Off-Day Thoughts: Which Blue Jays need to step up in September?
Photo credit:© Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
By Evan Stack3 months ago
Going into an off day with a win is a good feeling, but it feels even better when that win included several contributors and it kept you in a playoff race. Also, thank you to the Mets for beating Texas last night.
We’re entering the month of September, and the Jays — 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot — still have some work to do to get into the postseason.
Last year, their late-season push was accelerated by Bo Bichette, who went on a historical tear in the month of September. If you remember, Bichette was in the middle of a so-so year at the plate but proceeded to bat .403 with a 1.134 OPS, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs, and 11 doubles in September. That month alone raised his batting average by .027 and his OPS by .076, prompting some people to refer to that month as “Bo-tember”.
This team is, of course, not guaranteed a Bichette-like run this year from one of their own, but there are several candidates on this year’s team that would welcome a month-long hot stretch. Especially with how underwhelming the offence has been this year, some hitters have a chance to rewrite their 2023 season narrative at the plate.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero may be the most obvious and popular choice for a run like Bo had last year, mainly because we know he’s capable of it and he plays a huge part in Toronto’s offence. Through 130 games, Guerrero is slashing .267/.340/.777 with 20 home runs, 79 RBIs, and 26 doubles. He’s currently riding an 11-game hit streak, and this will hopefully continue given that the pitching Toronto faces next are littered with elevated ERAs.
Despite the home run numbers being down, Guerrero has been awfully productive this season. He has a 1.018 OPS with runners in scoring position and 2 outs, an area that has left Blue Jays fans wanting more from all of their hitters. It also seems like he’s attacking the first pitch far too often (almost to the point of frustration), but he’s actually batting .429 with an OPS of 1.032 in those situations.
Guerrero naturally accumulates a lot of pressure given that he was a top prospect with franchise-altering potential, as well as his namesake. While he’s still shown he can be a productive hitter, these are the times when he can really make his money. Again, we know he’s capable. We’re yearning to see his 2021 self reappear, and this would be a great time to bring it back.
Kirk has taken a step back this season after being an All-Star and a Silver Slugger last season. Between ’22 and ’23, Kirk’s batting average has dropped from .285 to .255, his OPS is down from .786 to .686, and his homers and RBIs are nearly cut in half. His advanced metrics also paint a gloomy picture; exit velocity, launch angle, and barrel % have all taken a hit from last season. He’s not punishing fastballs nearly enough as he was last year, with his batting average against that pitch dropping from .325 to .235.
Kirk is only 24 years old, so there’s still an opportunity for him to grow and show his ability to bounce back from a down year. However, when faced with a choice on which catchers to keep, the Blue Jays decided to retain him and Danny Jansen while trading Gabriel Moreno. Because of that, Kirk and Jansen have been low-hanging fruit for fans to show their criticism.
Kirk is entering the month of September with six hits in his last eleven at-bats with four doubles and three RBIs. There’s a tremendous opportunity for Kirk to play an important role down the stretch, and his defensive prowess would complement his offensive production exceptionally well if he can provide that.
This is certainly not to suggest that Berrios has been awful this season and that a good September is the only way to save his season. On the contrary, Berrios has been one of the better comeback stories in baseball, bringing his 5.23 ERA in 2022 down to 3.70 in 2023. Furthermore, his WHIP is down to 1.22 compared to 1.42, and he’s not on track to lead the AL in hits and earned runs like he did last year.
I threw Berrios on this list because he’s coming off a month of August in which he posted a 1-3 record with an ERA of 5.53, and he failed to record a quality start. He also allowed seven home runs in August, the most he has allowed in a single month this season. Toronto’s starting rotation has been a major component in their success this season, and Berrios is a huge part of it. However, now that every start is magnified, the Blue Jays really need quality starts from Berrios down the stretch.
Berrios’ final two starts of August were both six-inning outings in which he allowed five earned runs and a pair of homers. In both games, the home runs essentially put the game out of reach given the lack of run support that he has received. Those losses are not solely on Berrios, but the home run issue was a 2022 problem, and being able to limit those down the stretch would be doing the Blue Jays a favour.
Again, Berrios has had an excellent season, but him finishing the year strong can finalize the notion that last year was an anomaly.
An argument can be made that Espinal probably has the most pressure on him entering the final month of the season. I don’t think that’s the case, but an argument can be made for it.
On the season, Espinal is batting .228 with two homers, 21 RBIs, and nine doubles. Espinal unfortunately plays a position in which the Blue Jays suddenly have a ton of depth. Davis Schneider has deservedly forced Toronto’s hand in giving him a spot in the batting order every day, Whit Merrifield has been one of Toronto’s most consistent hitters, Cavan Biggio is their only lefty utility bat, and even Ernie Clement has swung the bat well since being recalled. It also doesn’t help that a few INF prospects are waiting in the wings in Buffalo. Furthermore, once Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman come back, Espinal’s spot in the lineup becomes hard to find on a consistent basis. I’m certainly not suggesting they cut ties with him altogether, but he may be the odd man out and find himself in Buffalo at some point.
During this last series against Washington, Espinal was 4-for-6 with a double and two RBIs, so (just like Kirk) there are some positives he can take into September. With Bichette and Chapman still on the IL, this is Espinal’s chance to show the Blue Jays he deserves a spot on the major league roster.
Many (if not, all) of the above names have received their fair share of slander on social media, but Varsho has been near the top of that list this season. He had rightfully been handed a good deal of expectations as the one and only trade return for a top prospect and a fan/clubhouse favourite. However, despite being a defensive stud in the outfield (MLB-best 23 DRS), the bat hasn’t quite come around yet.
Through 132 games, Varsho is slashing .221/.283/.663 with 16 home runs, 50 RBIs, and 21 doubles. The power is unquestioned and the baserunning is a prominent skill of his, but we’ve yet to see Varsho put it all together this season and provide consistent production at the plate. While he isn’t in danger of losing playing time, spots in the middle third of the batting order are arguably still up for grabs. He can really silence the naysayers with a standout month of September, and given how hard he plays, he’s an easy guy to root for.
Recent articles from Evan Stack
- Jeff Blair reported that the Blue Jays might look to move George Springer this winter
- Keep or Walk: Jay Jackson went from minor-league contract with an invite to spring training to fan favourite with the Blue Jays
- Keep or Walk: Brandon Belt, the MVP of the Blue Jays, is contemplating retirement this winter