Toronto Star

A battle of the biggest bashers

Guerrero Jr., Stanton and Judge should make some noise in key series

- Mike Wilner Twitter: @wilnerness

Not only are we getting playoff baseball a week early in Toronto, with the New York Yankees coming in for a three-game series that could go a very long way in determinin­g both teams’ post-season fates. We’re also about to be treated to a meeting of the three biggest, baddest bashers in all of the major leagues.

No one has murdalized the baseball on a more regular basis this season than Blue Jays MVP hopeful Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the only players to post an average exit velocity over 95 miles per hour this season.

For those of you whose eyes gloss over at the very mention of exit velo, think about it this way: Remember in the preanalyti­cs days when we used to say, “Wow, that ball was hit really, really hard?” Exit velocity tells us who is the best at hitting the ball really, really hard, instead of just having to guess.

No one has hit a ball harder this season than Stanton. In the first inning of a game in Kansas City on Aug. 8, the four-time all-star and 2017 National League MVP took a 95-m.p.h. fastball from rookie Carlos Hernández and absolutely hammered it — 122.2 m.p.h. off the bat.

Unfortunat­ely for Stanton and the Yankees, it was a low line drive that hit the pitcher’s mound on the fly and caromed right into the glove of Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield, who started a doubleplay. Shortstop Nicky Lopez, the pivot man, turned to Merrifield after the play was over and said “holy s---.”

Of course, Lopez has barrelled the ball less often than any other player in the game save the Angels’ David Fletcher, so his incredulit­y might have something to do with that.

Despite that — and the three mammoth home runs Stanton hit this past weekend in Boston, powering a Yankees sweep that moved them into the top wild-card spot in the American League — the six-foot-six slugger stands second in the league in average exit velocity to an even bigger slugger on his own team, the six-foot-seven Judge.

While Stanton hit the homer that put the game away at Fenway Park on Sunday night, a three-run shot in the eighth that went 448 feet onto Lansdowne Street beyond the Green Monster, Judge had the hardest-hit ball of the game.

With Stanton on deck in that eighth inning, Judge gave the Yankees the lead for good with a two-run double that onehopped the wall in left-centre field. The rocket came off his bat at 118.4 m.p.h.

The blasts off Judge’s bat have averaged 95.9 m.p.h. this year. Stanton is next on the leaderboar­d at 95.3, followed by Guerrero at 95.2.

The hardest-hit ball by the Jays’ young star travelled 117.4 m.p.h. and cleared the batter’s eye at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., back on May 24 — a 461foot home run off Tampa Bay’s Ryan Yarbrough.

Even though his best bullet has fallen short of those bombers from the Bronx, there’s a lot less swing-and-miss in Vladdy’s game, so he has punished the baseball far more often than Judge or Stanton.

Guerrero’s 264 hard-hit balls lead the major leagues, while Judge ranks 10th and Stanton 25th. A hard-hit ball is defined as one that leaves the bat at 95 m.p.h. or more.

The Blue Jay is behind only fellow 22-year-old phenom Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals as far as crushing the baseball efficientl­y: 24.4 per cent of Soto’s swings have resulted in a hard-hit ball. Vlad Jr. is next on the list at 23.2 per cent. Because they strike out so often, Judge and Stanton rank eighth and 16th, respective­ly.

While the series that begins Tuesday night isn’t for all the marbles — it’s possible for either team to get swept and still make the wild-card game, but highly unlikely — it’s for most of the marbles, and the Yankees are coming in hot.

Stanton is the AL player of the week, having hit .409 with a 1.440 OPS over the last seven days. He drove in more runs in Boston than the Red Sox scored as a team. Judge posted a .971 OPS last week.

The Jays may well have righted the ship with back-to-back wins in Minnesota, scoring 11 runs after having cashed just a dozen over the first five games of the just-completed road trip. George Springer homered in each of those wins to come out of a 4-for-46 trough.

It was a rough week for Guerrero, though. He hit just .185/ .267/.259 over the Jays’ 3-4 jaunt through Tampa Bay and Minny. To his credit, Vladdy continued to hit the ball hard, which is always a good sign. He had the hardest- or secondhard­est-hit ball in five of the seven games, and 12 hard-hit balls on the trip in 27 at-bats.

Guerrero still has a .992 OPS in September, higher than Stanton’s .958 and Judge’s .780. And the Jays’ 18-7 September record is the best in the American League.

It’s going to be a fun, exciting, nerve-wracking final week of the season. As the Yankees come to town, both teams would be wise to put some extra padding in their gloves.

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