As September nears, most of the defining moments of the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays’ season have already occurred. And it’s been a forgettable one for the most part.
We haven’t had a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. call-up even though his bat has been major league ready since March. Much to the dismay of the fan base, the front office seems intent on manipulating his service time and not burning a year of team control in a lost season.
The starting rotation has been a dumpster fire. It began the season as four-fifths of the same one that led the American League in ERA in 2016. However the results couldn’t have been more different. Their 32-51 record is an accurate reflection of how they’ve pitched. The combined 5.07 ERA sits 7th worst in MLB and only the Angels and Rays rotations have pitched fewer innings than the Jays’ 672 & 1/3.
Josh Donaldson has been limited to just 36 games due to a calf injury and when he’s been on the field the results haven’t been great. And to add insult to injury, it doesn’t look like he’ll get any major league games in before this Friday: the final day before MLB teams need to have a player on its roster to be eligible for postseason play. It’s unlikely the Jays will get much of value for him in a trade, if anything at all.
By the end of May, the Jays sat 13.5 games back of the division lead and 9 games out of a Wild Card spot. With over 100 games remaining in the season, a postseason berth looked to be out of reach.
And early on it felt like Kendry Morales was going to be another source of disappointment for the club. Through May 19th he was hitting an abysmal .150/.239/.270 with just three home runs in 113 plate appearances. The story lines have almost all been negative, and an aging, expensive DH who couldn’t hit threatened to be yet another one.
But a funny thing happened around this time. Morales ditched the glasses he had notably begun wearing. He thought they would help with his vision and allow him to put a disappointing 2017 behind him. The glasses had the opposite effect. And since getting rid of them all he’s done is tear the cover off the ball.
Since May 20th:
Morales’ .401 wOBA is 16th best in the majors. His 156 wRC+ is tied for 16th best and his .570 slugging percentage sits 17th. His 18 home runs are good for 18th best. This is no fluke either.
Of the 350 players who have accrued 100 PA since may 20th, Morales’ .467 expected wOBA ranks 1st. And perhaps the craziest Morales stat is that only Aaron Judge has hit the ball harder this year per Statcast. So maybe he’s even gotten a bit unlucky.
More importantly, Kendrys Morales is on the verge of making history tonight against the Orioles. He’s homered in seven straight games (a new franchise record) and can tie the all-time record of eight, shared by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long.
Adding to the intrigue is that he’ll be facing an Orioles pitching staff who have given up an AL-most 185 home runs this year. And tonight’s starter, David Hess, is responsible for 16 of those long balls. His 2.0 home run-per-9 innings rate ranks 2nd worst among 162 pitchers with 70 innings pitched or more.
Hess is a right-hander, which means Morales will be hitting from the left side where he produces most of his power. Hess’ main secondary pitch is a slider. Morales has had his way with sliders since may 20th, sporting a .435 wOBA (2nd best among 257 hitters, min. 30 PA). Hess also features a four-seam fastball. Morales has a .464 wOBA against four-seamers since May 20th, good enough to rank 22nd among 369 batters.
Hess isn’t a particularly good pitcher, and his two main pitches are two that Morales has killed during the past three months.
The stars appear to be aligning for him and the Jays tonight, which is not something we’ve said often this year. No one can predict the results in a single game but if there was ever a time to bet on the long ball, tonight is it.
In an otherwise terrible season, tonight might give Kendrys Morales and Blue Jays fans a moment they’ll remember for years. And I suspect tickets for the outfield seats in Camden’s right field will be a little harder to come by. Here’s hoping one lucky (Jays) fan gets a valuable souvenir.