resurgence, was Buck Martinez. Back on the mic after stepping away for over two months to undergo cancer treatment, the former player and manager turned broadcaster returned Tuesday to one of the best shows in baseball: a Toronto lineup that’s finally clicking from the top down.

Make it 50 runs scored in four games, and while Springer and Guerrero were Tuesday’s stars, every hitter has had their moment.

“I think you’re starting to see us as a team not doing too much,” Springer said. “We’re spiraling one at-bat into the next, getting guys over, getting guys in, hit-and-run, stuff like that. It’s huge to see and it’s awesome so far.”

Both Springer and interim manager John Schneider pointed to the old idea that hitting is contagious. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s one of those old baseball expressions that’s simpler to say than quantify. For Schneider, it’s about hitters being themselves, knowing that the talent behind them in the lineup will drive them in if they work a walk instead of trying to change the game with one swing.

That’s when it snowballs. That’s when it gets fun.

“It’s just a good approach. Things like working a walk, like [Santiago] Espinal working the walk, then [Cavan] Biggio to get to George,” Schneider said. “We’re grinding at-bats with that good two-strike approach. It’s kind of contagious. The bats are really starting to roll. Look at George, look at Vladdy. When you get guys on, it’s a dangerous lineup.”

The energy on this team has been contagious, too. The 1-9 tailspin is still fresh in the memories of each player, a skid that led to the firing of Charlie Montoyo. But now, they’ve reeled off a 9-1 run, flipping the script entirely while they play a more active and aggressive baseball under Schneider. He is the first manager to have a run differential of +50 or better over his first nine career games since Jim Price posted a +63 for the New York Gothams in 1884.

“I really can’t emphasize enough how much pressure we can put on a pitcher when we get guys on base,” Schneider said. “Working walks is something that we’ve been preaching all year, and doing damage after that has been big.”

There’s always been one man that can send this lineup into the stratosphere, too.

It’s Guerrero. It’s always been Guerrero.

As the Blue Jays' young superstar danced through the dugout following his first-inning blast, Martinez offered up an observation that could just as well be considered a threat to the rest of Major League Baseball.

“He hasn’t even gotten hot yet.”

That’s just starting now. Guerrero entered with 12 hits over his past five games, but this was just his third home run over 21 games in July. He’s been scorching the ball, but now that he's beginning to lift it in the air more consistently, those numbers will come.

Guerrero surely won’t reach the 48 home runs that made him the American League MVP runner-up last season, or the 1.002 OPS that went along with it. But at this point, season-long numbers don’t matter. It’s about what happens from here on out as the Blue Jays look to secure the top Wild Card spot in a crowded AL race.

One of Schneider’s first moves when he took over was to shuffle the top of the lineup, now topped with Springer and Guerrero before fellow All-Star Alejandro Kirk and shortstop Bo Bichette. It’s worked, getting Guerrero involved earlier while Kirk, who has exploded onto the scene as one of baseball’s most consistent contact hitters, is there to continue the first-inning blitz.

The Blue Jays have always been expected to be in this place, holding a postseason spot with one of the AL’s best records in late July. The path they’ve traveled to get here wasn’t what anyone predicted, but this is a roster that finally appears ready to embrace its identity as a team that can blow the doors of any Major League team on any given night, and it all starts at the top.