Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had the chance to be the hero for the Blue Jays, or at least to keep the threat alive.
Guerrero came up in the top of the seventh inning on Monday night in St. Louis with the bases loaded and the Blue Jays leading the Cardinals 3-1. The Cardinals had just walked both George Springer and Santiago Espinal to bring in two runs. They were reeling; the Blue Jays were cruising, on their way to putting this game out of reach. Then Guerrero stepped to the plate.
In a normal time, there is no one the Blue Jays would rather have come to bat in this situation than Guerrero. But this is far from a normal stretch for the Jays’ young star. Guerrero swung at the first pitch from Cardinals reliever Andre Pallante, a slider, and bounced to third baseman Nolan Arenado, who calmly stepped on the base to end the inning.
The at-bat perfectly exemplifies Guerrero’s struggles at the plate right now. He was facing a rookie pitcher in Pallante who had just thrown eight of his 11 pitches for balls. Pallante left a hanging slider right in the middle of the plate, a pitch Guerrero would usually punish by depositing it in the seats. Instead, he went down meekly, another Blue Jays threat gone awry by their lack of timely hitting.
Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continued his slump by going 0-3 in Monday’s loss to St. Louis, including stranding the bases loaded in the 7th inning
The Cardinals would come back to tie the game before winning 7-3 on Paul Goldschmidt’s walk-off grand slam in the 10th. They were beaten by an All-Star hitter, but the Blue Jays only have themselves to blame, and Guerrero is at the front of the line.
The Blue Jays went 0-10 with runners in scoring position on Monday, continuing an alarming trend that can no longer be considered the result of a small sample size. They’re 3-36 over their last five games. The Blue Jays are batting .179 with runners in scoring position this season, the worst in the league. It would be their lowest for any season over the last 20 years by more than 50 points.
Since 2002, the Blue Jays had hit below .190 in those situations over an entire month just four times. They’ve now done it in April (.172) and are on pace to do it again in May (.189). It would be their worst average in May since 2007.
Blue Jays offense continues stunning decline
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Blue Jays finished the 2021 season second in the league batting .270 with runners in scoring position. They were second in batting average, third in runs per game, and first in OPS. No team hit more home runs than the Blue Jays last season.
This season was, as Guerrero infamously said, “the movie” after last year’s trailer. But the Blue Jays’ offense is a shell of its former self. Their runs per game have declined from 5.2 in 2021 to 3.6 this year, which ranks 25th in the league. They’re 22nd in team batting average, a decline of 36 points, and in OPS, down nearly 130 points. Springer’s home run on Monday was only the Blue Jays’ 12th in May; by comparison, they hit 42 last May.
Guerrero’s regression is the most stunning narrative of the Blue Jays’ first 42 games. He’s 0-14 over his last four games and is batting just .225 with a .641 OPS in May. Guerrero doesn’t have an extra-base hit since May 5th, a span of 15 games that is the longest of his young career. His average launch angle has declined by nearly 60 percent, from 9.4 to 3.9; only five players have more ground ball outs this season than Guerrero. Since his three-homer game at Yankee Stadium on April 13, Guerrero has three in 35 games.
His at-bat against Pallante on Monday is an example of a 23-year-old who’s out of sync, who has the pressure of carrying the team on his shoulders and is trying to do too much. Guerrero sees the rest of his teammates struggling to produce in clutch situations and is trying to break out of his slump with one swing. It’s not working.
Manager Charlie Montoyo likes to say that hitting is contagious. But slumps are also contagious, and it seems to have infected nearly everyone in the Blue Jays lineup.
“It’s a matter of one guy getting really hot, and the other ones follow,” Montoyo told MLB.com following Monday’s game. “When nobody’s hot, everybody feels more pressure every at-bat. That’s just how baseball is. Hopefully, one guy gets hot, and then it spreads.”
Guerrero is feeling that pressure. He’s too talented and hits the ball too hard to stay down for long. But his slow stretch must feel like an entirely for the suddenly reeling Blue Jays.