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The Globe and Mail

As trade rumours swirl, Toronto eyes first place

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman delivers to the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Elise Amendola/AP

As the chatter heats up about which superstar is destined for what team in advance of Thursday's Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays just keep on winning games.

Behind another solid outing from rookie Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays (58-50) made it two in a row over Boston at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, clipping the Red Sox (48-59) by a score of 4-2.

The game, the polar opposite of Monday's 14-1 shootout victory by Toronto, had decent pitching on both sides, especially Stroman, the 23-year-old who is growing more cocksure with every outing.

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Stroman won for the third consecutive start, and improved his record to 7-2 on the season, with a well-crafted seven innings of work, holding the Boston hitters to just one run off six hits. He struck out a career high eight batters, including four looking – a good indication of just how good his stuff was.

The win was Toronto's fourth in a row and ninth in their last 11 games as they maintain their grip on second place in the American League East and challenge for their first playoff spot in 21 years.

The win guarantees a fourth straight series victory for the Blue Jays since the All-Star break, and Toronto will be try for the three-game sweep over Boston in Wednesday's series finale.

The non-waiver trade deadline in the majors is at 4 p.m. (EST) on Thursday and, as usual at this time of the year, the rumour mill is working overtime. The one that will no doubt whet the appetite of Blue Jays fans surfaced on Tuesday when one report suggested that the franchise is showing strong interest in Jon Lester, the brutish Boston lefty.

With the Red Sox sinking rather uncomfortably into last place in the AL East, the club is interested in clearing salary for next season. Lester, with a 10-7 record and 2.52 earned run average – not to mention and a $13-million annual salary – is a prime target.

Interest in Lester, who can become a free agent at the season's end, is decidedly high.

St. Louis, Baltimore and the L.A. Dodgers are all thought to have kicked the tires on Lester deals, but on Tuesday reported that the Blue Jays, according to "industry sources," have been the most aggressive in their interest.

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After the game, the Red Sox announced because of the continuing feeding frenzy surrounding Lester and a possible trade he is being scratched from his start on Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Instead, Brandon Workman will get the start.

Toronto manager Alex Anthopoulos, speaking with reporters during Monday's game after the Blue Jays acquired infielder Danny Valencia from the Kansas City Royals in a trade, did not sound like an executive who was on the verge of any major deal.

It is also believed that the Blue Jays payroll of about $140-million this season is about as far as owner Rogers Communications would want to be stretched.

That means, unless the Blue Jays can work a dollar-in for a dollar-out kind of a deal, Toronto is unlikely to be in the wheelhouse for a high-priced arm like Lester's.

Valencia joined the team in Boston on Tuesday and said he is prepared to be the right-handed hitting platoon player that the Blue Jays were looking for. Toronto manager John Gibbons said Valencia can expect to see service at both third and first base.

Valencia has played first base at the college level and in the minors, but not in the Major Leagues where third has been his position of choice.

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Valencia came into the game as a pinch-hitter for Juan Francisco in the eighth inning a popped out to centre and remained in the game at first.

The Blue Jays made the most of their limited opportunites, taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a Colby Rasmus home run, his 14th of the year, off Boston starter Rubby De La Rosa.

Boston would come back to tie it at 1-1 in the Red Sox third when Dustin Pedroia doubled off the Green Monster to score Brock Holt from first.

But the Blue Jays responded quickly in the fourth with Anthony Gose providing the key hit, a two-out double to right that scored two baserunners and took Toronto's lead to 3-1.

Toronto tagged on another run in the top of the ninth when a ground out by Melky Cabrera scored Gose from third.

Toronto closer Casey Janssen came into the game in the bottom of the ninth and allowed a solo home run to Xander Bogaerts – just to make it interesting – before retiring the next three Boston batters to earn his 17th save.

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