Waiting for Guerrero.
It sounds more like the name of a movie or a book — Waiting for Godot, Waiting for Guffman, Waiting to Begin — but for now, it remains central to this impressive, fascinating and oddly puzzling Blue Jays season.
The Jays have found themselves in the standings right about where they were expected to be — among the best teams in baseball. And they’ve managed it, somehow, with minimal contribution from the smiling Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who last season was flat out the best hitter in baseball and this season is back trying to discover himself again.
He led the American League last year in almost every category that mattered. He was ferocious at bat, when he hit and when he didn’t.
In the month that just ended, Guerrero hit .217 with just three home runs, eight RBIs and an OPS of .681. Last May, with fewer at-bats, Guerrero had seven homers, 20 RBIs, more runs scored, a .350 batting average, a .490 on-base percentage and a 1.153 OPS.
That was a Hall of Fame month for Guerrero who had a Hall of Fame season last year with the Jays.
At least in the past two games, Guerrero is starting to look more like himself than all of last month.
It’s one thing to not be producing. It’s another to have soft and weak at-bats, so many one-bounce groundouts until the home runs of Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
The Jays won eight games in a row recently and are playing at the 90-plus-win pace they’re going to need to be a playoff team. If they are winning all these games without much contribution for Guerrero, that speaks for the rest of the lineup.
But what happens when he gets hot: Does that mean fewer close games, fewer one-run games, more blowouts like Saturday’s win over Minnesota, fewer nights in which manager Charlie Montoyo has to juggle his bullpen to find a way to get to the ninth inning?
Guerrero still needs to be the guy in this lineup: The bat who carries the Jays into the post-season. They know that. He knows that. Now the hope is the wait is close to being over.
THIS AND THAT
At no time, did the Maple Leafs have the Tampa Bay Lightning running around disorganized the way the New York Rangers have in the first two games of the Eastern Conference final. Yeah, the Leafs could have beaten Tampa, especially in overtime of Game 6, but they didn’t make the Lightning look lost, the way they currently appear against the Rangers … New York seems too big, too fast, too intense, too tough on loose pucks to lose this series. Even in their best games against the Lightning, the Leafs were never as hard on the puck as the Rangers seem to be … How do you get a goalie like Igor Shesterkin? For the most part, you get lucky. Shesterkin was the 11th goalie chosen in the 2014 NHL draft. Among those taken before him: Thatcher Demko, Alex Nedeljkovic, Vitek Vanecek, Elvis Merzlikins, Ilya Sorokin and Ville Husso. That’s a strong year for goalies. Five or six starters from four rounds of the draft. Shesterkin was a third-string goalie on a KHL team when the Rangers picked him … What a life in goal the Rangers have had long-term: With little interruption they’ve gone from Ed Giacomin to John Davidson to Mike Richter to Henrik Lundqvist to Shesterkin. That’s 50-plus years of prime netminding in New York … Drafted one pick before Shesterkin in 2014: Michael Bunting … Keep hearing assumptions that Johnny Gaudreau, who grew up half an hour outside Philadelphia, will sign as a free agent with the Flyers this summer. Needless to say, Calgary wants to keep Gaudreau, who finished the season with 115 points and a league-leading +64, the highest plus-minus number for a forward since Wayne Gretzky in 1987 … Really, is anyone sitting home wondering what the betting line is for the second period of a playoff game? Is there any real demand for this stuff or are networks simply playing to their multitude of gambling advertisers and their own gambling interests here? Until there is proven demand, this is gratuitous and unnecessary.
HEAR AND THERE
How much is Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray missing his pitching coach, Pete Walker? This much: In his first 11 starts last season, before he got really hot, Ray gave up just 24 earned runs. To date, he has given up 36 runs with a 4.93 earned run average in Seattle, where there is much doubt about his expensive signing … Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game, Kevin Gausman had given up 17 earned runs in his first 10 starts with the Jays … In Dave Stieb’s first two seasons with the Blue Jays, the team lost 204 games in total. When Stieb pitched, however, the Jays were 25-and-25. When Stieb didn’t pitch, the club was 95-179. As great as Alek Manoah has been with the Jays — the Jays 23-7 in his 30 starts — the circumstances are almost the absolute opposite of Stieb. Manoah’s Jays are 69-47 since he was called up last May … Can’t get anyone to deny this but I’m pretty certain that Alejandro Kirk is in his 50s and used to play third base in my senior man’s slo-pitch league … Jameson Taillon, who pitched for Canada in the World Baseball Classic and has a Canadian passport, even though he was born in Florida, is having a career year with the first-place Yankees. He’s 6-1 with a 2.30 earned run average after 10 starts. He’s a candidate to start the all-star game … The Jays need Jose Berrios to be right, especially considering the health of Hyun-jin Ryu is an everyday issue, maybe for the rest of his career. If the Jays have a starting rotation of Manoah, Gausman and a decent Berrios, that’s impressive. If they don’t have Berrios in form — he had the worst earned run average of all AL starting pitchers heading into Saturday afternoon’s decent start — then they’re going to need another starting pitcher. If they don’t need one already to replace Ryu. Maybe, finally, there’s a place for Nate Pearson … When the Jays traded for Matt Chapman, I wrote a note about him being a brilliant defensive player but his offence somewhat similar to the departed Randal Grichuk. Of course, this led to the usual screaming social media attacks. So here we are in June, Chapman has six home runs, Grichuk has five. Chapman has struck out 49 times with a low batting average, Grichuk has 45. Chapman has a disappointing OPS of .648, Grichuk is at .717. Neither gets on base enough. Both strike out too much. Just wanted to say.
SCENE AND HEARD
When the Maple Leafs won their most recent Stanley Cup in 1967 they only dressed five defenceman. One of them, Larry Hillman, passed away on Friday. Tim Horton, Allan Stanley and Marcel Pronovost are gone as well, leaving Bob Baun as the lone survivor of the Toronto championship blueline. Baun is 85 years young. Both goalies, Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower, have passed. But up front, prominent Leafs such as Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Bob Pulford, Ron Ellis, Jim Pappin, Pete Stemkowski and Mike Walton are still around to tell their stories … You may have forgotten all about Jake Gardiner but he’s signed to another year with the Carolina Hurricanes at just over $4 million on the salary cap. That’s going to hinder the Hurricanes’ off-season spending and they have to get Vincent Trocheck, Martin Necas and Tony DeAngelo signed — and that’s not getting to other free agents they may need like Nino Niederreiter, Ian Cole and Max Domi … The Leafs used to sing the praises of scout Jim Paliafito, the former Ontario League GM, who did all kinds of industrious work signing players out of Russia, his best being Ilya Mikheyev. Paliafito predated Kyle Dubas as Leafs GM and now he’s out and no one from the Leafs is really saying why … What instant replay was intended to be in professional sport and what it has turned out to be are two different things. Originally, it was just to get calls right. Simple. Now, it’s about specialists in rooms with technical equipment, watching every play for everything possible: It’s not about just a call and a play. It’s way beyond what it was hoped it would be and nothing is less interesting than the conversations that follow the questionable results in every sport … I don’t remember Victor Hedman looking as slow he appeared in the first two games of the Eastern Conference final. Normally, he can slow the game down to his speed and succeed. The best players do that. He has certainly struggled with the Rangers through two games.
AND ANOTHER THING
The NHL is all excited to be averaging 768,000 viewers in the playoffs for their games on TNT, TBS and ESPN in the playoffs. That’s up significantly from last year. But perspective for all: Sunday Night Football in the U.S. averages 14 million each week and Monday Night Football does 12 million. The largest rated game thus far in the playoffs on American television: Game 7 of the Toronto-Tampa series, which is unusual considering a Canadian team involved … Per capita, by the way, Canadians watch more sports on television than Americans do … One word about Jacob Trouba: Dangerous … When they won their Stanley Cups, the Avalanche had Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg as their two centres. Now, it’s not much of a step back with Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri on lines one and two. And if he’s playing centre, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid is Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier like … Zach Hyman had nine playoff goals heading into Saturday night in Edmonton. That’s more than Mitch Marner in six playoff years and two more than Auston Matthews has scored the past three playoff seasons … The NBA Finals reminds me of the year 1995, when the New Jersey Devils swept the favoured Detroit Red Wings and no one saw it coming. The Celtics play that kind of defence. This won’t be a sweep, but they will surprise people … Enough with the dumped liquids on the post game Blue Jays interviews. There’s a time for that. Every win is not the time … When Leo Cahill coached the Argos in 1972, long before there was NBA and MLB in Toronto, the Argos averaged 33,053 fans a game. Last season, at a very good BMO Stadium, the Argos’ average attendance was 8,053 … The late, great Gorilla Monsoon would have turned 85 on Sunday. And a happy birthday to Nick Kypreos (56), Henry Burris (47), John Carlos (77), Jonathan Huberdeau (29), Nick Abruzzese (23), Francois Beauchemin (42, Armoni Brooks (24), Tony Pena (65) and Radko Gudas (32) … And hey, whatever became of Landon Wilson?
FIRED GORTON NOT AROUND TO BASK IN RANGERS’ SUCCESS
Fans of the Montreal Canadiens must be thrilled by what they see of the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This team is the work of Jeff Gorton, fired inexplicably last May by the Rangers, now the head of hockey operations with the rebuilding Habs.
Look at the Rangers now, with Igor Shesterskin in goal, with Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller and the crushing Jacob Trouba on defence, with Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and 50-goal scorer Chris Kreider up front along with the impressive kid line of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko — and all of them were brought in when Gorton first scouted for New York or later became general manager.
He stole Ryan Strome from the Oilers. He wound up with Ryan Lindgren as part of the Rick Nash trade to Boston. Gorton was able to acquire the rather-brilliant Fox under unusual circumstances from Carolina.
And now look? One year after missing the playoffs, one year after Gorton and team president John Davidson were shown the door, here is a team finding its legs and its explosive style and has Tampa Bay on the ropes in the Eastern Conference final.
Yeah, the new GM Chris Drury made some nice acquisitions since taking over — adding Barclay Goodrow from Tampa; Andrew Copp from Winnipeg; Frank Vatrano from Florida; Tyler Motte from Vancouver.
But the big fellows have been the difference-makers here — Shesterkin in goal; Fox on defence; Panarin and Zibanejad up front. All brought together by Gorton.
This reminds me of what Dale Tallon did with the Chicago Blackhawks before being shown the door. He built a Stanley Cup champion. He just wasn’t around to celebrate when the Hawks won three times with the players he had acquired.
THOMSON GETS THE SHOT HE DESERVES
Every time Rob Thomson came to the Rogers Centre, usually with the New York Yankees, he would make sure to stop and say his hellos. This is the one place for Major League Baseball in Canada and he was one of the few coaches in the big leagues to still call Canada home.
On each of his trips, we’d talk a little baseball, we’d talk a little hockey, we’d talk about what was going on in the city or the country or with the ballclub or with the Leafs.
He’s a Sarnia guy — and that part never left him — as he went on to work for the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees and most recently the Philadelphia Phillies after his minor-league playing career ran its course.
Along the way, there were some job opportunities and interviews to get big league manager jobs, but each time somebody else got picked and each time Thomson was fine going back to his bench coaching job, first with the Yankees and most recently in Philadelphia.
On Friday, he got the big call under difficult circumstances. When the Phillies decided to fire manager Joe Girardi, one of Thomson’s closest friends, they offered the manager’s job to Thomson.
With Girardi’s blessing, Thomson agreed to the appointment. He is now the manager in baseball-crazed Philadelphia, the interim manager for a Phillies team that has struggled this season. And he is fully understanding of being the first Canadian to manage a big-league team for more than a day in 88 years.
On July 12, the Phillies travel to Toronto for a two-game series. Those will be special games and special days for Thomson. This may be one season for him: There may be more.
In 1989, Cito Gaston was named interim manager of the Blue Jays. He went on to win two World Series in his first nine seasons managing the Jays.