Something cool and good is happening in the AL East. The young and exciting Blue Jays, who at the end of August were 4.5 games out of the American League wild card picture and sitting fourth in their loaded division, have not lost in September. They swept a three-game set against fellow wild card hopefuls the Oakland Athletics, and then swept a four-game series against the dreaded New York Yankees, who looked invincible during a 13-game winning streak of their own in late August but have since lost 10 of 12. The Blue Jays are now a half game out of the wild card, with the third-best run differential in the American League, and are the hottest team in baseball.
Even cooler: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., all of 22 years old, is tantalizingly close to one of the great feats of single-season baseball. This may have escaped your notice amid all the Shohei Ohtani highlights and accomplishments—I had not noticed until I read a blog by Andrew Simon on MLB.com this morning—but young Vlad, who socked three mighty dingers in the Yankees series, is currently leading the American League in batting average (.319), is second in home runs (42), and is fourth in runs batted in (100), putting him within immediate striking distance of baseball’s elusive Triple Crown. The margins are eye-popping: Our large adult son is just one dinger behind AL-leading Ohtani, and just four RBI behind Kansas City catcher and current leader Salvador Perez. He’s also four points clear of second-place Michael Brantley atop the batting average leaderboard. This could really happen.
Do not even dare start in on the whole Who cares about the Triple Crown, RBI is troglodyte shit, these accolades are meaningless now that we have advanced all-in-one sabermetrics like FBIWARIO+ routine. The Triple Crown is cool because it is rare: The last player to win one was Miguel Cabrera in 2012; before that it had not happened since 1967; seven total players in history have captured the American League Triple Crown of batting. Not a single one of them was just 22 damned years old when they pulled it off. The Triple Crown is clean and comprehensible and rare as hell, and there will be much joyous hooting and hollering if Vladimir Guerrero’s precocious beef son wins one this season, no matter what your TI-82 has to say about it.
I bring all this up because a glance at the schedule tells me that Vlad Jr.’s (heroic, inspiring, ultra-cool) Blue Jays will face the (lousy, hopeless, vile and disgusting) Baltimore Orioles on Friday night, the first game of a four-game series that cannot possibly mean anything to a loser-ass franchise hell-bent on losing its way to success. The Blue Jays (good guys) will meet the Orioles (filth) again on October 1 for a three-game series to close out the regular season. The O’s are a breathtaking 42.5 games back in their division, with a worst-in-baseball minus–235 run differential. Who even are their players? Are they just fans? Fans in cheap Spirit Halloween–bought O’s uniforms? It is a disgrace that these imposters are allowed to record outs against real and serious baseball teams like the Blue Jays of Toronto.
Two unambiguous social goods are at stake, here. Sorry to Yankees and Red Sox fans, but It would be very cool to see an exciting upstart team like the Blue Jays supplant one of these dreary old behemoths in the American League playoffs. Even better, with the right breaks Vlad Jr. could win the Triple Crown and etch his name in baseball history. In other words, this would be an extremely shitty and rude time for the Orioles to start playing competitive baseball, to say nothing of actually winning. There is a long tradition in sports of eliminated teams drawing late-season motivation from the opportunity to play “spoiler” for teams ahead of them in the standings. Normally this is done by playing well and beating those teams, thereby dashing their chances at postseason glory. The approach I am calling for today is a departure from this model, but thankfully it suits the 2021 Baltimore Orioles exceedingly well: In order to thwart and “spoil” the hopes of the New York Yankees, they must lose as gruesomely as possible to the Toronto Blue Jays, and in such a way that Guerrero is allowed to drive in the maximum number of runs while producing the fewest possible outs.
The strategy for accomplishing this goal is straightforward and plays to the, hmm, strengths of Baltimore’s pitching staff: Simply issue walks to the players who bat ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and then throw nothing but grapefruits to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. so that his Triple Crown statistics climb dramatically over the course of the series. Yes, that run differential will continue to balloon, but also the Orioles will stay right on track for the draft positioning to which they’ve pinned their distant future hopes. Everyone wins. There is nothing to be lost but dignity, and it’s been whole years since the Orioles have had any of that.