Vladdy's back! Jr. smashes 2 homers vs. O's

August 31st, 2021

TORONTO -- He’s back.

launched two home runs on Monday night in Toronto, his 37th and 38th of the season, to lead the Blue Jays to a 7-3 win over the Orioles. It was the exact type of loud, convincing win this team has been grasping for in recent weeks while their offense struggled to create any sort of separation.

“You knew that was coming,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “He’s having a great year and he’s still a young guy going through the ups and downs of a long season. Now he’s back to having good at-bats. All it takes is seeing the ball better and having better at-bats, and that’s what he’s done.”

Guerrero has shown clear signs lately that a sleepy August is behind him, with seven hits in his past four games, but he’ll always be measured by power. With just three home runs through the first 29 days of August and none since Aug. 20, Guerrero’s OPS had dipped below 1.000 for the first time since May 13. That’s a high bar to be held to, but it’s the superstar treatment Guerrero now deserves. The home runs were Vladdy classics, too.

First came the towering 423-footer in the fourth, which was gone the moment Guerrero started his swing and soared into the second deck. Then came the hardest-hit ball of the night at 112.1 mph, a two-run shot that took a much lower flight path to smack off the facing of the second deck and rollled back into center field.

"He's a really good hitter. He's putting up an MVP-type season. He's smashin' baseballs,” said Orioles’ starter Chris Ellis. “I tried to throw him a fastball away, it leaked over the middle of the plate and he turned and burned on it. That's what good hitters do, and he's one of the best in the league. Hats off to him."

Guerrero put the Blue Jays on his back Monday, but it was who put them in front and gave the well-earned win, saving him from a sixth consecutive no-decision despite his Cy Young-caliber pitching in August. He threw seven innings of two-run ball and racked up 10 strikeouts, including his 200th of the season.

In doing so, Ray set a new MLB record for the most strikeouts through the first 1,000 innings of a pitcher's career (1,241), overtaking the previous high of 1,222 that belonged to Yu Darvish to enhance his case for the AL Cy Young Award this season.

Timely hitting has evaded the Blue Jays of late, leaving their pitchers with zero margin for error, but when Hernández’s sixth-inning double cashed in Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette -- blowing through the stop sign to score -- Ray finally had the breathing room he deserved.

Toronto’s recent troubles hitting with runners in scoring position, or late in games, have been confusing for all involved. This is a lineup topped by George Springer -- who returned from the IL Monday with a walk, hit and stolen base -- and four All-Stars. It’s been a while since they had a classic offensive outburst, and even when the Blue Jays took two of three from the Tigers this past weekend in Detroit, they scraped together just six runs. Putting up seven against the Orioles isn’t exactly taking down Goliath, as Baltimore isn’t far removed from a 19-game losing streak, but every win matters as Toronto (69-61) looks to make a run in the AL Wild Card race, where it now sits 4 1/2 games back of Boston (75-58), which fell to Tampa Bay (83-48) on Monday.

“It’s so magnified with where we are in the standings and how well they’ve performed offensively all year,” GM Ross Atkins said Monday. “We’ve had so many big individual performances, and in many cases a lot of good team performances on the offensive side. I think it’s a combination of guys hitting a bit of a lull, which does happen. Obviously, if we had the answer to why that’s occurring then it would be occurring less, so we keep [working to] find the solution.”

Prior to the game, Atkins said that there’s value in not just adding Springer’s talent back to the lineup, but also adding a different type of hitter with a different approach, diversifying what the opposing pitcher sees. Springer did his part and looked healthy, but he’s been a part of talented lineups before that have gone through cold snaps. The hope for Springer and the Blue Jays is that this launches them out of it.

“We’ve been grinding a little bit,” Springer said. “We haven’t got the results we want offensively, but that’s the game. I think it was a good night after a weird travel day. It’s good to see contributions up and down the lineup.”

Springer’s return changes this lineup, but there is no player on this roster with the game-changing ceiling of Guerrero. Beyond Shohei Ohtani, who’s expected to edge Guerrero out for the AL MVP Award, there may be no other player in baseball who rivals Guerrero's ceiling right now from an offensive standpoint. Guerrero can’t do it alone, but for the Blue Jays to make a run, they need more of this, the Guerrero we all saw from April through July.