George Springer coming alive as Blue Jays continue playoff push

One of MLB's most productive stretch-run hitters has successfully turned back the clock over the last several weeks.

Through the years, outfielder George Springer has shined the brightest when his team needs him the most, and he is doing exactly that again this season as the Toronto Blue Jays attempt to secure a playoff spot.

The 2023 campaign has proven to be the worst offensive performance of Springer’s 10-year career, as evidenced by his career-worst 104 wRC+ in 150 games. But that doesn’t tell the 34-year-old’s entire story.

Despite a miserable first four months, the veteran has enjoyed a resurgence at the plate since the calendar flipped to August, which he’s maintained into September. As a result, one of baseball’s most productive stretch-run hitters has successfully turned back the clock over these last several weeks.

Blue Jays outfielder George Springer appears to be peaking at the perfect time. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Blue Jays outfielder George Springer appears to be peaking at the perfect time. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Springer opened this month with a bang, recording a three-hit showing at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies. And he hasn’t slowed down since then, slashing .263/.340/.421 with four home runs, 17 RBI and a 113 wRC+ over his previous 23 games.

Those 17 runs driven in lead all Blue Jays hitters in September, placing Springer two ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He also ranks first in batting average over that span and sits in a four-way tie for the team lead in fWAR (0.4) with Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Kevin Kiermaier.

Much of that production has transpired in this recent sample size, with the four-time All-Star carrying a seven-game hit streak into Tuesday’s series opener versus the New York Yankees. As part of it, he posted a stellar .303/.324/.515 slash line with a pair of home runs, seven RBI and a 130 wRC+.

While Springer failed to record a hit in four plate appearances on Tuesday, he earned his 59th walk of the season — five more than he had all last year — to extend his on-base streak to eight straight games.

Still, anything less than another jaw-dropping performance probably would’ve felt underwhelming anyway, considering Springer was coming off arguably his best game of 2023 in Sunday’s series finale at Tropicana Field.

After splitting the first two games of the set, the Blue Jays secured a vital 9-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays thanks to an outburst led by the 6-foot-3 right-fielder. On top of stealing hits in the field and gunning down a runner at second, vintage Springer also electrified the offence with an inside-the-park home run.

It was the game Toronto had been waiting patiently for, and it reminded everyone that “Spring-tember” is in full swing.

September has historically been when Springer ignites, as his career .860 OPS in that month is second to only his .921 in May. But, due to separate injuries over his first two seasons north of the border, most Blue Jays fans aren’t overly familiar with his stretch-run success.

Or, at least, they haven’t had an opportunity to witness it firsthand, given he spent his first seven seasons in a different time zone with the Houston Astros.

By shifting to right field, along with the added help of Toronto’s medical team, Springer has already logged his most games (150) and plate appearances (664) since 2016. For context, he played the full 162-game schedule that year, compiling 744 plate appearances.

A clean bill of health has undoubtedly played a significant factor in the two-time Sliver Slugger’s recent surge. It hasn’t been the most explosive September of his career, at least by his elite standards, though this run should still have him entering October in peak form.

Springer has repeatedly delivered in critical situations during the postseason — a feat the Blue Jays hope will continue this fall. He won the 2017 World Series MVP while capturing his first championship with Houston, and owns a .270/.350/.539 slash line with a 139 wRC+ over 65 career playoff games.

The 11th overall selection from 2011 is also among the sport’s premier home run hitters in the playoffs, as his 19 homers are tied with Albert Pujols for the fifth-most all-time. That duo trails just Derek Jeter (20), Bernie Williams (22), Jose Altuve (23) and Manny Ramirez (29).

While Toronto’s fan base is fully aware of Springer’s track record, it has yet to witness a signature postseason moment in a Blue Jays uniform. To be fair, though, his resume only consists of two games — both coming last season, which ended following a scary collision with Bo Bichette in Game 2 of the wild-card series.

But unlike September 2022, he hasn’t been hampered by a nagging elbow injury and should be operating at nearly 100% in a potential playoff series. On top of that, we’re only three seasons removed from one of the most dominant October stretches that baseball has ever seen.

Despite enduring the challenges of the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, Springer capped off his Astros tenure with one final heroic postseason chapter, leading his club past the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS.

Houston’s spark plug exploded out of the gate, registering six hits over the first two contests, including two home runs and four RBI. Both of those longballs left the yard in Game 2 of the series, landing in empty seats at the neutral site of Dodger Stadium.

Building off that remarkable showing, Springer supplied an offensive spark in the middle contests of the ALCS versus Tampa Bay, going 5-for-12 with two home runs and five RBI in Games 4-6. But it wasn’t enough to stave off elimination from the AL pennant-winning Rays.

The 2023 version of Springer isn’t the same one that carried the Astros through the 2020 postseason, and understandably so. If there’s one thing he has proven recently, though, it's that there is still gas left in the tank for another deep run.

With Toronto’s offence heavily reliant on Bichette and Guerrero, having Springer consistently set the table would form a formidable trio atop the lineup, fulfilling management’s expectation when they inked him to a six-year, $150-million contract in 2021.