Chapman homers twice as Blue Jays power up in WC race

September 17th, 2022

TORONTO -- There’s a quietness to everything that does.

It’s in the way his body moves through brilliant defensive plays, making the remarkable seem relaxing. It’s in his voice, his nature and the way that teammates look to him in the clubhouse. It only makes sense that his offensive numbers have crept up on people this season, but performances like Friday’s are too loud to hide.

Chapman launched two home runs in the Blue Jays’ 6-3 win over the Orioles at Rogers Centre, putting Toronto in the driver's seat of the American League Wild Card race for the time being. These were Nos. 25 and 26, giving Chapman a shot at his second career 30-homer season, and it’s been a remarkable rise from how this all started.

When Chapman joined the Blue Jays, his bat fell flat. When he woke up on the morning of June 1, he was hitting just .201 with a .640 OPS, difficult numbers for even one of the game’s finest gloves to cover up. Even the most casual fan could tell you one thing with an eye test, though, which was that Chapman was close. For weeks and weeks, he was the king of the deep flyout, just enough to draw that initial “oh!” out of fans, but rarely enough to earn the full roar.

Since then? He’s been one of the most valuable members of this roster, emerging as a pillar of the lineup while somehow elevating his defensive game to a completely new level.

“He’s always a threat to leave the yard,” said interim manager John Schneider. “He’s a veteran hitter. He gives you a good at-bat every single time, no matter the outcome. When you look up at the end of the year, he’s going to get his numbers. He made those catches in foul territory, then the two homers. You just can’t say enough about the player that he is and the impact he has on this whole team.”

Chapman hadn’t homered since Aug. 20, with this marking his 26th game since, but the third baseman never seemed to fall into a true slump. In a way, it’s similar to Marcus Semien’s role with this club in 2021. Even when he wasn’t at his best offensively, he was in the lineup every single day and finding a way to contribute.

Between the bookends of Chapman’s home runs was , who shook the game and his team back to life when each was beginning to feel a little dreary. The Blue Jays had fallen behind, 2-1, on an Adley Rutschman home run in the fourth, but Springer answered in the next inning with a three-run shot -- a no-doubter that soared a Statcast-projected 422 feet.

Springer, at least offensively, is Chapman’s opposite. Everything he does is big, loud and deserving of a stage. Besides, moments like this are exactly why Toronto signed Springer. Yes, he’s an exceptionally talented outfielder and leadoff hitter, but his feel for the moment -- which translated beautifully into postseason success with the Astros -- is truly rare. It’s not just something one lucks into. You have it, or you don’t.

On the heels of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s home run in Thursday’s finale against Tampa Bay, his first of September, the Blue Jays are starting to take a broader, more powerful form.

“Bo [Bichette] has been carrying us for a while now,” Chapman said. “He’s been playing so well for a while now, and obviously other guys have been chipping in and getting big hits. Over the course of the season, guys are going to have to step up. I think the fact that guys like me, George and Vladdy are able to start hitting the ball hard and taking good at-bats is good for the team going forward.”

The timing couldn’t be better, either.

“Every game is crucial,” Chapman said. “You’re playing against not only your own division, but the calendar. There’s only so many games left. It’s hard to make up games, so any opportunity we can get to gain a game, separate ourselves from Baltimore or put pressure on the teams that are right in the mix with us, every game is huge. This series is important.”

Now sitting atop the AL Wild Card race, Toronto is a game ahead of the Mariners, who lost to the Angels Friday night. The Blue Jays' closing schedule isn’t nearly as comfortable as Seattle’s, but with more performances like Chapman’s, they’ll continue to control their own destiny.