Blue Jays on playoff bubble entering stretch drive
TORONTO — Back-to-back series wins over the Colorado Rockies and Oakland Athletics have given the Toronto Blue Jays some momentum for the stretch drive.
A three-game set against another lowly opponent — the Kansas City Royals — begins Friday, kicking off a critical 10-game homestand that includes series against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox.
Here's a look at five things to watch as the Blue Jays aim to make a September push for a playoff spot in the American League:
Star shortstop Bo Bichette (quad) and third baseman Matt Chapman (finger) could soon be set to return after stints on the injured list.
The so-called Buffalo Boys have delivered in their absence.
Triple-A call-ups Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement and Spencer Horwitz have provided stability in the infield and at the plate since arriving from the Bisons.
Schneider, in particular, has been on an offensive tear. His bat has been so strong that manager John Schneider has slotted him into the heart of the batting order of late.
Once Toronto's upcoming homestand wraps, East Division teams will provide the opposition for the remaining two weeks of the schedule.
The Blue Jays will open a six-game road trip on Sept. 19 in New York. The three-game series will be followed by a weekend set against Tampa Bay.
The Yankees and Rays will then visit Rogers Centre as Toronto closes out the 162-game campaign with a six-game homestand.
Toronto has a 3-4 record against each club this season.
It's a debate that will only pick up steam if Toronto stays in the playoff race.
Which pitchers should get the starting assignments in a best-of-three wild-card series?
With one of the best rotations in the game, Schneider has several options to choose from if Toronto earns one of the three AL wild-card berths.
Opponent matchups, the team's clinch date and potential rest days are just some of the variables that will be considered before a decision is made.
Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt are both good bets. Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi have had bounceback seasons and Hyun Jin Ryu has impressed since returning last month after Tommy John surgery.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The eye-popping numbers may not be there this season but an offence by committee approach has worked out for Toronto.
Eight Blue Jays have at least 10 home runs this year and seven players have driven in at least 50 runs.
Toronto struggled mightily with runners in scoring position over the first half of the campaign. But a rebound since early August has seen the Blue Jays rise to the middle of the pack in team average with RISP.
The wild-card series has not been kind to the Blue Jays in recent years.
Toronto was swept in two games by the Seattle Mariners last fall at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays came up just short of a playoff berth in 2021 and were swept by the Rays a year earlier.
The previous single wild-card game format worked out much better for Toronto.
The Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 en route to a second straight American League Championship Series appearance.
Toronto last won the World Series in 1993.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.
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