For now, the Blue Jays are flirting with being a .500 baseball team — by no means a disaster but not close to good enough to living up to elevated expectations for the 2021 season.
And let’s be honest: Without an all-star level season from Vlad Guerrero Jr. thus far, the team would be much worse off.
So let’s start talk of Saturday’s game at Fenway Park with the news that Guerrero was at it again, blasting his 20th homer of the season, the most in the majors.
The first-inning shot over Fenway Park’s Green Monster sent the Jays on their way to a 7-2 win over the Red Sox, a bashing afternoon for the visitors that included a season-high five Toronto homers.
It was certainly a welcome bounce back from the excruciating bullpen collapse and loss the previous night as the Jays improved to 32-30, hanging in the shadows of .500 as they have all season.
While difficult to quantify precisely, a good number of those wins can be attributed to the sweet slugging first baseman. The first inning belt, which travelled 439 feet, was his second in as many nights and has him on pace for 52 on the season, the second most in Jays franchise history.
There has been help from others such as Marcus Semien, Randal Grichuk and others, but no Jays hitter has been more consistent than the 22-year-old who is rapidly rising to superstar status.
So with Guerrero and the offence carrying the freight and 100 games remaining, how do we handicap this team with so much of the season left?
Is it a contender in the iron-tough American League East waiting (and waiting) for the arrival of George Springer and for the beleaguered bullpen to climb from the depths?
Or is it a team still significantly further away than that?
“We definitely know we’ve had the toughest schedule in baseball so far but we don’t want to make excuses,” first baseman/DH Rowdy Tellez said on Saturday. “We’ve had some plays in the field and plays in the box and moments on the mound where we’ve gotten away from who we are and that is things that happen.
“I don’t think 62 games is going to define us. We’re a tough team and we’re going to move forward and play some good baseball.”
While an optimistic view from Tellez — with marks for honesty — over the next couple of weeks we’ll get an idea of just how equipped the Jays are to keep it chugging in the right direction.
With two more remaining in the four-game series against the Red Sox, the Jays return to Buffalo for three against the Yankees, all the while hoping there is some credible relief from the bullpen.
The Jays improved to 11-12 against the AL East after going 22-18 against divisional opponents last season. There are 19 games remaining against the basement-dwelling and once again miserable Baltimore Orioles, however, and in theory that should help.
“Our stars are doing a good job and keeping us in games,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Forty five (of the first) 60 games were against teams that are .500 (or better), Our bullpen has struggled and they are tough losses, but every day these guys come back and battle.
“Our stars are doing a good job and keeping us in games. There’s a lot to be positive. It’s just happened that one phase of our game has been struggling and that’s pretty important in the game of baseball.”
As we’ve said, the offensive power of the Jays is not in question and it elevated to full throttle in a three-run fifth. The biggest and most impressive was a massive 468-foot shot by Bo Bichette, a homer that was the longest of his career by 27 feet. Bichette’s bomb was preceded by a two-run shot from Marcus Semien right before him and Cavan Biggio two batters previous … Going deep has a different meaning for the Jays these days – essentially pleading for starters to go deep into the game to avoid the troubled bullpen. Steven Matz got through a grinding 5.2 innings, allowing just one run on four hits but needing 111 pitches to do so. Though his pitch count was climbing, Matz managed eight strikeouts for his seventh win of the season … The fifth Jays homer came in the ninth, a solo effort from Reese McGuire, his first of the season … Some welcome news for the troubled pen — Jordan Romano returned to the mound after suffering some mild forearm strain on Wednesday night and he nailed it with a 1-2-3 ninth and needing just eight pitches to do it.
AROUND THE BASES
Your breathless George Springer update from Sunday — he ran the bases and took batting practice. As for his rehab assignment in triple A? That won’t begin until Tuesday at the earliest, guaranteeing he will play less than 100 games in his first season with the Jays … Montoyo said he won’t shy away from giving the ball to Tyler Chatwood, who came unglued in Friday’s big blown lead loss. “He’s going to get another chance because we need him,” Montoyo said. “I talked to (Chatwood) today. He said he wants the ball again and that’s what you want to hear from one of your pitchers who is struggling.”