The next nine days probably won't determine the Toronto Blue Jays' playoff fate, but the upcoming stretch of games definitely will play a role.
Over the next three series, Toronto will face the East-leading Baltimore Orioles, the Central-leading Detroit Tigers and finally the Wild Card-vying Seattle Mariners.
The Blue Jays can put themselves in a better position to make the postseason for the first time since 1993 with a solid record over this stretch or they could put themselves out of it entirely with a disastrous one.
So the question is: How many games will the Blue Jays win over the next nine days?
Baltimore Orioles (63-48) - Four games ahead of Blue Jays for first in AL East
This one has been marked on Toronto's calendar for quite some time.
The clubs have split the first 10 games of their season series and the Jays can pull within a game of the Orioles for the division lead with a sweep. Toronto had been playing good ball until they ran into a pesky Astros squad, losing three of four in Houston over the weekend. Toronto should get a jolt to the lineup as Brett Lawrie was activated from the disabled list Monday night and is expected to get the start Tuesday in the opener.
Baltimore, on the other hand, has been red-hot since the All-Star break with an impressive 11-6 record. The Orioles are also the American League's best road team with 33 victories away from Camden Yards so far this season. They acquired relief pitcher Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox on deadline day and seem to be putting things together both at the plate and on the mound.
Baltimore will go with Bud Norris (8-7), Wei-Yin Chen (12-3) and Miguel Gonzalez (5-6) while Toronto will counter with Mark Buehrle (11-7), Drew Hutchison (7-9) and J.A. Happ (8-5) over the three-game set. There should be plenty of power too at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, as the Blue Jays and Orioles sit one-two in homers with 134 and 133, respectively.
Detroit Tigers (61-48) - First place in AL Central
After Baltimore, the Jays welcome to Toronto the team with arguably the best pitching staff in all of baseball. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and now David Price lead the Tigers' starting staff with each having won a Cy Young award over the last three seasons. And then there's the very formidable Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, who have combined for a 21-10 record this season. The Jays will likely have to face Sanchez, Scherzer and Price over the three-game set next weekend.
Detroit's arms are one thing to worry about, but they're also one of the best hitting teams in the American League. They are first in team batting average (.277 – 13 points better than the second place Los Angeles Angels), first in on-base percentage (.331) and first in slugging percentage (.435).
If the Blue Jays want to be considered a legit playoff contender, taking two of three from the well-rounded Tigers would be a good step.
Seattle Mariners (57-54) - Two games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot
Toronto wraps up this critical stretch out west at Safeco Field against the Mariners, who may sneak into the playoffs with a Wild Card entry, but they've fallen off as of late, losing six of their last 10. Ace Felix Hernandez may anchor one of the league's better pitching staffs (they lead the Majors with a 3.05 team ERA), but their hitting has left a lot to be desired. They're last in the American League in RBIs with 402 and second last in team batting average with .243.
The Jays could possibly put the Mariners away in this series, in a place that's become a home away from home because of all the west coast fans that come down from B.C. for the games.
Looking ahead, the Blue Jays will play the Orioles six times, the Mariners four times and the New York Yankees four times over the final two weeks of the season at the end of September. Those games will undoubtedly determine Toronto's season if they're able to stay in contention until then.
But that is then and this is now, and the Blue Jays need to think about taking care of business in the present day.
Having said that, how many games will the Jays win over this critical nine-day stretch?
As always, it's Your! Call.