Flawed playoff format benefits Blue Jays
Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t.
It was a regular season that felt like it started and stopped and started and stopped. The Blue Jays never felt like they got rolling, but the end result is a playoff berth and October baseball.
The Jays were picked by many to win the AL East and vie for the best record in the American League. That became the Baltimore Orioles’ fate. In fact, the Jays were the third-best team in the East, mainly because they did not play well within their division (21-31). They were 68-42 against everyone else.
Toronto enters the postseason as the third wild-card team in the American League and sixth seed overall. But don’t let that chase you away from the hope of making it to the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies proved last year that a No. 6 seed can get there.
The Jays are actually in a better spot than if they were the first wild-card team. They get to face the Minnesota Twins, who won the AL Central division title but also have the worst record among the teams playing in the wild-card round in the AL. Their 87 wins are two short of the Jays (89), three short of the Rangers (90) and 12 fewer than Tampa Bay (99).
The Rangers and Rays have to play one another, and the winner of that series plays the Orioles (101), who have the best record in the AL. The winner of the Jays-Twins series plays the Houston Astros (90). Houston, the defending World Series champs, is no pushover but they weren’t nearly as competitive as the Orioles were this season.
The playoff format is flawed. There shouldn’t be an advantage gained by winning fewer games than another team, but that is what has happened, and it benefits the Jays. MLB should consider seeding the four teams in the wild-card round based upon their record and not just unilaterally give a division winner the top seed among the wild-card teams.
The Rays’ 99 wins should be acknowledged and rewarded as the top team in the wild-card round, and they should face Minnesota who has the worst record. Then Texas would play Toronto. Then the winner of the Texas-Toronto series should play Baltimore, while the winner of Tampa-Minnesota series should play Houston. That would be fairer. I suspect general managers will push for that change next year.
The good news for the Jays is that the format is what it is this season. They play the weakest of the teams in the wild-card round, but the Twins are no pushover. Minnesota (3.82) has the best starting staff ERA in the AL, slightly ahead of the Jays (3.85) who are second best. The Twins bullpen pitched to a 3.95 ERA, while the Jays finished at 3.68. The Twins and Jays are the top two strikeout staffs in the league and have given up nearly the same number of homers.
Offensively, the Twins outscored the Jays by 20 runs this season and hit 23 more homers. The Jays struck out 351 fewer times than the swing-and-miss lineup the Twins have. In fact, the Twins led the AL in strikeouts. The Jays have a good chance to beat the Twins if they can keep the ball in the ballpark. The Twins don’t have much team speed as they were 11th in stolen bases in the AL.
The pitching matchups will likely be Pablo Lopez (11-8, 3.66 ERA, 234 strikeouts in 194 IP) vs. Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16 ERA, 237 strikeouts in 185 IP) in Game 1. Gausman did not fare well against the Twins this year, allowing seven runs in 10 innings pitched. The Twins had a great approach against Gausman; they took his split-finger pitch, leading to nine walks. Gausman will have to make an adjustment.
Lopez throws a four-seam fastball at the top of the zone that he complements with an excellent sweeper and change-up. He has a good curve ball as well.
Game 2 will likely feature Sonny Gray (8-8. 2.79 ERA, only 8 HRA in 184 IP) vs. Chris Bassitt (16-8, 3.60 ERA, 28 HRA in 200 IP). Gray keeps hitters off balance with his breaking pitches; his put-away pitch is an excellent sweeper. Bassitt throws eight different pitches and keeps hitters off guessing as to what comes next.
Game 3 (if necessary) will have Joe Ryan (11-10, 4.61 ERA) vs. Jose Berrios (11-12, 3.65 ERA). Ryan has been injured and inconsistent this year. Berrios has had an excellent bounce-back season, but I wonder how the emotions of pitching against his former team could affect him.
The Jays enter the series healthy, other than not having catcher Danny Jansen available due to his broken finger. The Twins have some major health questions around shortstop Carlos Correa (plantar fasciitis), Royce Lewis (hamstring) and Byron Buxton (knee and hamstring). Correa will likely be activated for the series, while it is unclear whether Lewis will be back. Lewis has been a real threat in the Minnesota lineup and would be a big addition if healthy.
The Twins have lost 18 straight playoff games. Their last win was in Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS against the Yankees. They have lost 13 straight playoff games against the Yankees. They won’t face the Bronx Bombers this year, but the drought has to be weighing on them.
AL Wild-Card Round: NL Wild-Card Round:
Blue Jays defeat Twins 2-0 Phillies defeat Marlins 2-1
Rays defeat Rangers 2-0 Brewers defeat Diamondbacks 2-0
Jays defeat Houston 3-2 Braves defeat Phillies 3-1
Orioles defeat Rays 3-2 Brewers defeat Dodgers 3-1
Jays defeat Orioles 4-2 Braves defeat Brewers 4-3
Braves defeat Jays 4-2