Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been a different player for the Blue Jays in the second half, and he’s been a major factor in helping get them back into the playoff picture.
For the first half of the season, I would argue that Gurriel Jr’s performance perfectly captured the Blue Jays in 2021. All the potential in the world and plenty of flashes of brilliance, but ultimately pretty underwhelming. When we hit the All-Star break Gurriel Jr. was slashing just .262/.288/.422 with 10 home runs, 17 doubles, and 36 RBI over 78 games and 294 at-bats. Like the Blue Jays, Gurriel Jr. has been a different entity in the second half.
The 27 year old has been one of the most dangerous hitters in the American League in the second half, and would likely be getting a lot more attention if not for the offensive heroics of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien and others. Heading into Sunday’s series finale with the Minnesota Twins, Gurriel Jr. was slashing .312/.381/.543 with nine home runs and 44 RBI over just 53 games and 173 at-bats, and he went 2-4 while adding his 81st RBI of the season to pad his totals.
It’s definitely been a team effort to get the Blue Jays into their current position as a Wild Card team, but a player like Gurriel Jr. is one of the biggest difference makers. Most nights he’s hitting in either the 6th or 7th spot in the lineup, and having that kind of weapon in the bottom half of the scorecard is a big part of what makes the Blue Jays so dangerous. That kind of length makes for a relentless attack that wears out opposing pitchers, as we’ve seen many times this year.
In particular, Gurriel Jr. has been a driving force behind getting the Blue Jays back into the postseason picture. Since the calendar flipped to September he’s been slashing a red-hot .359/.425/.735 with 5 HR and and 27 RBI, and that’s over just 18 games and 64 at-bats. As crucial as the MVP-calibre seasons from Vlad Jr. and Semien have been, they legitimately wouldn’t be in the playoff race without Gurriel Jr.’s efforts.
While the Blue Jays have been pretty top-heavy at times this season, their lineup is starting to find a lot more balance thanks to guys like Gurriel Jr. and Alejandro Kirk. When we look at how the Blue Jays will continue to build and supplement this roster over the next few seasons, Gurriel Jr’s presence on the team could play a similarly important role.
He’s under contract for next season at 4.5 million, and in 2023 for 5.4 million, and then oddly enough he’ll have a year of arbitration eligibility in 2024 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That kind of cost certainty plays a major role in the work that Ross Atkins and his front office team need to do, especially if the Blue Jays are getting this kind of production from a player with a relatively modest salary. It’s that kind of bargain that allows them to spend an average of 25 million per season on a guy like Springer, and that sorta thing will continue to play a factor as they try to re-sign guys like Semien and Robbie Ray over the winter.
I won’t go as far as calling Gurriel Jr. the key to the Blue Jays’ success, but he really does make a major impact when he’s playing up to his potential. He’s been an improved defender recently on top of his incredible performance in the batter’s box, and it adds up to arguably the best we’ve ever seen the Cuban-born player perform with the Blue Jays.
Hopefully he can keep this up, because when he goes from good to great it goes a long way toward helping the Blue Jays do the same thing.