ANAHEIM, Calif. — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might not draw the crowd his father once did in Anaheim, but he can still pull them in.
The Blue Jays slugger sat down with an extensive media contingent in advance of Thursday’s series opener with the Angels, and reminisced about basically growing up in this park on the heels of his famous slugging father.
“Definitely, it makes me very happy,” Guerrero said about returning to Anaheim. “I was here for a long time. I pretty much grew up here and now I’m coming back as a big leaguer.”
But not just any big leaguer. He comes back as the No. 5 best bet at +2,000 odds to earn American League MVP honours this year, according to Sportsbook Sports.
And he’s in good company in this series with the current odds-on favourite to win that award in the man who started for the Angels in Game 1 of the series in Shohei Ohtani (-150), not to mention the No. 3 choice Mike Trout, who is currently +500 to take home AL MVP honours.
Dig a little deeper and there’s another longer shot for those honours in the Jays lineup as well, with George Springer the No. 12 choice to win the award at a steep +10,000.
But there’s obviously no shortage of star power in this four-game series.
The last few weeks haven’t exactly been typical Guerrero. Not only had the homers dried up going into the two-game series the team just completed in St. Louis, but the extra-base hits were proving rather tough to come by as well.
Guerrero was still hitting the ball hard and making consistent contact. He just wasn’t getting the ball in the air.
So it was a rather huge weight lifted off his shoulders on Tuesday night in St. Louis when he went deep for the first time in 19 days.
The homer, a typical no-doubter off the still just 23-year-old’s bat, was just his third extra-base hit in the month of May.
Guerrero isn’t making any bold predictions off that one great swing, but it sounds very much like he has a better feel about his prospects heading into this series than he has had in a few weeks.
“Like I always say, this game is 99% mental, so you gotta stay strong mentally,” he said. “We come here to the clubhouse early every day working hard, keep grinding and then just go out there and compete. If I do that I will be appreciated and be able to help the team get some wins.”
Neither Guerrero nor his manager Charlie Montoyo is at all concerned that pitchers may have figured something out about Guerrero.
“It’s not different, actually,” Guerrero said when asked about the approach pitchers are taking with him this season. “It’s more myself, that I’m going outside of my strike zone a little bit more, chasing a little bit. But lately, I’ve been working on that, being more selective. But it’s more myself.”
Montoyo was even a little more blunt when asked the same thing.
“It’s more about him” Montoyo said of Guerrero’s recent struggles. “When he’s locked in, it doesn’t matter who is on the mound, honestly. He’ll be fine.”
Montoyo said the approach he saw from Guerrero on Tuesday in St. Louis gives him plenty of optimism.
“I can only go from game to game and last game was pretty good,” Montoyo said. “Of course, we are facing a good pitcher (on Thursday) so you don’t know what it going to happen, but you can tell from last game that he is seeing the ball really good and hopefully he’ll continue that.”
Being back in Anaheim, there was obviously a lot of talk about Guerrero’s father, who did so much for the Angels franchise. Guerrero was asked if he ever leans on dear old dad for hitting tips when things start to get a little tough.
“That conversation is more with my uncle,” Guerrero said. “But yeah, me and my dad talk often, mostly about family.”
It’s no secret power numbers are down across baseball and with that have come various theories about why the numbers are down.
For Guerrero, the answer is a simple one, and he puts the onus on hitters like himself to change the narrative.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” he said. “I think the pitchers are doing a great job this year.”
Perhaps this series, with Guerrero and the Jays as a whole seeming to find their offence again in St Louis and the likes of Ohtani and Trout in the opposite dugout, the offence will once again show itself.