In the last three years, Toronto Blue Jays fans have been deprived of a number of joys, and foremost among them is scoreboard watching.
Rooting for the success and failure of teams you normally don’t pay much attention to isn’t riveting in a vacuum, but the practice comes as a direct result of your team being in the thick of the race. When there’s no hope of a playoff berth, there’s no need to know the score of the Houston Astros-Seattle Mariners game. When your team is in the mix, it can feel like a life or death situation.
Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the Blue Jays sit in the eighth seed, which indisputably puts them in the mix. So, it’s time to get your boxscore scanning in with just a few games to go.
Here’s a comprehensive guide of what you need to watch for:
Watch out from behind
According to FanGraphs, the Blue Jays have a 99.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. That doesn’t mean that they can’t blow this. Right now, their magic number with the team directly behind them — the Seattle Mariners — is two. That means there just needs to be two combined Blue Jays wins and Mariners losses to sew this up for Toronto.
If the Blue Jays start to struggle in their last few games — they aren’t far removed from a six-game losing streak, after all — then you might want to check in on whether the Mariners have courteously done their job for them. It would take a heck of a series of events for Seattle to jump ahead of this club, but it can’t be entirely ruled out yet.
Who do you want to face?
This is the pivotal question. Unfortunately, it isn’t an easy one to answer. All of the teams that could take the American League’s top seed are formidable foes the Blue Jays would struggle to handle.
A team that jumps out as one to avoid is the Tampa Bay Rays (36-20). The Blue Jays’ inability to win games at Tropicana Field is well-documented, and the Rays can throw out the trio of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton in a three-game series. Theoretically, the losses of Jose Alvarado, Jalen Beeks, Chaz Roe and Colin Poche should’ve weakened their bullpen, but their relievers are still second in the league in WAR. That’s how deep this club is.
With the Rays facing the Mets and Phillies down the stretch, they’re in good position to keep their perch atop the AL, but there are still three teams within striking distance.
Beyond the Rays, the other contenders for the crown are the Chicago White Sox (34-21), Oakland Athletics (33-21) and Minnesota Twins (34-22). The White Sox are the biggest surprise on this list — and the closest to the Rays at 2.5 games back — but rooting for a dance with them might not be so wise. This group has one of the best offences in the league, and their run differential (+70) is the Junior Circuit’s best. They don’t play at the Trop, but they do have a rotation headed by Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, plus a lineup that’s legitimately dangerous one through nine.
At first glance, the Athletics look like a less intimidating matchup because their hitters have managed just a .224/.322/.394 line this year. However, that number is actually above-average in the context of their run-suppressing ballpark, and they are arguably the best defensive team in the sport. Their pitching staff also ranks sixth in the majors in FanGraphs’ WAR which excludes defensive contributions. The whole package is a team that’s exceedingly difficult to score on, playing in a ballpark that limits home runs. Considering homers are the engine of this Blue Jays offence, a trip to Oakland doesn’t seem advisable.
The best case scenario for Blue Jays fans is probably a date with the Minnesota Twins. The Twins offence is just above average (102 wRC+), and their three-game rotation of Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda is a little less intimidating than the other triumvirates. Their bullpen is fearsome, but their strength is in pitching depth rather than top-flight stars. That could make them more vulnerable in a wild-card series, even as it serves them well for later rounds.
The seventh seed
One possible X-factor is a scenario where the Blue Jays close the gap on the Cleveland Indians for the seventh spot, which would have them draw the American League's second-ranked team. As it stands the Blue Jays are three games behind with five games remaining, so it would take a very strong finish and an Indians stumble.
Although the Blue Jays finish the season with a series against the Baltimore Orioles, the Indians cap their campaign with a three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, so both teams should be expected to finish strong. Even so, if the Pirates prove unexpectedly plucky, this could be something to watch for over the final weekend.
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