Olney: Blue Jays are a 'dangerous team' in wide-open American League
The Toronto Blue Jays are mired in a three-team battle for two wild-card slots in the American League in the final week of the MLB season.
Entering play on Tuesday, the Jays sit atop the three teams in the fight – one-and-a-half games ahead of the Houston Astros, and three ahead of the Seattle Mariners – thanks in large part to a recent surge with seven wins in their past nine games.
Buster Olney of ESPN joined First Up on TSN 1050 Tuesday morning to discuss the current state of the races as the postseason draws near.
"American League feels completely wide open for anyone to take, completely wide open," he said. "National League, you have the Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves, at the top of the mountain. The Milwaukee Brewers have the best pitching ... in the AL it feels totally wide open."
The NL is anchored by World Series favourites in the Braves – who own the best record in the majors -– and Los Angeles Dodgers. But, as Olney noted, there are question marks surrounding every team in the AL.
The Baltimore Orioles have held the top spot in the AL since July 20, but they have not looked like a juggernaut in September and have a record of 7-8 in their past 15 games. The team is also without closer Felix Bautista, who is on the injured list with a UCL problem.
"The Orioles' lineup is exceptional from top to bottom, but as you have seen recently, their bullpen is in tatters. It's running on fumes and getting through a postseason with a compromised bullpen is a long task," said Olney.
Meanwhile in Tampa Bay, All-Star first baseman Yandy Diaz exited their game against the Blue Jays on Sunday with a hamstring issue, adding another name an injured list that includes lineup stalwarts Brandon Lowe, Luke Raley, and Jose Siri.
The Rays are also missing pitchers Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Calvin Faucher and Jeffrey Springs, who have combined to start 36 games for the team this season. Tampa Bay is also dealing with the ongoing suspension of shortstop Wander Franco, who was placed on the commissioner's exempt list in August.
"The Rays are completely beaten up by injuries and Wander Franco and his situation not being available," adds Olney. "For me, the team to be scared of in the AL is still, without a doubt, the Houston Astros."
Houston are the defending World Series champions and are seeking to be the first back-to-back champs since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.
"All of a sudden the games matter and I think that's what you're going to see out of the Astros once the postseason begins," Onley said.
Houston is no lock to make the playoffs, as they're in the middle of a crucial series against the Mariners for control of the final wild-card spot.
Noting issues with every other team in the hunt, Olney is confident that the Blue Jays – who lead MLB with a team earned-run average of 3.74 – are to be feared in the AL in October.
"I do think the Blue Jays are a team that other teams should fear,” he said. “Not only because of the rotation, but because some of their prime guys seem to be 'bright light' players.”
"They always talk about the best postseason players being people who elevate their game; I completely disagree with that. I think what it is is that those guys who play well in the postseason keep their heart rate the same," said Olney.
He specifically pointed to outfielder George Springer, who energized the Jays with an inside-the-park home run in Sunday's 9-5 victory over Tampa Bay, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has competed in the home run derby the past two seasons.
"In big moments, in pressure moments, [Springer's] totally comfortable and my sense is that Vladdy's the same way ... he doesn't overthink it, he's not putting too much pressure on himself."
"They got those guys, in addition to the pitching staff, I think they're a dangerous team because that rotation they could absolutely get on a roll."
Toronto opens a series at home against the Yankees on Tuesday with six games left on the regular-season schedule. While there are a lot of moving parts, the Jays can clinch a Wild Card berth with three wins in their final six contests.