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Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

George Springer displaying encouraging signs as regular season nears an end

Between missing large chunks of the 2021 season due to a quad injury and battling through his current knee sprain, outfielder George Springer’s inaugural campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays has been far from ordinary, but with one week remaining, there could be an opportunity to finish on a high note.

After returning from the injured list on Jun. 22, Springer enjoyed nearly a two-month stretch without any injury concerns, allowing the superstar center fielder to make a considerable offensive impact during that span. Unfortunately, the injury bug struck again during a road trip in Seattle, where the 32-year-old injured his left knee while attempting to make a catch up against the center-field wall.

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Following a two-week IL stint, the 6’3″ outfielder returned to the active roster on Aug. 30, however, it became pretty clear he was nowhere near 100 percent recovered. Making matters worse, a foul ball deflected off that same left knee just one week later, ultimately forcing the right-hander to miss a few additional games to help alleviate the swelling.

Since then, Springer has needed to push through the pain in order to keep himself in the lineup, although that hasn’t exactly benefited his production at the plate. Though featuring the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner in the leadoff spot is certainly a plus for the Blue Jays, receiving quality results prior to this past weekend had become a concerning issue.

Proving to be a liability at the top of the batting order, the former Houston Astro struggled mightily over his 93 plate appearances from Aug. 30 – Sep. 24, posting just one home run, two RBIs, a .084 ISO, a .190 BABIP, a .226 wOBA, a 35 wRC+ score and a slashing line of .157/.247/.241.

As poor as these results were, they weren’t entirely indicative of Springer’s offensive performance, particularly over the last week or so. Unlike the first few weeks of September, the three-time All-Star has been generating consistent amounts of hard contact through the last nine games, dramatically outproducing his results over his first 14 games off the IL.

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Average EV (MPH) Barrel% Hard-Hit%
Aug. 30 – Sep. 17 83.4 4.5 36.4
Sep. 18-26 90.6 19.2 42.3

Granted, these improved quality-of-contact metrics haven’t led to an offensive breakout just yet, they did result in a pair of home runs and three RBIs over the weekend in Minnesota, which has helped Toronto enjoy a mini two-game winning streak.

As a result, Springer is 4-for-8 and is slashing a monstrous .500/.600/1.250 line over the last two games. Considering he’s been creating plenty of hard contact lately, this could potentially be signaling the start of a hot streak, and with just six games remaining in the regular season, it couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Taking this a step further, the majority of this future offensive production could come mostly against fastballs, more specifically four-seamers. Thanks to his increased amount of hard contact, the former first-round selection’s expected numbers have been dramatically higher than his traditional results against this offering over the last nine games.

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On the surface, it doesn’t seem like Springer has been handling four-seamers very well, as he’s generated a .167 AVG, .417 SLG and a .353 wOBA through 16 plate appearances since Sep. 18, according to BaseballSavant.com.

If we dig deeper into his performance against them, we’ll find he’s been fairly unlucky at times and should probably possess much higher results, especially since he’s registered a .335 xAVG, .840 xSLG, .543 xwOBA and a 101.2 mph average exit velocity.

Comparing these encouraging metrics to his first three weeks back in the lineup, the 2017 World Series champion could only muster up a .136 AVG, .224 xAVG, .136 SLG, .328 xSLG, .190 wOBA, .293 xwOBA and an 84.9 mph average exit velocity through 25 plate appearances from Aug. 30 – Sep. 17.

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With opposing pitchers increasing their usage of breaking balls to a season-high 34.9% this month, paired with a season-low 53.7% usage of fastballs, it’ll likely be crucial for Springer to create hard contact against curveballs and sliders throughout this final week. But considering he’s slated to face starters Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, who are two pitchers that rely heavily on their heaters, it may allow him to lead the Blue Jays’ offence through this pivotal series against the New York Yankees.

Despite being limited to the designated hitter spot since Aug. 30, the Connecticut native felt healthy enough to return to center field this past weekend, which is where he spent the first two games of the series against the Twins – proving his knee has made considerable progress in recent days.

Not to mention, the all-star center fielder made an incredible leaping catch on Saturday night that prevented a second run from scoring in the first inning. Making his defensive highlight even more impressive, the ball came off the bat of Twins catcher, Mitch Garver, at 108.0 mph and also featured a .710 xAVG, meaning it should’ve fallen for extra bases.

Since fellow outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who suffered a laceration to his middle finger on Sep. 23, is expected to occupy the DH position when he returns to the lineup, it seems Springer is destined to spend most of his time, if not all of it, in center field through the rest of the way.

As long as he can avoid any further plays that involve crashing into the outfield wall, which could be easier said than done judging by his past performances, the Connecticut standout should be able to continue providing reliable defence throughout this final week. Having said that, it still might be wise to replace him with teammate Jarrod Dyson during late-game situations, providing a bit more speed in center field.

While the Blue Jays currently sit 1.0 game out of the American League Wild Card race, with an improving Springer in their corner, along with several other talented players, there’s no question they have a quality opportunity in front of them to secure one of those two final playoff seeds. Now, all they need to accomplish is to finish strong against the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles – easy right?

But if Springer is able to build off his recent success over these final six games, then his team should possess a pretty strong chance to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2016, which could tie a very nice bow around what’s been an extremely unpredictable 2021 campaign.