TORONTO — What a difference three weeks can make.
When the Blue Jays returned from their West Coast road trip from hell back on July 10, the painful end to a 1-9 spiral, they’d stumbled into a tie for the final AL Wild Card spot with the Mariners. It was the Red Sox, who now find themselves in an absolute freefall, who sat comfortably at the top.
The Blue Jays are now playing their best baseball of the season at the best possible time. With Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Tigers, who recorded more errors than hits, Toronto is on a 12-3 run since returning from the West Coast and is 11-3 under new manager John Schneider.
“I love it,” Schneider said. “We came from a tough stretch on the road and everything that happened off the field, and I just love the consistency they’re playing with. Offensively, defensively and on the mound. Our bullpen has been awesome. Our starters have been great. The guys are swinging it. It’s fun right now.”
Schneider’s role hasn’t been subtle. There was a change to the top of the lineup, sparking a notably more aggressive style of play. On Saturday, when players showed up for the day game following a night game, a DJ was set up in the middle of the clubhouse, rattling the walls with music. This is easier to pull off when you’re winning, of course, but with the Trade Deadline looming, this team should only get stronger.
Last season, that meant José Berríos, whom the Blue Jays landed on July 30 for Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, their No. 2 and No. 4 prospects at the time. Sunday night, instead of worrying about which jersey he’d be wearing on Monday, Berríos will host his Blue Jays teammates at his home near Tampa, Fla., for a team-building party. He’ll join backyards with his neighbor, George Springer, for the festivities.
He and the rest of the Blue Jays will watch on, hopeful but confident.
“In this situation, we have two more months left in the season,” Berríos said. “We’re still there. We have a chance to make the playoffs. Everybody knows we have a chance to add some skill. I don’t know who or when [a trade is] going to happen, but I know it’s going to happen. Right now, we still believe in our group. We have the talent. We have the group.”
Berríos’ July has helped to limit the Blue Jays’ need in their starting rotation. Consistency eluded the right-hander through most of the season, a bizarre turn for one of baseball’s most predictable commodities dating back to 2017, but he’s finally righted the ship, giving the Blue Jays three playoff-caliber starters alongside Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman.
Matt Chapman has been the engine of this surge for the lineup, his two-run homer Sunday being his fourth in as many days. He’s spent the month of July doing his best Vladimir Guerrero Jr. impression, and after a recent swing adjustment to better use his legs has paid off, the star third baseman is set up for a scorching stretch run.
Chapman was the big addition earlier this year, in the middle of Spring Training, so he knows the world of trade speculation well.
“Everybody talks about it a little bit, like, ‘Where is this guy going to go?’” Chapman said. “It’s more curious about guys’ names being thrown out there and where they’ll go instead of who we’ll get. We’re not in those conversations with the front office, and we don’t necessarily know. We’re confident with the group we have right now. Obviously, whatever Ross [Atkins, executive VP of baseball operations and general manager] and Mark [Shapiro, president and CEO] and those guys decide to do, we’re on board.”
Each player is different. Some love to play GM while others prefer to stay away from the noise, but there’s one common thread that runs through all of this: It’s a lot easier to track this speculation when your team is buying, not selling.
The bullpen remains Toronto’s biggest need, but even that group has looked strong recently. Starting depth and position depth for the bench are also on the table, with the Blue Jays positioned well in terms of prospects and dollars to make a major push if they find the right fit. This Deadline will be driven by the opportunity in front of the Blue Jays, though, and it’s one this roster has fully earned, finding itself after an uneven start to the season.