TORONTO -- Through a long season, three homes and a dozen different ups and downs for the Blue Jays, there has always been Marcus Semien.
The star second baseman launched his 40th home run of the season in Saturday afternoon’s 6-2 win over the Twins at Rogers Centre, building on a career year that should slot him right in behind Shohei Ohtani and teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the AL MVP conversation. With the win, the Blue Jays move a half-game ahead of the Yankees to reclaim the second AL Wild Card spot and sit one game back of the Red Sox for the top spot.
Semien’s performance goes beyond anything the Blue Jays could have expected when they brought him in on a one-year, $18 million deal this past offseason. Yes, his 2019 season proved that Semien is capable of being a premier player in the Majors, but coming off a down year in 2020, he’s blowing his own career bests out of the water at the plate while putting himself in the Gold Glove Award conversation in his first season at second base.
With 14 games remaining, Semien also has a chance at history by hitting the most home runs by a second baseman in a single season.
Most HR in a single season by a 2B (at least 50 percent of games at 2B):
1. Davey Johnson: 43 (1973)
T2. Brian Dozier: 42 (2016)
T2. Rogers Hornsby: 42 (1922)
T4. Ryne Sandberg: 40 (1990)
T4. Marcus Semien: 40 (2021)
“That’s just not easy to do,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s why I wanted to put the home run jacket on him when he did that. I told him congratulations. To be a second baseman and have the season that he’s had already with 40 home runs? That’s not easy to do. I’m proud of him. He’s been great for us.”
Semien’s dominance has been overshadowed by Guerrero at times, and understandably so, but the duo have formed arguably the best one-two punch in baseball this season. Both ranking in MLB’s top four in home runs, Semien and Guerrero have also become just the fourth duo in Blue Jays history to hit 40-plus homers in the same season. They join José Bautista and Josh Donaldson (2015), Carlos Delgado and Tony Batista (2000) and Delgado and Shawn Green (1999).
The consistency of Semien’s season has been remarkable, too. When George Springer missed time early, Semien stepped in as the leadoff man, and the lineup didn’t skip a beat. He’s looked just as comfortable batting second and third, and since his slow April and red-hot May, Semien has been one of the steadiest hitters in baseball.
“This guy does the same thing every day,” Montoyo explained. “He comes here at the same time every day. If there’s optional BP, he’s there. If there’s optional ground balls, he’s there. Whatever he’s done, it’s because of his work ethic. Nobody works harder than that guy.”
What Semien is doing isn’t just great, it’s rare. This could end up being a brief flash of brilliance, given his pending free agency, but if the Blue Jays keep playing like they have through the first half of September, there will be postseason baseball in Toronto.
The Blue Jays also got some offense from Teoscar Hernández, whose three-run skyscraper just barely cleared the wall in left field. Hernández’s 28th homer of the year gave him 106 RBIs, putting him third in baseball behind only José Abreu (111) and Salvador Perez (112). Given that Hernández missed three weeks in April while on the COVID-19 IL, that accomplishment is even more incredible.
“I’m slowing the game down and not trying to think about the baserunners,” said Hernández, whose approach has matured drastically from 2019. “I focus on my at-bat and just try to make good contact. I know that if I make good contact with men on base, I’m going to do damage.”
“Damage” has been the theme of September for the Blue Jays. Their starting pitching has set the stage, too, like Steven Matz’s 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball on Saturday as he continues a quietly strong season. With all phases of this roster finally clicking at the same time, the Blue Jays remain a team that nobody wants to face in October.
They’ll need to get there first, but if they do, it will be Semien leading the way, and Semien getting to the field first on the day of the Wild Card Game.