After seven games into the Blue Jays‘ 2021 season, the team seemed content with rolling out practically the same batting order in every game. The top six remained the same with Marcus Semien, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Lourdes Guirrel Jr. in that order. The supposed crown jewel of this lineup, George Springer, had a setback in his recovery from an oblique injury and was unable to be activated from the injured list to join the team for Thursday’s “home-opener” against the Los Angeles Angels. The expectation remains that once Springer is ready to play, he will be the team’s leadoff hitter.
Friday’s lineup was released shortly before the first pitch as news broke that Teoscar Hernandez would be placed on the COVID-IL due to contact tracing. This forced Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo to finally shuffle his lineup for the eighth game of the season. Randal Grichuk was elevated to the second spot, Guerrero and Guirrel moved up one spot each, and Biggio was moved down to the sixth spot with left-hander Andrew Heaney on the mound.
In the meantime, Montoyo should continue experimenting with the lineup before Springer is officially active. The offence has netted moderate results in the eight games played so far, averaging close to 3.6 runs per game. It’s reasonable to expect more runs from these hitters, even without Springer occupying the leadoff role.
Let’s examine the batting order from the first seven games and see how each player has performed so far into the season.
Semien has provided adequate results as the leadoff hitter, but he seems miscast in that role. He is currently hitting .229/.270/.486 with three home runs and five RBIs, to go along with two stolen bases in as many attempts. Semien would be able to produce from any spot in the lineup, and therefore, the Blue Jays should try out other leadoff options such as Biggio and Bichette before Springer returns from injury.
Biggio has shown that he possesses elite patience at the plate with a career .364 on-base percentage and looks the part of a prototypical leadoff hitter. He has claimed that he wants to be more aggressive this season, which hasn’t necessarily panned out. That newfound aggression has led to a .143/.294/.357 slash line, but he does have five walks in 33 plate appearances. Just like the other slumping hitters on this team, Biggio should find his groove as the season progresses, but he should try to focus on what was successful for him and regain his form as an on-base machine. Although, the lack of other reliable left-handed hitters on the team may prevent Montoyo from isolating his only one atop the order.
Bichette has the power to justify hitting in the third spot, but he also has the speed and baserunning skills to be slotted higher in the order. He is currently hitting .242/.265/.455 with two home runs and two RBIs, and he managed to swipe his first stolen base in the home opener against the Angels. The one knock on his offensive game is the lack of walks; he has recorded none in 33 plate appearances so far and ranked in the bottom 4% in walk rate (BB%) last season. However, he is such a dynamic hitter and he is able to find himself on base without getting a free pass. Personally, I feel the second spot in the lineup would be an optimal place for him.
Hernandez deserved the recognition of being a cleanup hitter after an astonishing 2020 season that resulted in a Silver Slugger award. His performance early this season tells a different story with a .207 batting average, one home run, and 14 strikeouts in 29 at-bats. The hope is that Hernandez can recapture last season’s magic, but giving him cleanup duties while he continued to struggle is not great for his confidence. Shifting him down the batting order when he returns to the lineup is something that should be considered.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero seemed to enjoy the confines of his new home stadium with a massive two-run homer off Angels pitcher Griffin Canning in the first inning of Thursday’s game. Vladdy has been scorching hot to begin his 2021 season, hitting .360/.515/.640 with two home runs and five RBIs. He is inarguably the best hitter on the team right now and should definitely be hitting higher than fifth. Keeping him in the cleanup spot, or even bumping him up to third, is the right move during this hot streak in order to fully maximize the potential of this offense.
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Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Gurriel Jr. may be one of the most underrated hitters in the entire league if the Blue Jays truly believed the sixth spot is where he belongs. He is coming off a tremendous 2020 season where he slashed .308/.348/.534 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. Granted, he has produced bottom-of-the-order results to begin this season with a lowly .192/.192/.192 slash line, but he has shown that he is capable of being a top-of-the-order bat when everything is going right. He left Friday’s game with COVID-vaccine related symptoms, so there is a possibility that he may join Hernandez and Ryan Borucki on the COVID-IL list until he feels healthy.
As we know, Grichuk has been hitting the cover off the ball and he was continually placed in the seventh or eighth spot. He is someone who deserved to move up in the lineup while he remains hot, and Montoyo finally rewarded him with the second spot in Friday’s game. Until we get to the point where Springer is written on the lineup card, the Blue Jays should try out some other combinations that may lead to more runs, and ultimately, more wins.