Brilliant Manoah, brilliant bats, Jays win

Three up, three down? No, just six up on a blast of a game that saw the Blue Jays lay waste to the Rays at the start of a big three-game set, and remain ahead of the pack in the AL wild card race!

The Toronto Blue Jays exorcised some demons by taking care of business against the Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough on Monday night, with the backdrop of an absolute gem from Alek Manoah. So let’s talk about it!

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Monday (Blue Jays 8 - Rays 1)

Oh you best believe there aren’t going to be any down arrows tonight. Here’s six up!

▲ Alek Manoah

In a lot of ways this game was about the Blue Jays’ hitters, who have had so much trouble teeing off on the Rays — and Ryan Yarbrough in particular — in recent years. But before we get to all that we absolutely have to hand it to Alek Manoah, who has had some excellent games already here in his young career, but none better than this one. Facing the lefty-laden lineup of a Rays team that has the third best record in baseball (and tops in the American League), Manoah absolutely painted with his slider. He pitched eight innings, needing only 97 pitches to do so — a remarkable feat considering he struck out 10 batters on the night. Manoah allowed just one hit on the night, which didn’t come until there were two outs in the fifth. He walked none, and hit a batter. Efficient. Overpowering. Dominant.

He threw 38 sliders on the night, working them all over the zone. His feel for it was impeccable, and Rays hitters had no chance. Of the 20 sliders that they swung at, they whiffed on 13. Add in six called strikes on the slider and a full 50% of the sliders he threw were either called or swinging strikes.

Nine of his ten strikeouts came by way of the slider.

This wasn’t necessarily just a bit of randomness for Manoah either. The slider has been a different pitch for him lately.

And speaking of things that are good at dropping? Manoah’s ERA dropped from 3.71 at the start of this game to 3.38. Only Robbie Ray has a better mark right now among Blue Jays starters — though José Berríos will have a chance to lower his 3.52 ERA on the season when he takes the ball for the Jays on Tuesday night.

Manoah just might be the real goddamn deal.

▲ Finally getting to Ryan Yarbrough

If the Rays are the one team that seems to have some sort of a spell over the Blue Jays, than Ryan Yarbrough — who pitched behind opener Collin McHugh tonight, but was due to pitch the bulk of the innings — is surely the Raysiest of their pitchers. As I noted in Monday’s piece, Yarbrough came into this one with a 4.90 ERA on the season, and yet a 2.49 ERA over 21 2/3 innings against the Jays. There has just been something about this guy — a cutter/change lefty who will mix in a curve and a sinker (his hardest pitch, which on Monday night topped out at 89.4 mph) — that has continually baffled this Jays, and made the proceedings feel awfully ominous early on.

Turns out, Jays fans didn't need to worry much.

It didn't seem that way at first though. After facing the minimum through two, McHugh started the third by giving up a single to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. A Randal Grichuk out later and Breyvic Valera laced a line drive into right for another hit. With the top of the order coming up for a second time, out went McHugh and in came Yarbrough. The lefty immediately proceeded to walk George Springer, but a couple quick outs later and Tampa had escaped. The Jays, it seemed, were getting Yarbrough'd again.

The third inning changed all of that. After a lead-off fly out off the bat of Bo Bichette, Yarbrough surrendered a single to Teoscar Hernández, another to Alejandro Kirk, a run-scoring single to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., then an RBI double from Randal Grichuk to make it 2-0 Jays.

Cue Valera again, who this time proceeded to get up 2-1 in the count before fouling off three straight pitches, then smacking a cutter up in the zone into left field for a tension-cutting two-run single.

The following inning, the Jays would get to Yarbrough again, beginning with a one-out golf shot from Bo Bichette — a nearly impossible home run swing on a ball hardly above the ground that he deposited into the Blue Jays' left field bullpen.

Yarbrough was, unsurprisingly, rather stunned. Suddenly the Jays found themselves with a 5-0 lead.

It wouldn’t get any better for him.

Teoscar would double. Alejandro Kirk then smashed a ground out up the middle at 107.5 mph off the bat that nearly decapitated the Rays' pitcher. Gurriel followed with a two-out single. Grichuk then got on base with a weakly hit ball to short, and once again it was Valera at the plate. And once again he'd single to left — this time cashing just one run, but also ending Yarbrough's night.

The final line for the Jays' most feared rival pitcher? Seven runs on 10 hits over 2 1/3 innings with one walk and one strikeout. Now let us never talk about him again!

▲ Valera, Grichuk, and Kirk

The Jays scored eight runs on 17 hits in this one. Between them, George Springer, Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had just two of them. All night the bottom of the order threatened — even Alejandro Kirk, who had just one hit in the game, but who smashed the ball every single time he came to the plate, putting five balls into play with exit velocities of 99.1, 104.0, 105.3, 105.9, and 107.5 mph.

Even better, though, were Grichuk (3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored) and, especially, Valera (3-for-3 with a walk and three RBIs). As discussed above, Valera's RBIs weren't of the empty calorie variety, either. They were absolutely crucial to, first, opening up the Jays' lead, and, second, to ensuring this one was a laugher. I joked on Twitter about about Valera having huge swollen balls after his first RBI single — a reference to this dumbass tweet that was making the rounds — and user @MikeyJ0e graced my replies with the following image. Because I had to see it, so do you. (Warning: It’s about as NSFW as medieval art gets.)

Uh, glands aside, Valera is proving himself somewhat useful for the Jays here in the absence of Santiago Espinal, having posted a 145 wRC+ over 24 plate appearances in September before this one.

Grichuck’s heater has been pretty helpful too, as heading into this one he had a 176 wRC+ over 31 PA since the start of the Jays' series against the A's earlier this month. He's also walked as much as he's struck out over that span — a good sign for an up-and-down hitter who has spent most of this season trending down, and with the three hits on Monday was only able to move his wRC+ for the year up to 95.

Turns out all of the Blue Jays have been good lately!

▲ Teoscar Hernández

Four of them were singles, only one went for extra bases (the fifth inning double that followed Bichette's home run), and he managed to score only twice, and picked up no RBIs, but — holy hell! — Teoscar Hernández had a five-hit game! His 5-for-5 performance raised his season average from .301 to .308, and in the process he took his wRC+ from 136 on the year up to 140. That vaulted him over teammate Marcus Semien and into 16th among qualified hitters.

Of course, much of the heavy lifting on that front was done in Baltimore over the weekend, as he blasted a pair of home runs, added a couple doubles, nine RBIs, and is now up to four straight multi-hit games.

He's really good!

It’s definitely going to be interesting to see if the Jays and his agent can come up with a fair number for both sides on a contract extension this winter. He won’t reach free agency until after the 2023 season, so there’s still time for that, but a great player and fun guy who is making just $4.325 million this season at age 28. Arbitration is cruel and it would be great to see him get paid — especially if it’s by the Blue Jays.

▲ Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Yet another Jays hitter on a hot streak, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. came out of this one with a 3-for-4 line that included a pair of RBIs and a pair of runs scored. He moved his wRC+ for the season up to 116 in this one, pushed his hit streak to seven games, and now has just one game in the month of September in which he hasn't recorded at least one hit — and in that one hitless game he managed a sac fly off of the Yankees' Gerrit Cole to give the Jays a 2-1 lead.

I, uh, think it's safe to say that he's improved as the season has progressed.

He damn near pushed his numbers even higher in the bottom of the seventh in this one, hitting a blast of Nick Anderson to straight away centre, only to be robbed by an utterly spectacular Kevin Kiermaier catch.

▲ Vladdy’s 45th

Lastly, we have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose historic season continued with a laser beam of a home run in the bottom of the sixth to complete the scoring for the Jays on the day. And it got out in a hurry.

A staggering 113.9 mph off the bat, what was even more impressive about this one was the launch angle of just 15 degrees — making it, according to Dan Shulman on the Sportsnet TV broadcast, one of just two such low-flying homers to be hit in the majors all season.

This was Vlad’s 45th home run on the season, eclipsing the highest ever number of homers hit in one year by his Hall of Fame dad. It also pulled him even with another Hall of Famer, Johnny Bench, for the third most home runs by a player in his age-22 season. Vlad now trails only two more Hall of Famers on that list: Joe DiMaggio, who hit 46 for the 1937 Yankees, and Eddie Mathews, who hit 47 in 1953 for the Milwaukee Braves. Not a record that one can just fluke their way to, I don’t think! Vlad is already in the company of legends — and certainly has enough time remaining in the season to make that all-time mark his own.

The blast also gave him the MLB lead in home runs this season, one up on the Angels' Shohei Ohtani, who has slowed a little bit as the season has worn on, posting a wRC+ of 99 in August and just 98 so far in September.

Could Vlad's resurgence, Ohtani's fade, and the Jays' vaulting themselves into the playoff race reignite the MVP race in the American League? Maybe! What Ohtani has done on both sides of the ball has been unlike anything the sport has seen since Babe Ruth, but it's certainly getting tighter.

Vlad now sits third MLB in RBIs at 103, trailing the Royals' Sal Pérez by two and the White Sox' José Abreu by four. And he's second in terms of batting average with a .318 mark, trailing only Oakland's Starling Marte (.322). The Triple Crown could still happen, and while I generally think that's a terrible thing to base an MVP award on — RBIs have too much to do with a player's teammates! Mike Trout was robbed! — I'm sure many voters think differently.

What a season!