Hitting records were attained and notorious leadoff sluggers slugged on a regular ‘ol weekend series for baseball in Toronto as Eric Sogard and Brandon Drury both hit two home runs apiece to lead Toronto to a season sweep of the Oakland Athletics.
Also, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., made his major league debut Friday night. As a friend asked me recently, “Who’s that new Russian guy?” Great question.
Vlad’s career batting line was non-existent Friday night when the slugger from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (although born in Montreal) fielded the first foul ball of his major league career. The more than 28,000 fans in attendance then proceeded to lose their collective cookies and some of their marbles. It was sports fandom at its best – everyone was there to celebrate win or lose. It was an electric and optimistic atmosphere at Rogers Centre that felt reminiscent of the heady days after the 2015 trade deadline, if not in sheer numbers in collective energy. Everyone stood for every Guerrero at-bat and every time he touched the ball at third, whether foul or in play.
Was it a little absurd? Absolutely. Alright, maybe even a lot absurd but Guerrero made everyone’s life a little bit easier on Friday night just by his presence. Comparisons were made to the greatest of all time – Mantle, Griffey, Ruth, Bonds, Homer Simpson, Cap Anson, that guy from Pride of the Yankees whose name I can never remember. Oh, right, Lou Gehrig. There wasn’t a superlative or comparison that wasn’t being swirled around in baseball’s collective snifter until it felt right to say.
Over 288 career minor league games Guerrero hit .331/.413/.531 with a .945 OPS and earned an 80 hit tool rating by MLBpipeline – the only time that rating has ever been given out. Over the weekend he had three hits, going 3-for-12 with a walk and a double and made some nice defensive plays at third. Not bad, still has a shot at the Hall of Fame. It’s also clear that pitchers are not yet challenging him in the strike zone. As Andrew Simon of MLB.com pointed out earlier today: of the batters that have seen 50 or more pitches, only Giancarlo Stanton has a lower zone% than Guerrero. In the very early going, pitchers are clearly afraid of his power.
With all the camouflage that Vladimir provided over the weekend it’s almost gone unnoticed that Toronto has now won nine of their last 12 games. Toronto’s pitchers are currently second best in both team ERA and batting average against. Unfortunately, Toronto is third last offensively, hitting a collective .233/.298/.386 and sport the league’s only sub-.300 OBP, right behind Baltimore and a surprisingly awful Boston team. Fortunately, with 134 games left, it’s still early.
The last ten days have shown some signs of life and numerous surprises. Eric Sogard hit a leadoff home run on Friday and Sunday to continue his ten game hit streak. Sogard has a comically high BABIP and his numbers are bound to fall but if he can maintain his low strikeout rate and come anywhere near his .393 OBP from 2017 then he could be a decent leadoff hitter this season.
But the real hero of the weekend was Brandon Drury. On Friday he came to the plate in the ninth inning of a tie game, immediately after a Guerrero double sent Toronto baseball fans into pandemonium and proceeded to send the first pitch he saw to right centre field to win the game. On Sunday, in a game in which Toronto couldn’t make the best of some generationally poor defence by Oakland, he hit an extra innings three-run bomb to nearly the same spot to tie the game.
In the last 11 games Drury has hit .333/.391/.714 with four home runs and four doubles. His .370 BABIP during that stretch is high and his strikeout to walk ratio isn’t great and he will absolutely need to improve his plate discipline if he’s to succeed long term.
But, while the team waits on its OBP to improve, that Russian guy is sure nice to have around.
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