Will Vladimir Guerrero Jr. win the Triple Crown?

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. passed Shohei Ohtani for the MLB home run lead on Monday, moving a step closer to winning the Triple Crown.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is no longer looking up at Shohei Ohtani on Major League Baseball’s home run leaderboard.

The Toronto Blue Jays first baseman hit his 45th homer of the season on Monday, a 113.9 mph missile off the Rays’ Adam Conley that never got more than a few feet off the ground but was still hit so hard it cleared the fence in left field. The homer was part of an eight-run outburst from a Blue Jays lineup that has now won 12 of 13 games in September to vault into the top AL Wild Card spot.

On Aug. 29, when the Blue Jays were completing a three-game series in Detroit, Guerrero was in a power slump. He had hit only three the entire month and was five short of Ohtani’s MLB lead. Then he got hot.

Guerrero has nine home runs over his last 15 games and has homered six times in the past week. His batting average, which crept below .310 during his August swoon, is back up to an AL-leading .318. He’s batting .364 in September.

Guerrero has Triple Crown firmly in his sights

Passing Ohtani on the home run list is a step toward a significant milestone that is well within reach for the 22-year-old: the elusive Triple Crown. In the Divisional Era, only Miguel Cabrera in 2012 has led the league in average, home runs, and RBI. Guerrero now leads in two of those categories, while his 103 RBI are only four behind Jose Abreu of the White Sox. Guerrero is also second in the Majors in average behind Starling Marte; no player has led the Majors in all three Triple Crown categories since Mickey Mantle in 1956.

The list of players who have been this good, this young is a short one. Only Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews, and Johnny Bench have hit 45 home runs in a season by the age of 22. All of them are in the Hall of Fame. DiMaggio is the only one of that group to bat above .310 at this age. Then along came Guerrero, who achieved a significant personal accomplishment on Tuesday; his 45 home runs are one more than his Hall of Fame father ever hit in a season.

He likely won’t win AL MVP; Ohtani’s Ruthian, once-in-a-century prowess as a hitter and pitcher has cemented his hold on the trophy.

But, with the Blue Jays lineup humming and Guerrero leading the way, the Triple Crown is no longer some far-away achievement reserved only for the legends of the game. It is, indeed, within reach, even likely with the way the Blue Jays have been playing.

Whenever he rounds the bases after another home run, Guerrero puts his finger to his lips. It’s a message to all the people who doubted him when he didn’t have the first two years of his career that were expected of him. No one is doubting him anymore. And, at age 22, he’s just getting started.

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