Photo By: Donna Lay from Unsplash

‘Twas yet another good week for the Blue Jays, who currently have a 1.5 game lead over those bedeviled Yankees in the Wild Card race as of Monday morning, after taking two of three from both the Rays and the Twins. 

The starting pitching, both good and bad, is certainly among the headlines from this past week; four of the five starters had phenomenal outings, while Hyun-Jin Ryu struggled mightily for the second start in a row. I spent a big chunk of time talking about Ryu’s struggles in last week’s SIDELINES, so what am I gonna do, write about the same topic for SIDELINES over and over again? Please. Ryu was serving up some juicy meatballs to Twins’ hitters over just two sad innings, and none was juicier than this 73mph hanger to Jorge Polanco.

The Jays placed him on the IL on Sunday with neck tightness, which begs the question: is this a phantom IL stint to try and give Ryu some rest and time to figure some stuff out, or has he actually been battling this thing for a few weeks now? He reported some minor forearm soreness after his stellar start in New York a few weeks ago, but this is the first I’ve heard about his neck, so who’s to say? Regardless, I don’t think it’s a bad thing one way or another. I think most people knew when Ryu signed his four-year, $80 million contract ahead of last season that we’d see this at some point over his four seasons with the team, but to have this happen in year two isn’t great. He has an ERA+ of 101 this season, so the Jays have been paying $20 million this year for, literally, a league average pitcher.

A couple other remarkable things happened over the past week, most notably that

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. surpassed Johnny Bench and Joe DiMaggio for most home runs hit by a player 22 or younger, and will surpass Eddie Matthews’ record-holding 47 shortly. He currently leads the American League in runs, hits, homers, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. Look at his Statcast page and bask in all its reddish glory before you cackle aloud to yourself.

There was also a very cool moment at the conclusion of the Jays-Twins series on Sunday that saw former MVP and short-lived Blue Jays legend Josh Donaldson jersey swap with Vladdy in front of a very loud and appreciative Toronto crowd that gave JD many well-deserved ovations across the weekend. Sports!

Marcus Semien also hit home run number 40, a mark that only four other second baseman have hit in major league history: Ryne Sandberg, Rogers Hornsby, Davey Johnson, and… Brian Dozier? Really? I also find it very amusing that of Semien’s 40 dingdongs this year, a whopping 32 of them have come off of fastballs, and they have all been dead pull homers too. The guy has a type. 

I know Oakland pretends they have no money, but the ABA-like contract they offered to Semien this past winter — a guy who is from the Bay Area, who very much enjoyed playing in his hometown and who was the unquestioned leader of that clubhouse — is actually appalling. It was something like one year/$12 million, with $10 million paid out at $1 million increments over 10 years? That’s like a Dolgoff Plan! Those things were abominations when the American Basketball Association handed those out in the 60s, and the A’s tried the same thing in 2020 to their most important free agent!

Unrelated, but now I have the ABA’s Arkham Asylum-like basketball operations department stuck in my head. Go read the oral history book on the ABA, Loose Balls — it’s legitimately insane and pretty much personifies ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ but on steroids. Or, rather, cocaine (it was the 60s and 70s).

Anyway, going back to baseball, the Jays have a second straight week where they’ll see the Rays and Twins, only this time on the road. I made a few jokes last week about the need to ward off the magic that the Rays use to win all these games. Well, now not only are the Jays playing them again, but they’re doing so in their own home. So, you know, double down, because in addition to being a huge dump, the Trop is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Sporting World (ooh, brilliant new SIDELINES idea, I’mma flesh that one out eventually). By wonder, of course, I mean that you wonder how on earth it’s a) still standing, and b) tolerable; not a Machu Picchu-style wonder (maybe I can make two lists, lord knows there’s closer to 17 wonders than seven).

The Rays’ top prospect, Shane Baz, is also set to make his major league debut against the Jays on Monday, so I’m chalking that one up to six scoreless with 10 K’s. Thanks a lot Pirates. Baz-Ray is the matchup on Monday, followed by Rasmussen-Manoah on Tuesday, and Wacha-TBD on Wednesday’s very weird 3 p.m. game which is only a little rude to those of us who have class then. Is there a holiday in the U.S. that I don’t know about? Why is this game at 3? I’m guessing that ‘TBD’ will most likely end up being Ross Stripling or Thomas Hatch, as there’s now a temporary spot in the rotation with Ryu out.

Once again, I advise the Jays to do their best against the Rays in the Trop, maybe put a Professor Quirrell-esque curse on the baseball when the Rays are fielding, and then go take (minimum) three out of four against Minnesota on the weekend.