140 down, 22 to go: The ins and outs of Jays' postseason hopes
TORONTO — As they head down the stretch of an up-and-down season, the Toronto Blue Jays are as close to controlling their own playoff destiny as they could possibly hope after featuring a whole lot of inconsistent baseball for the past five months.
Way back in April, the unique home-and-home 12-pack of games against division rivals Tampa and New York in late September were seen as the obvious postseason turning points. But now that we’re here, it’s a four-game set at Rogers Centre against the Texas Rangers next week that may dictate the fate of both teams in the end.
After 140-plus games to get to this point, that pivotal series has the chance to swing things four games in either direction over the course of just 72 hours or so, and there may be no coming back from it if it goes sideways for either club.
On the heels of that series, the Boston Red Sox come to town, likely needing a sweep of the Jays on the road to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
With the AL East pennant and one wild-card spot locked down by the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the Central Division crown likely wrapped up by the Minnesota Twins in short order, a five-pack of teams — the Jays, Rangers, Astros, Mariners, and Red Sox — all began play Thursday with varying levels of hope.
The math is fairly simple.
There are five teams — four, really, if you remove the Red Sox, who are just clinging to life at 72 wins — jockeying for the AL West pennant and the final two wild-card berths, meaning two of these clubs will be heading home when the regular season wraps up on Oct. 1.
STRENGTH OF SKED
Here’s a look at what’s facing these five teams down the stretch, ranked by easiest schedule at the top to toughest at the bottom. The Jays land right in the middle with 22 games to go.
Houston Astros (21 games, .443): Royals (6), Orioles (3), Mariners (3), A’s (3), Padres (3), Diamondbacks (3)
Texas Rangers (23 games, .495): Mariners (7), Jays (4), Red Sox (3), A’s (3), Angels (3), Guardians (3)
Toronto Blue Jays (22 games, .515): Rays (6), Yankees (6), Rangers (4), Red Sox (3), Royals (3)
Seattle Mariners (23 games, .525): Rangers (7), Rays (4), Dodgers (3), Astros (3), A’s (3), Angels (3)
Boston Red Sox (22 games, .550): Orioles (7), Yankees (4), Jays (3), Rangers (3), White Sox (3), Rays (2)
With this being the first wild-card tiebreaker that MLB goes to if two teams are tied in the standings after 162 games, head-to-head records are more important than ever.
Here’s how the Jays finished against each opponent:
Versus Texas: 1-2
The four games next will decide this. In the event of another tiebreaker being needed, it goes to divisional record, which does not help the Jays in any of these scenarios. All four clubs are above .500 against their own division, including the Rangers at 21-18, while the Jays have struggled to a 12-25 mark against the AL East.
Versus Boston: 3-7
This series is over regardless of what happens in the final three meetings.
Versus Seattle: 3-3
They sawed off the season series, but the M’s have a much better record in their division at 24-12.
Versus Houston: 4-3
A win way back in early June clinched this tiebreak scenario for the Jays.
Each of these playoff contenders has taken turns running hot and cold in the second half of the season.
The Mariners have been the hottest team lately, running up a 21-9 record over the past 30 games, while the Astros (17-13), Jays (17-13), Red Sox (15-15) have done just enough to hang around and make life tough on the sinking Rangers (13-17), once one of the best teams in baseball.
Here’s a glimpse at some key statistics since the All-Star break and how the clubs rank within those key categories amongst themselves as well as league-wide (in parentheses):
Rotation ERA: Blue Jays (3.81, third), Mariners (3.84, fourth), Rangers (3.88, sixth), Astros (4.09, seventh), Red Sox (4.79, 22nd)
Bullpen ERA: Mariners (3.52, third), Blue Jays (3.59, fifth), Astros (3.66, sixth), Red Sox (4.24, 19th), Rangers (5.00, 26th)
Runs per game: Astros (6.2, first), Mariners (5.3, seventh), Red Sox (5.0, ninth), Jays (4.8, T13th), Rangers (4.8, T13th)
Team wRC+: Astros (134, first), Mariners (129, third), Jays (115, eighth), Rangers (108, 12th), Red Sox (104, 14th)
Home runs: Astros (88, second), Mariners (85, 3rd), Red Sox (72, T8th), Rangers (72, T8th), Jays (61, 19th)