With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Toronto Blue Jays are in the driver's seat to punch their ticket to this year’s playoffs. They control their fate in the American League wild-card standings but they aren’t in the clear just yet.
Following a well-earned 7-1 victory at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, the Blue Jays improved to 84-67, keeping the franchise one game ahead of the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners for the second wild-card seed with only 11 contests remaining.
That is a pretty favourable position, especially considering Toronto’s rollercoaster campaign hit a season-low after dropping four straight to Texas last week — which seemed like a devastating blow at the time. A series sweep of Boston and mediocre play around them allowed for a quick revival, though.
Now, the organization has a straight line to clinching a postseason berth for the second consecutive year, which would mark its third appearance in the last four seasons. All the Blue Jays need to do is finish no worse than 7-4 the rest of the way.
The reason for that is there are still seven head-to-head games left between the Rangers and Mariners. One of those teams has to lose at least four times between now and the end of the year, which would put either squad at 72 losses. A 7-4 record would give the Blue Jays 71 losses, thus earning them a trip to the postseason.
Winning seven of those final 11 contests, however, might not be as easy as it may seem, as the Blue Jays possess the toughest remaining strength of schedule (.540) in the American League.
Their remaining games are exclusively versus AL East opponents (five with New York, six with Tampa Bay). Toronto is 16-25 against its rivals this season but has done much better in those matchups recently, going 9-4 since the start of August.
Still, the Blue Jays aren’t exactly facing the Yankees or Rays at the most favourable time, with both clubs putting together quality on-field results lately.
Despite sitting seven games back of a playoff spot, the Yankees own an MLB-best 14-7 record since Aug. 28. Plus, their roster features several top prospects hungry to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff in preparation for 2024.
The Rays, meanwhile, control the top spot in the wild-card race by a wide margin but are still hoping to catch the Baltimore Orioles for the division lead despite a 2.5-game deficit. So don’t expect them to ease up down the stretch unless first place suddenly becomes unattainable.
Even with a challenging road ahead, the Blue Jays' playoff odds, per FanGraphs, sit at 82.7% entering Wednesday’s slate — their highest peak since April 30 (85%). As you can see, they’ve since been revived after being on life support less than a week ago.
The Rangers may still be the Blue Jays’ biggest threat in the standings thanks to a favourable remaining strength of schedule (.517) that includes series against the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels, as well as the Mariners.
Seattle, however, has just one more bout versus the last-place Oakland Athletics before concluding the season with a 10-game stretch where they’ll face Houston (four times) and Texas (six times). As a result, the Mariners' .532 remaining strength of schedule sits behind only Toronto’s as the second-toughest in the AL.
But as has been the case throughout these last few weeks, anything can transpire in this whimsical chase to determine the final two AL wild-card clubs. So, to steal an infamous line from the reality TV show Big Brother, baseball fans should probably prepare to “expect the unexpected.”
That will be especially true for the Blue Jays, whose primary focus is to secure as many wins as possible between now and Oct. 1. It is fair to wonder if they’ve begun to hypothesize about which first-round matchup would be more appealing.
As a reminder, MLB’s new playoff format works as follows: the two division winners with the best records earn a first-round bye, with the third division champ hosting the third wild-card seed. The top two wild cards face off against one another in the home ballpark of the higher seed.
Based on the current standings, Toronto would travel to the dreaded Tropicana Field to play Tampa Bay in a best-of-three series. Since the Mariners hold the tiebreaker over Texas, at least for now, they’d fly to Minnesota for their opening-round showdown.
In an ideal world, the Blue Jays swap places with either the Mariners or Rangers and face the Twins in a wild-card series. Toronto split the six-game season series with Minnesota, which has the worst record of any AL team currently in a playoff spot.
With all that’s transpired in 2023, though, making the playoffs is likely the lone goal anyone throughout the organization is aiming for. Once they get in, everything else will simply take care of itself.