Vladdy's timely HR earns important split for Blue Jays

June 6th, 2024

TORONTO -- That’s what it’s supposed to look like. is supposed to hit home runs and the Blue Jays are supposed to win.

Neither has happened enough in 2024, but Thursday’s 6-5 win over the Orioles at Rogers Centre looked like a carefully choreographed version of their ideal game. The Blue Jays played to their two strengths -- starting pitching and defense -- and did enough offensively to weather a late stumble from their bullpen as the O’s comeback fell just short.

“We feel great. This was huge,” Guerrero said through a club interpreter. “When you have a team like Baltimore, after those two losses, when you can win the last two, it’s huge for us.”

Guerrero’s home run was just his seventh of the season, and while he’s been on a remarkable run offensively for the past month, it still hasn’t shown up consistently in his power numbers. That’s what we crave from Guerrero, the towering blasts and hissing line drives that threaten to blow through walls if they don’t clear them.

Perhaps we need to view Guerrero through a different lens now. Even with his latest streak, this looks nothing like the dominant force we saw in 2021, when only Shohei Ohtani could keep his hands off the AL MVP Award, but it feels like Guerrero has rebranded as a different style of hitter altogether. We’re seeing a different genre of hitter. He’s hitting like a prime Joey Votto, if you will, with his average and on-base ability being the stars of the show. We all know Guerrero’s raw power is rivaled by only a few hitters on this planet, but it feels like he’s using that for purposes other than chasing home runs right now.

For years, manager John Schneider has said that Vladdy is “a hitter first.” Through his years in the Minor Leagues, coaches and farm directors have said the same.

“I think the power just comes. Like today, he can hit the ball out anywhere,” Schneider said. “We want him to be a hitter first and have the quality of the at-bats he’s having. The home runs are going to come because he hits the ball so hard.”

With pitching the way he did Thursday, one swing from Guerrero was all the Blue Jays needed. This was such an important outing for Kikuchi, who hadn’t looked sharp in his last two trips to the mound and was facing an Orioles lineup that can tee off on anyone, any time. The electric lefty was back, topping out at 98.1 mph -- the sixth-hardest pitch of his MLB career -- while he held the O’s to one run over six innings with six strikeouts.

“For me, that's probably the best I've seen him against us,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “He's been good, but that was 97, 98 mph bullets, with a really good breaking ball and a changeup. Really tough to hit. So give him credit, I thought he threw the ball great."

Given how the Blue Jays are built, “team efforts” aren’t just preferred, they’re necessary.

Take a team like the Orioles as an example. Corbin Burnes can give up five runs but be bailed out by one of the best offenses in baseball. The Orioles are tied with the Yankees for the most home runs in the league, and a couple of two-run shots will make you forget everything that happened before them.

The Blue Jays rarely give their pitchers that luxury, though. This lineup isn’t winning many heavyweight fights. The Blue Jays need their pitching and defense to be rock-solid and do just enough offensively, which typically means a timely hit like Vladdy’s. This lineup can’t erase eight innings from your memory like Baltimore’s can, which is why it needs to play games like this one.

Still, Guerrero said multiple times after the win that he is “not comfortable.”

“I’m saying that I’m not that comfortable because we’ve got to win more games,” Guerrero said. “This is what we’re here for, to win games. We just need to win more games.”

Guerrero is right. It’s that simple.

This series split was so crucial for the Blue Jays given how the series started. After dropping the first two games by a combined score of 17-3, the Blue Jays (30-32) have put themselves back within two games of .500 and they will head west to Oakland riding the momentum of a performance they need to replicate, over and over.