After an off-season that seemingly felt like forever—especially given how awful my other teams (Raptors, Canadiens, LSU football) have been during this time frame—I was sure looking forward to the Toronto Blue Jays kicking off their regular season. With that being said, I was apprehensive heading into this weekend series because having to face the New York Yankees in the Bronx for the first stretch of games that actually count is pretty daunting. I would have been happy to ease into the 2021 campaign against the Detroit Tigers, or the Oakland Athletics who are down bad four games into their season, but instead, it had to be the Yankees. Fortunately, the Jays came away from this series winning two games out of three, bookended by a nail-biting Opening Day win in extras and a 3-1 Sunday matinee victory that hardly had me any further from the edge of my seat. Much to the chagrin of my family’s Easter plans, I had my eyes glued to the TV for all three games so that I could breakdown some interesting tidbits from the club’s season-opening series.
Could this be Vlad Jr.’s breakout season?
It’s early in the season, I get it. I’m not arguing that you can extrapolate a player’s performance across 162 games from just ten hours of baseball. But watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. this weekend has me hopeful that this will finally be the year he acclimates to the big leagues and continues raking the way he had from birth all the way through the minors. The former #1 prospect has had some highlights in his first two seasons with the Blue Jays, but he hasn’t had that sustained success right out of the gate the way we hoped he would. However, Guerrero looked great in Spring Training with a 1.027 OPS across 47 Grapefruit League plate appearances, and spare me with the “pre-season stats don’t matter” quips because Vlad looks to have a new swagger to him. We’ve all heard that he lost weight over the off-season, but Vlad’s perceived progression seems to go beyond his sexy new figure. He’s shown poise at the plate, drawing a pair of walks in the opening series and getting deep into counts like the patient hitter we saw in the minors, and put a good swing on an outside pitch Sunday that sent the ball into the right-field seats for an oppo taco.
💥 Ready for year 3 💥
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 4, 2021
Vlad Jr. also had a laser 114mph single that set up a rally on Opening Day, and looked sound at first base, making a couple of nice picks on some balls in the dirt that aren’t as easy to scoop as big leaguers make it look. While Guerrero expressed a desire to play third base in 2021, he’s looked more comfortable at first base than he did last season and it’ll be interesting to see if Montoyo would play him at the hot corner whenever he gives Cavan Biggio a day off. For now, Vladdy looks prepared for his first-ever full season in the Majors.
Defense: Some good, some bad, and some ugly
The boys in blue made some nice plays in the field, from Vladdy’s scoops to Bo’s twirls to Semien’s diving play I mentioned in my last article, but you could tell there was still some rust that needed to be shaken off. Bichette airmailed a throw across the diamond in Saturday’s 5-3 loss, and Semien couldn’t corral a grounder to second that could have gotten two outs as the bases were loaded. Even Biggio missed his target and made Vlad do the full-on splits to try to get to the throw in time to beat the runner, which pulled him off of the base but further proved that Guerrero Jr. is a new and improved version of himself. If it makes you feel any better, the Yankees also had some blunders on defense and we should expect the Blue Jays to be a better fielding team this year now that Springer will be the everyday centerfielder and Vladdy has moved over to first. In the meantime, check out this clinical double-play turn that we hope to see a lot this year from the middle infielders.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 4, 2021
Promising pitching out of the ‘pen
The Blue Jay whose stock rose the most in the aftermath of this opening series is Julian Merryweather, and for good reason. Called into the game to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th, the 29-year old retired the Yankees in order to secure his first career save and put the Blue Jays in the win column to start the year. His fastball had life to it, topping out at 99.1mph while also mixing in some naughty off-speed stuff as he mowed down the heart of the Yankees lineup on just 11 pitches.
Julian Merryweather, 97mph Fastball & 79mph Changeup, Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/vPXKABfaga
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 1, 2021
Merryweather recorded the save again Sunday, and has struck out 5 of the 6 batters he’s faced this young season. The rest of the Blue Jays relief corps was also pretty solid, including reliable outings from Jordan Romano, Ryan Borucki, and Tim Mayza. Toronto’s bullpen has a 1.88 ERA through the first weekend of play, and it would be even less than that but Rafael Dolis couldn’t hit a horse’s ass with a shovel on Saturday and left the game after loading the bases on walks which led to two runs. The Blue Jays’ relief pitching was one of its biggest weaknesses last year, and even though Kirby Yates has been placed on the 60-day DL and likely won’t pitch this season this opening series showed that our bullpen can hold up against one of the best offenses in the Junior Circuit.
The Toronto Blue Jays continue their series-opening road trip with a 3-game series vs the Texas Rangers, which will be the first time we’ll see the boys in blue play at Globe Life Field, which opened last seaosn and is the newest ballpark in the Majors. Keep coming back for anything and everything Toronto Blue Jays.