A closer look at the Blue Jays’ postseason runs

TORONTO — If there’s any significant series separation, the Toronto Blue Jays won this weekend with straight wins over the Tampa Bay Rays.

That allowed the Rays to end the series where they started it four days earlier – two games behind the Blue Jays in the race for American League wild cards. And, thanks in part to the Seattle Mariners somehow blowing an 11-2 lead in the sixth inning and falling to the Kansas City Royals, it kept the Blue Jays in the driver’s seat with a view to secure home court advantage in a series of wild cards.

Toronto’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth is now four. It could be four Blue Jays wins, four Baltimore Orioles losses, or any combination thereof. The earliest the Blue Jays could clinch is Tuesday. But the result is almost inevitable. The real intrigue this week will be in the jockey for wildcard rankings between Toronto, Tampa and Seattle. Here’s where that race is at Monday morning:

Division winners are a done deal. The New York Yankees can clinch the AL East with just one win over the Blue Jays this week at Rogers Center. The Houston Astros won the AL West a long time ago and only need three wins or three losses from the Yankees to claim the league’s best record. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Guardians won the AL Central over the weekend and whether the Yankees win next – or Cleveland loses next – will be guaranteed to finish with the worst division-winning record, the positioning to host one of the league’s two wild cards. series.

Cleveland’s opponent in this series will be the third-place team. In other AL wild card series, the top wild card finisher will host second place. The host for each series is the home team for all three games, which will be played on the weekend of October 7-9. The top two division winners – Houston and New York, unless unlikely – will spend this weekend waiting to host the winners of the wild card series in the five-game divisional round.

So as it stands Monday morning, the Guardians would host the Mariners in one series, while the Blue Jays would host the Rays in the other. Of course, this seeding can and probably will change. Toronto and Tampa each have nine regular season games remaining; the Mariners have 10. A lot can happen over the next week and a half with just 2.5 games separating the three wildcard teams. There is even the possibility of a tie.

And remember, Game 163 tiebreakers are a thing of the past. Instead, ties between two teams at the end of the season will be decided by a head-to-head record. And three-team ties will depend on which club has the best combined winning percentage against the other two teams.

With the Blue Jays, Mariners and Rays having all finished their season streak against each other, we know who would have the edge in the various scenarios:

AL wild card tiebreakers

The bad news for the Blue Jays is that they don’t hold the hammer in any tiebreaker scenario. The only way Toronto can gain home-court advantage in the wildcard round is to finish with more wins than Seattle and Tampa. The good news is that they start the week ahead of the race and can play a worse game than these two teams over the next 10 days while also putting on a wild card streak.

And yet, if the Blue Jays play just two games less than Tampa, or 2.5 less than Seattle (the Mariners have a game in hand), they’re on the road. What if all three teams finished tied with identical records at the end of the season? Then the Blue Jays will enter the playoffs as the AL’s third wildcard team and head to Cleveland to take on the Guardians.

But we can say that it would not be a bad result. While the Guardians and Blue Jays have identical 86-67 records, Cleveland achieved it by playing 110 times against sub-0.500 teams. Toronto earned its record against much tougher opposition, facing sub-0.500 teams just 71 times, while averaging 4.8 points scored per game compared to Cleveland’s 4.3. The Guardians have a plus-58 point differential; the Blue Jays, plus-74. Cleveland’s offense mustered a 98 wRC+; Toronto’s is a better AL 117.

A three-game playoff rotation of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill backed by a bullpen with a 3.09 ERA on the season is not to be taken lightly. But every AL playoff team will have great starters at the top of their rotation. The Toronto splitter is its best offense in the league. And he should feel good about his ability to produce an anemic lineup with Owen Miller (86 wRC+), Will Brennan (70), Myles Straw (63) and one of Austin Hedges (46) or Luke Maile (76 ) in its lower third.

Naturally, Toronto’s best result in 10 days would be to host the wildcard streak in a boisterous Rogers center, regardless of the opponent. But if that’s not on the table and the remaining options cross a continent to tangle with Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and the AL’s fourth-best offense in Seattle, navigating various zugzwang situations against the Hyper Rays -adaptable to cursed Tropicana Field, or hopping across Lake Erie to take on a Cleveland roster with just one 20-homer bat (the Blue Jays have five), the path of least resistance is clear.

And there’s more. The post-season field will not be reseeded after the wild card round. The winner of the series between wild card third team and Cleveland is guaranteed to continue playing the division winner with the second-best record – the Yankees. The winner of the other three-game series between the top two wildcard teams will face the AL’s top team — the Astros.

Now the Yankees and Astros are both great clubs with point differentials over plus-200. But the Yankees have played .500 baseball since the All-Star break while the Astros have a better second-half winning percentage (.667) than the spectacular they posted in the first half (.648). Which isn’t to say that Houston is the most talented — and, perhaps more importantly, the healthiest — team on paper. It is clear that you would prefer to play if you had the choice.

Simply put — if the Blue Jays finished third in the wild card race, they would consider a Guardians and Yankees path to the ALCS, rather than a Mariners/Rays and Astros path. It’s still baseball; always a series of lightly weighted coin tosses. But there’s no denying that Toronto’s odds of winning would be a few percentage points higher if it looked at the Cleveland and New York side of the bracket.

Either way, Toronto’s goal at the start of the week is clear: win as often as possible to secure home-court advantage in a wild-card streak. That quest begins with considerable challenge as the Yankees arrive at Rogers Center on Monday with plenty to play for. A division yet to clinch; a home run record to chase; a grueling series loss to the Bronx the last time these two teams met for revenge. If you had to pick one remaining schedule from the three wildcard teams, it probably wouldn’t be Toronto’s:

AL wild card teams remaining schedules

The Mariners are certainly the best placed for this final stretch, as they draw at home against the Rangers (65-87), the Athletics (56-97) and the Tigers (60-92). But Seattle is coming off an equally cushy streak in which it went 3-7 against the Angels, Athletics and Royals. There is no data in MLB.

The Rays, meanwhile, will have to battle through a long road trip, but will encounter a few teams in the Guardians and Astros who will prioritize rest and optimize their postseason throwing plans rather than put everything what they have to win each night. . They will then finish the season against a verified Red Sox club that is pitched at the AL’s worst 5.14 ERA in the second half.

The Blue Jays will at least have the chance to beat the Nick Pivetta and Rich Hill of the world later this week after what is sure to be an intense matchup with the Yankees. And in their final series of the season, at Camden Yards against the upstart Orioles, the Blue Jays could meet a team that let off the gas after being knocked out of the chase.

Or, from another perspective, an unpressured, eager competition to play the spoiler against a team they had a heated altercation with earlier this month. Choose the story you like, it’s still baseball. MLB history is littered with examples of on-field results that defy paper projections. All we’re guaranteed is a gripping week and a half as the Blue Jays, Rays and Mariners battle it out for position. Toronto starts with the inside track. Where they end up is anybody’s guess.


Back to top button