Vlad Jr. takes HR lead (16) with rocket in win

May 26th, 2021

stands alone atop Major League Baseball after launching his 16th home run of the season on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, and finally, it was enough.

The Blue Jays’ 6-2 win over the Yankees snapped a six-game losing streak just in time for Alek Manoah’s much-anticipated debut on Wednesday, and it’s only fitting that Guerrero was the engine. Guerrero has been on a tear over the past week, even by his standards, but a pair of multihomer games still ended in losses. This is the sigh of relief the Blue Jays have been looking for.

Guerrero’s two-run blast in the top of the third followed the same script as so many others. He watched a pair of pitches go by and then unloaded, launching the homer 410 feet with an exit velocity of 114.7 mph. This one went out to the opposite field, which Guerrero is making a habit of, and none of the 16 have been cheap.

“When he hit that ball to right field, everybody just goes, ‘Wow,’” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s not all that easy to do. He hit that hard. He’s been amazing. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball. To be that young and be that good, it’s been fun for me to watch. I love the game and I know what he’s doing isn’t easy to do.”

The 22-year-old Guerrero was widely expected to improve this year after coming into camp with a better body and clearer mindset, but this is beyond what anyone had in mind. Guerrero’s 16th of the season has him ahead of Ronald Acuña Jr. fand Shohei Ohtani or the Major League lead, and he entered play on Tuesday valued at 3.0 WAR (FanGraphs). That’s the best in baseball, and if he continues at this pace, there are MVP votes in his future.

This Blue Jays lineup is still looking for more of the top-to-bottom efforts they seemed to be finding earlier in the month, but there will still be nights where Guerrero steals the show. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. chipped in with a home run of his own, giving him homers in back-to-back games after a May drought. When Gurriel is clicking in the No. 6 or No. 7 spot in the lineup, it lengthens this order’s power potential significantly.

“That’s contagious,” Gurriel said through a team translator. “When you’ve got guys like [Randal] Grichuk, Vladdy and Teoscar [Hernández] hitting in front of you and hitting for power, it helps you out. It’s contagious. I just want to do the same thing.”

Gurriel has been waiting all season for his swing to find this form and for this type of contact to come along. He now has seven multihit performances over his last nine games, and as one of the Blue Jays’ streakiest hitters, he can be an absolute force when he heats up.

None of this happens without Steven Matz, though, who bounced back with a fantastic outing against the mighty Yankees lineup. Just as much as the Blue Jays needed a win, Matz needed a start like this to build from.

Mixing his pitches as well as he has this season with a little extra velocity on each, Matz struck out 10 over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, only finding trouble at the very end. This has been an up-and-down season for the lefty, starting 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA but posting a 6.93 ERA in his next five starts. Not every outing will be this dominant, but if Matz can settle back into a more consistent level from start to start, that would be a tremendous help to the Blue Jays’ rotation behind Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray.

“It’s definitely a little shot in the arm,” Matz said. “For me, coming into the start after getting those four zeros [in the last four innings] in my last start, I kind of kept the ball rolling. I did have some confidence coming into this start when I was able to do that. … The thing is just keeping the ball rolling, not hitting the panic button when things don't always go your way and keeping your head down and sticking to it.”

Even the Blue Jays’ pitchers have been in awe of what they’ve seen from Guerrero lately, and Matz is no different. There’s an elite tier of hitters in baseball who don’t have a weakness for pitchers to attack, and Guerrero has stepped right into that group.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to face him,” Matz said after notching his sixth win.