Will Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have his heavy haunches stapled to the DH position in the post-season with the dread of making an error at first base potentially pivotal in a best-of-three series?
(“I really don’t pay any attention to the criticism,” he’d sniffed. Missed a gimme pop-up in foul territory from Aaron Judge in the first inning Wednesday, adjudged a no-play rather than fattening Guerrero’s error tally, but also stroked a pair of hits, scored a run and collected a fistful of RBIs.)
Will Nate Pearson be able to provide an electric arm out of the suddenly scratchy bullpen?
(“If we make it to the playoffs and he’s activated, he has to pitch before that,” says manager Charlie Montoyo. “It wouldn’t be fair to activate him and not pitch in the next five days.”)
Will the delightful Alejandro Kirk elbow out Danny Jansen for catcher chops?
(Jansen’s response to that challenge — double, jack, single in his first three at-bats, then hit on the toe with a pitch to force in a run with the bases loaded and another solo shot in the eighth, mercy.)
Will Rowdy Tellez be game-fit, recovered sufficiently from his right knee strain to make the playoff roster?
(Took light BP after hitting in the cage the previous day. “When it first happened, I said, OK, he’s out for the year,” Montoyo admits. “And then, credit to him, he’s been working hard on his rehab. He’s ahead of schedule.”)
And, oh yeah, will the Blue Jays ever get around to clinching a post-season spot?
Not yet, not against the New York Yankees on Wednesday — unusually sloppy and oopsie on this evening, trampled 14-1 — not with the Angels dumping the Padres out on the West Coast. Toronto’s magic number was shaved to one.
So, the Jays are stretching out the agony down the final week of this abbreviated season as clubs jostle for the eighth and final expanded post-season berth in the American League. Having been plundered by Gerrit Cole 24 hours earlier, they were facing Masahiro Tanaka and his wicked slider. Although more wicked was the misguided throw by catcher Gary Sanchez on a pick-off attempt that went awry — abetted by Guerrero’s bluff move to second —Toronto racing out to an early 2-0 lead at Sahlen Field.
This was Cavan Biggio, the ever steadfast and versatile Cavan Biggio, sizing up the challenge of Tanaka, coming off the high-velocity fastballs of Cole, off whom he’d belted his seventh home run in an, ugh, 12-1 loss. Because the Yankees dig the double-digits when they confront the Jays.
“Tanaka’s best pitch is the split-finger. He tries to work his way to get to that pitch, for you to face it. The biggest thing for me against Tanaka is not chasing that splitter down. When you can (get) his stuff up into the zone, it starts to flatten out a little. That’s where guys do the most damage off of him.”
And this was Biggio describing a season wherein the Jays have surprised just about everybody except themselves. Because the players were predicting good things this way coming way back in spring training, before the pandemic pause.
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on the baseball field.”
Maybe the most fun any of these kids have had with their clothes on.
“We’re right there in the hunt in Major League Baseball,” spoke Biggio, part of that cadre of youngsters — with Guerrero and Bo Bichette primarily — who’ve matriculated through the minors together and debuted as Jays within three months of each other last year. “It’s something you visualize as a kid. Now we’re here.” On the cusp of the playoffs. “I mean, there’s no fans and we’re in Buffalo, from the hotel to the ballpark. But it’s just as exciting as it would be in a regular season. You don’t get this opportunity every day, so we’re going to make the most of it.”
Allegedly, Toronto’s tiffany trio never talked much about their long-term aspirations when they were rising from A-ball to triple-A; more focused on breaking through into the show.
“We didn’t want to look too far into the future — what if?”
They were definitely simpatico, though.
“The whole process moulds you into the player and the person that you are today,” says Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig, baseball-weaned, both thoughtful and articulate. “That speaks greatly to me and some of my teammates. Getting drafted, hitting all those spots, especially with a couple of these guys, having success and making our way up here.
“Our main goal is to keep that positivity and that fun and that team success that we’ve had in the minors, to bring it here to Toronto … I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we’re going to be able to do at this level. To see it coming this early on in our career, it gives us a little glimpse of what we can end up doing in the future.’’
The 24-year-old has certainly made the most of it in this oddball sophomore season, even taking into account the 34-game home run drought before going yard Tuesday. Entering the third game of this four-setter with the Yankees, he’d reached base safely in 49 of 55 games for a .371 OBP, .387 OBP while batting first — ranking him third in the AL, with a keen eye in the box resulting in 38 walks, tied for second-most on the junior circuit.
Perhaps Biggio can be a tad more aggressive with the bat, but that’s a small whinge. His leadoff walk Wednesday came around to score Toronto’s first run. A single in the fourth also ended up crossing the plate putting Toronto up 5-1, a double in the sixth brought in two runs, making it 11-1. Eight on the board for Toronto in that explosive frame.
When Biggio assesses his own season, the stat that matters most is plate appearances. “Just going through this weird season, being ramped up fast, 60-game sprint. All across baseball we’ve seen a lot of injuries, especially on our team. But I think, when we look at the plate appearances, and the games played” — all of them — “that’s something I’m proud of. Where I show up every day. I’m at the top of the lineup. Just being able to give Charlie that consistent spot at the top of the order is really big for our team. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”
Without rehashing the whole thing, do keep in mind the adversities this team absorbed on top of a global pandemic: homeless, booted from the Rogers Centre, on the road through the first three weeks while Sahlen Field was being groomed as a major-league ballpark. They endured with scarcely a complaint.
“The biggest thing that we’ve had is chemistry,” Biggio observes. “We’ve been a tight group of guys this whole time. You can make it as bad as it is or as good as you want. You could have looked at it, like: Man, our back’s against the wall, it’s OK if we don’t win this year, it’s a crazy year. But the way we took it is, we’re here for each of us in the locker room. It’s shown with guys going down with injuries and guys stepping up, picking it up.”
Vibes, Montoyo had said. More than a mood, even with celebrations pending.
Biggio: “You can feel it in the air.”
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