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Success of Blue Jays’ platoon bats altering trade deadline approach

Blue Jays outfielder Raimel Tapia has been on fire at the plate. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)
Blue Jays outfielder Raimel Tapia has been on fire at the plate. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

MLB’s trade season is fun for baseball fans, who get a chance to furiously speculate where their favourite players might end up or who their beloved teams might deal for as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches.

As it turns out, players like to play arm-chair general manager, too.

“All those conversations start to leak into the locker room, weight room, dugout, and stuff,” said Toronto Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling. “We're just saying, ‘What do you think we're gonna do?’”

The buzz of a potential trade will always stalk contending clubs like the Blue Jays this time of year, especially if their needs are as clear as Toronto’s. That said, the Jays’ biggest weaknesses have shifted from earlier this season.

The Blue Jays will prioritize starting pitching and bullpen help at the deadline. Initially, Toronto was thought to be in desperate need of a left-handed bat to offset its heavily right-handed lineup. The club has instead received massive contributions from its lefty platoon men, which will allow the Blue Jays’ front office to go all in on the arms race.

“Cavan [Biggio], I feel, has like a .900 OPS since he came back from COVID and [Raimel] Tapia is almost hitting .300 now,” Stripling said. “So, naturally, I think we start talking about pitching.”

Tapia has exploded at the plate over the last two months. Since June 1, his .339 batting average and 12 doubles rank second and third on the Blue Jays, respectively. Biggio, on the other hand, has been just as effective, working a .386 OBP and .844 OPS during that same time span.

Very quietly, Toronto’s bottom-of-the-order pieces have become game-changers. That depth showed up when the Jays drubbed the Boston Red Sox 28-5 on July 22 in front of a stupefied Fenway Park crowd. Tapia hit leadoff in that contest, batting 3-for-7 with six RBIs, four of which came off a wild inside-the-park grand slam.

The 28-year-old said his success is a direct product of a hike in self-esteem, an intangible that was lacking earlier this year when he slashed .241/.276/.292 through April and May.

“I felt like I was trying to do too much,” Tapia said through team interpreter Hector Lebron. “Maybe because it’s [my] first time here [in Toronto] … I didn't have the same confidence that I feel right now.”

Tapia called that beatdown win over Boston “100 percent” the most fun he’s had during a game this season, in part because every Blue Jay in the starting lineup recorded at least two hits. Since June 1, Toronto’s 7-8-9 hitters have outproduced every other club in baseball by a wide margin, leading MLB in hits (156), average (.293), and on-base percentage (.361), while ranking second in slugging (.479).

“When you have the bottom of the lineup producing like the way we are right now, it's powerful,” Tapia said. “It’s scary.”

After beating the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday, the Jays have now won seven consecutive games, their longest winning streak since June 2, and they sit 1.5 games up on the Seattle Mariners for the first AL wild-card spot. But just because confidence is high and the wins are flowing doesn’t mean the club can tread quietly through the trade deadline.

“There's no perfect team out there, right?,” said John Schneider, who’s 8-1 since replacing Charlie Montoyo as manager. “So we're obviously going to continue to improve in any way that we can.”

As stated before, things are dire on the pitching front. Beyond Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Stripling, there’s a serious lack of trust in the starting five. José Berríos has looked uncalibrated all season, and while Yusei Kikuchi could return from the injured list as early as Thursday, his homecoming doesn’t exactly inspire oodles of confidence.

While the successes of Biggio and Tapia have negated the need for a bench bat, Toronto’s ability to nab some trade-market pitching could be the difference between a sustainable playoff run and an early October exit. Stripling knows this concept well from his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a club that added Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, and Max Scherzer at recent trade deadlines.

“We're coming into the dog days of summer, and you can't have too much depth,” Stripling said. “So I don't think anybody would say you can ever have enough pitching.”

The market has been stirred up recently, with names like Noah Syndergaard, Pablo López, and now Tarik Skubal on the block, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. In his last outing, Detroit Tigers reliever Joe Jiménez — another excellent trade target for Torontoreportedly pitched in front of multiple MLB scouts, a clue that a trade is imminent.

All the chips are there. Now the Blue Jays just need to ante up.

“Most of us wouldn't be surprised to see a big name coming in this locker room … we'll never be angry about getting better,” Stripling said. “I promise you that.”

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