Toronto and Los Angeles are just over 2,700 miles apart. That’s not the farthest distance between Major League cities. Seattle is baseball’s most isolated franchise. It’s over 3,000 miles away from every East Coast club, and 2,750 miles from Toronto, but I mentioned LA for a reason. The distance between Canada’s most populous city and America’s second-most is emblematic of the dichotomy between the Blue Jays and Dodgers’ respective approaches to their most prized assets.
Two months and one-third of the way into the 2018 Major League Baseball season both teams are struggling. Toronto’s 25-31 record projects to a 72-win season. The Dodgers are a game better and on pace for 75. The Jays are two seasons removed from an ALCS series against the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. The Dodgers are the defending National League Champions.
The Dodgers pitching staff has been hit hard with injuries. Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are on the 10-Day disabled list; Tom Koehler is on the 60. Clayton Kershaw was just activated, which I’ll get to in a minute. Corey Seager  and Chase Utley  are also on the DL.
The Blue Jays have also lost players. Troy Tulowitzki is on the 60-day DL after surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels. Josh Donaldson has been day-to-day with a calf problem. Marcus Stroman’s shoulder fatigue has him on the 10-day DL and closer Roberto Osuna’s temper has run him afoul of the league’s domestic violence policy. He is indefinitely suspended.
There are still more than a 100 games remaining for both clubs but the Dodgers, with their massive payroll, are feeling the pressure to salvage their campaign far more than the Blue Jays. For one thing, despite similar records, LA is only four games off the pace in the NL West.
Clayton Kershaw had missed all but the first and last days of May with a shoulder problem. when he was medically cleared this week, the club put him back on the mound. No rehab stint to shake off the rust, test all the moving parts, or build up lost strength. Just give him the ball and hope he can turn the season around.
Instead, Kershaw may turn around and head back to the DL, this time with stiffness in his back. In his return against the Phillies, manager Dave Roberts limited him to 60+ pitches in five innings. The lefty gave up just one run but ESPN’s Dave Schoenfeld highlighted a disturbing statistic.
Kershaw threw 20 four-seam fastballs. Not one reached 90 mph. Compare that to the 1100 or so he threw in 2017, of which not a one went under 90, and there is reason to be concerned. Even at 88 or 89, the Dodger ace was an effective pitcher, but he’s not Greg Maddux. Over several starts, hitters will catch up to him. He needs that dominant fastball.
If he goes on the DL again this weekend, Los Angeles should consider taking their time bringing him back to the rotation.
For their part, the Blue Jays have been resisting pressure from all sides to get a sensational player into the lineup yesterday if not sooner. For one thing, they are 13.5 games behind Boston in the AL East. For another, their potential hero is not a veteran Cy Young winning left-hander. It’s a 19-year-old third-baseman whose father will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr is rated as the Jays’ top prospect by MLB’s scouting bureau and Baseball America. This season, he’s living free while opposing pitchers die as a third baseman for the New Hampshire Fishercats in the AA Eastern League.
In 49 games, Baby Vlad has 11 HRs, 53 RBI and 44 runs scored. His line reads .414/.464/.691. He has been so consistent at the plate that his OPS (1.155) is over 1 in every meaningful split, be it by the month, vs lefties or righties, or in various critical pitch counts and out situations. Unlike his heralded dad, who would swing at anything from ankles to eyebrows that was thrown between first and third base, Junior has some plate discipline. He’s walked 19 times while striking out just 21.
Slowed by injury, Josh Donaldson’s big league numbers pale in comparison. He’s hitting 180 points lower, with 40% of the hits, half the homers and runs scored, a third as many driven in.
There’s a school of thought that advises trading the 32-year-old while his value is still high and letting Vlad show what he can do at the big league level. In a throwaway year, there would be less pressure on the teenager.
On the other hand, he’s doing fine in AA. Not only would he have to adjust to big league pitching in Toronto, he’d be exposed to a negative culture. It’s no fun coming to work when you’re 11 games under .500 going into June.
More importantly, Donaldson is a much better fielder. Toronto GM Ross Atkins has already stated he wants Guerrero to stay on the farm to improve his defence. If he can’t, he’d still have to stay down to learn a new position. Right field, like dear old Dad?
Either way, it’s a sound decision. It’s never a good sign for your major league career if you’re a DH before you can legally drink.
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.