TORONTO – The focus, rightly so, tends to be on the increasingly impressive feats of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the plate. He is in the midst of a remarkably special offensive season, one with the potential to be among the best of a Toronto Blue Jays player if he continues at the current pace.
At times, his rapidly stabilizing game at first base also receives some support, as his range, readings, and picks continue to improve as his comfort at the position increases. And then there are the often-overlooked gains on base routes, where your sprint speed has improved from an average of 25.3 feet per second last year to an average of 27.0 this year, according to Statcast.
That difference was enough for Guerrero to narrowly outstrip an infield single in the fourth inning on Saturday, beating Alex Bregman’s strong shot after the third baseman dove for double potential, and sparked a four-run rally that led the Blue Jays to a 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros.
“Whatever I have to do for the team to win, I will do it,” Guerrero said through interpreter Héctor Lebrón. “I am willing to do anything defensively, on offense. Like before, if for some reason I made a mistake or something like that, keep your head up and try to keep helping the team. This is about winning. I will do anything to help my team win. “
Teoscar Hernández followed up the good play with another base hit and Guerrero then sped home on a base hit by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to shallow left field, scoring easily ahead of Chas McCormick’s poor shot home. Joe Panik then hit a three-run homer to right field that made it a 4-1 game and the Blue Jays didn’t look back from there.
Guerrero’s strong base run underscored the comprehensive way the 22-year-old up-and-coming can dominate a baseball game, all of which were showcased on Saturday.
“Of course,” agreed manager Charlie Montoyo. “He also takes his blows. A tough player like Joe Smith in the seventh inning, hard to watch, and he hits a hit to right field. He’s a complete player right now and he’s only going to get better. Can you tell how that can happen? I think so because he’s still a young boy, he still has a lot of baseball left. And the way he plays first and the way he hits, he’s probably one of the best players in baseball right now. “
In the first inning, when Carlos Correa hit an infield single, Guerrero alertly spotted José Altuve circling the second and trying to reach third on the play, firing a laser through the diamond to cover shortstop Bo Bichette for an out. fundamental.
Having seen Altuve in action, he anticipated the play once Panik’s pitch from the start went to the wide side of the bag and after Bichette deftly placed the tag, Guerrero moved his index finger towards those who could put it. testing.
“That’s just part of the game, emotions like, ‘You know what? You’re not going to run me off, ‘”Guerrero said.
The next inning, he moved to his right to hit a groundout from Yuli Gurriel and transmitted cleanly to starter Ross Stripling.
After playing as a catalyst through the decisive quarter with his legs, Guerrero put the dagger on José Urquidy’s ill-fated exit in the fifth when he clocked a 77.8 mph slider and shot a high arc over the wall in left field. The two-run shot put him 6-1 and placed him at the top of the AL triple crown categories heading into the night’s action with 18 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .338 average.
For good measure, Guerrero made a good choice in a crush of Myles Straw in the seventh, making significant contributions in all facets of the game.
“I am not talking about the numbers. I am very proud at this moment of all the good that I do on the field to help the team win. I’m very proud of that, ”Guerrero said. “And of course all the work I did in the offseason is paying off right now, and I’m very proud of that too.”
The only thing Guerrero didn’t do against the Astros was pitch, and the Blue Jays had that piece in hand.
Stripling continued a recent resurgence after three tough starts in May, dodging some traffic in five innings of a race. After Boston battered him for six runs in 3.2 innings on May 19, he realized he had been tipping his pitches, and described in the latest edition of his The Big Swing podcast how he was “reaching the limit of my cap. on some pitches, like my curveball, (and) on other pitches it just went up to the chin. “
In addition to the tell, there was an interruption in his timing from being in a different position on each pitch, “so my mistakes were big. And as we saw when my misses were big, they were hit, I was allowing home runs, I was allowing damage. So now, in a nutshell, my glove is in the same place, so when I go to deliver my timing is the same on every pitch, it doesn’t move, so I’m not tipping the pitches and so I have seen, I am more deceitful and my errors are smaller “.
All of that was played out again Saturday against the Astros, who started Stripling’s downfall in May by getting it for three runs in 3.2 innings on May 7 in Houston. But he had much better control on Saturday with a little help from his friends, as Guerrero’s play helped him avoid damage in the first, while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made a tremendous pitch for Myles Straw to try to score from second. with a single by Altuve. In a second.
“Two plays that really changed the course of the game, for sure,” said Stripling, who called Gurriel’s pitch “as good as any I’ve ever seen while physically on the field.”
Stripling was good until the fourth, when he walked Straw with the bases loaded after a pair of two-out singles and a pitching hit by Aledmys Diaz that knocked out the game’s former Blue Jay. He settled for taking Maldonado out and finishing the inning, threw a clean fifth and then turned things over to the bullpen, where Tim Mayza, Trent Thornton and Rafael Dolis finished things off.
“The four-pitch walk to Straw is definitely frustrating, walking in a race there in a 0-0 game towards a guy you definitely want to break through,” Stripling said. “I remember quick, take that out and realize you have a guy who hit a grand slam last night with the bases loaded again, he probably feels safe but you’re looking at Altuve-Correa-Bregman around the corner if no Don’t take Maldonado there. … He got the hit to limit the damage there, I didn’t have to face the top of the lineup that well to maintain that in a race. “
All of this ensured that Guerrero’s latest tour de force was not wasted.
Outfielder Randal Grichuk said earlier in the day that the Blue Jays 30-26 “wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now if it weren’t for him,” and with one of his most comprehensive performances of the season, the young slugger proved why.