Only 20 days remain in the Major League Baseball season and much is left to play for in both the American League and National League.
Of particular interest to Canadian baseball fans is the rapid ascent of the Toronto Blue Jays, who currently occupy the first AL wild-card spot, a game up on a pair of AL East rivals in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
At the end of last month, a playoff berth seemed like a pipe dream for the Jays, but now in the midst of a torrid run, the Blue Jays are firmly in control of their own destiny and look to close in on a fourth trip to the playoffs in seven seasons.
How did this happen after the Jays appeared to be dead to rights? Well, let's go back to August 27.
It was as dispiriting a loss as any in 2021 for the Jays on that Friday night in Detroit. The Jays fell 2-1 to the lowly Tigers on Victor Reyes' eighth-inning inside-the-park home run. It would the team's 11th loss in their last 17 games, including five losses to the Tigers and Washington Nationals, teams long gone from the playoff race.
After the loss, the Jays would sit 9.5 games behind the Yankees in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games behind the Red Sox in the second spot. On top of that, both the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners sat in between the Jays and the wild cards. The season was coming apart at the seams.
But since then, it was like a switch was flipped. The team that was dying in late August has emerged like a phoenix into September. In the 17 games following that Aug. 27 loss, the Jays are 15-2 and being led by a scorching offence that shows no signs of slowing down.
As a team, the Blue Jays are batting .312 with 43 home runs and a ridiculous .979 OPS in those 17 games. In the month of September alone, the Jays are hitting .331 with 36 homers. No team in modern history (since 1900) has ever batted .330 or more with 36 home runs over any 13-game stretch. Toronto has outscored its opponents by 58 runs in September for the best run differential in franchise history over 13 games.
While there has been no weak link in the Jays' offence with the likes of Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. all swinging hot bats, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. remains its centrepiece and is chasing history in the final weeks of the season.
On Monday night, Guerrero hit a frozen rope jack off of the Tampa Bay Rays' Adam Conley that left his bat at 113.9 MPH and cleared the left-field fence before your eyes could even find the ball on your TV. The home run was Guerrero's 45th of the season, taking over sole possession of the league lead. The bomb also put Guerrero in elite company. Only Hall of Famers Eddie Matthews and Joe DiMaggio have hit 45 or more home runs through the first 143 games of the season at the age of 22 or younger.
As the season winds down, Guerrero finds himself with a very real shot at capturing the Triple Crown, something that nobody has done in the majors since the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Currently, Guerrero leads the American League in both home runs and average (.318). His 103 runs batted in are four back of Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu's 107. Should Guerrero become just the 17th man to win the Triple Crown, he would become the youngest man to ever do so.
Still, would the Triple Crown be enough to win the AL Most Valuable Player award for Guerrero? That remains to be seen, with Los Angeles Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani still the heavy favourite in the midst of his own remarkable season.
As for what's next for the Jays, the sprint to the finish sees them in what appears to be a three-way race for the two wild cards, but the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics remain lurking on the perimeter and are only a winning streak away from being right back in the conversation. If the season were to end today, the Jays would be hosting the winner of a Red Sox-Yankees playoff in the AL Wild Card Game.
Here's what's left on the docket for all three teams:
TORONTO BLUE JAYS (81-63, .563)
FANGRAPHS' ODDS TO MAKE PLAYOFFS: 72.9%
GAMES REMAINING: 18 (11 home, seven road)
REMAINING OPPONENTS: Tampa Bay Rays (x5), Minnesota Twins (x7), New York Yankees (x3) and Baltimore Orioles (x3)
REMAINING OPPONENTS' WINNING PERCENTAGE: .484
BOSTON RED SOX (81-65, .555)
FANGRAPHS' ODDS TO MAKE PLAYOFFS: 62.4%
GAMES REMAINING: 16 (eight home, eight road)
REMAINING OPPONENTS: Seattle Mariners (x2), Baltimore Orioles (x6), New York Mets (x2), New York Yankees (x3) and Washington Nationals (x3)
REMAINING OPPONENTS' WINNING PERCENTAGE: .465
NEW YORK YANKEES (80-64, .556)
FANGRAPHS' ODDS TO MAKE PLAYOFFS: 56.0%
GAMES REMAINING: 18 (nine home, nine road)
REMAINING OPPONENTS: Baltimore Orioles (x3), Cleveland (x3), Texas Rangers (x3), Boston Red Sox (x3), Toronto Blue Jays (x3) and Tampa Bay Rays (x3)
REMAINING OPPONENTS' WINNING PERCENTAGE: .486