The Toronto Blue Jays are back on the road after a shaky six game home stand that saw them win just one game.
The team flew back across the continent Monday, visiting San Francisco for a quick two-game series against the Giants.
Here are three positive and three negative takeaways from the quick pair of games against the Giants.
Now that’s more like it - Amid the fairly dreary losses in the last home stand was one positive sign that everyone across baseball was waiting to see: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looked pretty comfortable at the plate, starting with a two-hit, two-walk performance against the White Sox.
The optimistic report was that this game would be the beginning of a hot streak that would prove even the most glowing scouting reports accurate. The early returns on that hope: Oh yes. Oh, very much, yes.
Guerrero Jr. cracked his elusive first major league home run in the first inning on Tuesday night, and followed it up with his second career home run later in the game.
They weren’t just home runs, casually scraping the wall in a Eric Sogard-ian combination of luck and good contact. They were absolute bombs, rockets hit 400-plus feet, exiting his bat at 110-plus m.p.h. Forget about it.
Vladdy had the three hardest-hit balls in the game, collecting three knocks and putting up the definitive breakout performance fans have waited a couple of weeks to witness. It was worth the wait, as his power looked equal parts effortless and devastating.
Thornton’s day of firsts - Tuesday’s series opening game was a fun one for starting pitcher Trent Thornton as well.
The lineup finally provided him enough run support to pick up his first win as a big league pitcher, after he finished 5.2 innings, allowing two runs and working around five walks. It wasn’t his best start of the year but was a nice change of pace to have enough runs scored on his behalf to finally notch a W.
Just as fun for Thornton was his performance at the plate. He went 2-for-3 in his first ever major league plate appearances, scoring twice to help his own cause.
What, like it’s hard?
Somewhere, Sócrates Brito is looking at the box score and sighing deeply.
Galvis back on track - Freddy Galvis had a great first month of the season, then succumbed a hamstring injury. He’s scuffled a bit since returning from that injury, but the two-game set against the Giants is the best he has looked this month.
Galvis picked up three hits and drove in two in the two-game series, which is far from Vladdy (or Eric Sogard!) numbers, but stands as both a positive sign for his progress back to health and a sign of how little there is to draw from in a two-game series.
Hey, I can only work with what I’m given.
Frequent flyer miles - Flying has arguably never been a cushier or more comfortable way to travel, but that doesn’t stop the miles the Blue Jays have been racking up already this season on trips to the coast.
The Jays have now played 42 games this season and have already flown to California three times. In the span of less than a month they have played in Oakland, Anaheim, and now San Francisco, with none of those series scheduled on the same trip.
This particular stretch is the beginning of a tough test, as the odd two-game set against the Giants is immediately followed by a four-game series in Chicago, then seven straight at home, and three more on the road in Tampa to cap off a run of 16 straight days with a game.
Yes, this is the reality of the sport and there are teams - particularly out west - that have to deal with this just as often, and usually worse, but that hasn’t made the last month feel any less like a whirlwind with how many timezones they have entered on a day-to-day basis.
Tepera not quite there - Roughly a month removed from returning from the elbow injury that cost him the first few weeks of the season, Blue Jays reliever Ryan Tepera hasn’t looked quite back to the level fans expect.
He’s up to 5.40 ERA after surrendering a 6th inning home run to Brandon Crawford on Wednesday afternoon, and the underlying numbers suggest that’s about fair, given how he’s pitched. Tepera is walking hitters more often and striking out fewer, a stark contrast to his previous four seasons with the club.
His fastball velocity is down to just a shade over 93 m.p.h, after hovering around or above 95 earlier in his career. Velocity isn’t the be-all end-all of pitching performance, but combined with an increase in walks and a drop in strikeouts, it certainly starts to fill in a troubling picture.
Elbow injuries can be tough to fully recover from, and Tepera has only pitched 10 innings this season, but it is not a stretch to say he hasn’t looked like himself yet in 2019.
Catching woes - I went over this a little bit after the last series about the struggles of catcher Danny Jansen at the plate, but the truth is that Luke Maile hasn’t presented an alternative option in his stead.
Combined, the Blue Jays came into Wednesday’s game 29th in baseball in Wins Above Replacement from their catchers, and are last in the league with a combined .448 OPS.
Catcher is notoriously among the least productive offensive positions in the lineup, but the Blue Jays are currently taking it to extremes. Neither Maile or Jansen have put together extended streaks of success at the plate, leaving Charlie Montoyo without much to choose from on a day-to-day basis. Reese McGuire is also very unlikely to be the solution to this.
For now, Maile rates out better than Jansen defensively as both a pitch framer and a game-caller, but that value becomes more and more nebulous if he’s not offering anything on the other side of the ball. Eventually one of the two is going to have to show something at the plate to earn the lion’s share of the at-bats.
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