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Steve Phillips

TSN Baseball Insider

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The red-hot Toronto Blue Jays are rolling, playing their best baseball of the season with just over two weeks remaining on the schedule. 

Hyun-Jin Ryu was their ace to start the season and he is now the Jays’ No. 4 starter. Robbie Ray has emerged as an ace and Alek Manoah will get votes in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting. The acquisition of Jose Berrios has proven to be a huge upgrade to the pitching rotation. Even No. 5 starter Steven Matz is 5-3 with a 2.76 ERA since the All-Star Break. 

The Jays’ offence is as hot as any team this season. They are scoring runs in bundles, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez and Bo Bichette. The Jays are playing hungry baseball. They are in attack mode.  They don’t care who they’re playing on any given day – they just want to crush their opponents.

The Jays don’t look like they are going to slow down anytime soon. 

The marathon of the 162-game baseball season is down to a final sprint to the finish. The Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are neck-and-neck battling for the two American League wild-card spots.

On Aug. 28, the Jays were 8.5 games behind the Yankees and 6.5 games behind the Red Sox. Since then, they’ve gone 15-3, while the Yankees have gone 6-12 and the Red Sox managed an 8-9 record. These are three teams with three different levels of momentum with the postseason approaching. 

The remaining schedule may have an impact on the race. The Yankees (82-65) have the toughest remaining schedule as they play Cleveland and Texas while finishing the season with series against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox (83-65) have the easiest schedule of the three as they have just one series against a team with a record over .500 (Yankees).

The Jays (82-64) have a combined 10 games remaining against the last-place Baltimore Orioles (three) and Minnesota Twins (seven) but also play both the contending Yankees and first-place Rays three games each. 

Of the three teams, the Jays are clearly playing the best baseball. They are clicking on all cylinders.

The Yankees have starting pitching issues with Jameson Taillon on the injured list and rookie Luis Gil (7.71 ERA) struggling in his last two starts. Plus, the Yankees bullpen has really struggled lately.

The Red Sox are recovering as a team after a COVID-19 outbreak. They have had 12 different players on the injured list for a period of time this season, including ace lefty Chris Sale, who they are hoping will be back this weekend. Boston has held its own with pitching and offence, but their defence has really hurt them during the last couple of weeks. 

The Jays are best situated to earn one of the two wild-card spots. They have the best offence and starting rotation of the three teams. The Yankees are a better team than the Red Sox, but the Sox schedule might help them in the end. I think the Yankees will edge out the Red Sox, however, and the Jays will host the Yankees in the AL wild-card game at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 5. The winner will advance to the ALDS to play the Rays in a best-of-five series.

Up-and-down Ryu looks tired

Hyun Jin Ryu has not pitched well in both August (6.21 ERA) and September (7.56 ERA). Within the two months, he has had a few clunkers, not even making it through four innings, but he has also had a few gems.

I believe his struggles are due to fatigue. Ryu is on pace to throw more than 175 innings this year, which will be the third-highest total of his career. If he makes three more starts in the regular season, it will be the highest number of starts he has ever made (31 GS). He has a lot of wear and tear on his arm and multiple arm surgeries as well. 

His biggest challenge now is recovery between starts. The deeper that older pitchers get in the season, the harder it is to recover between starts. Some days, they feel good and some days they do not. When pitchers’ arms feel fatigued, it isn’t often reflected in their velocity. It is seen in their lack of command.

The Jays may not have the luxury of resting Ryu in the final two weeks before the postseason, but if they can buy him extra days, he could likely use them. 

Spitting Seeds

-If the Yankees don’t make the playoffs, their game on Thursday night against the Orioles will come back to haunt them. New York had a 2-1 lead with two outs in the ninth inning and two strikes on the batter with a runner on third base. A one-out single gave Baltimore a chance and a wild pitch advanced the runner to second, putting him in scoring position. The runner advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and then scored on another wild pitch from reliever Clay Holmes. That sent the game to extra innings which the Orioles won in 10 innings. The Yankees were 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position. They just couldn’t come up with a big hit to put the Orioles away. The O’s hung around and found a way to win. With the loss, the Yankees fall to fourth place in the AL East and are now a half-game behind the Jays and Red Sox in the AL wild-card standings. 

-New York Mets owner Steve Cohen just can’t help himself. He is a big personality, and he loves Twitter. He recently sent out a tweet offering some lucky fan a chance to watch a Mets game from his suite if they could guess who the source was in a story in the New York Post. The article quoted an industry source who said the value of the Mets has “gone backwards significantly” under Cohen’s ownership. The unnamed former executive also added, “Cohen is out there tweeting about the organization and about stuff that he shouldn’t be tweeting about like he’s a fan. “Why would somebody want to sign up for that? I think it’s a huge issue.” 

-The Mets will be looking for a new president of baseball operations and a general manager in the off-season. There has been speculation that the Mets have targeted former Red Sox and Cubs executive Theo Epstein for the head baseball role. Epstein has shown no inclination to run a team again but his availability intrigues Mets fans and their owner. The soap opera continues in Queens, N.Y. 

-Shohei Ohtani has had a remarkable season with the Los Angeles Angels but has struggled at the plate in both August (.202/.345/.404) and September (.190/.306/333). His production has tailed off. And now he may be done as a pitcher for the season as well after complaining of soreness in his arm while playing catch on Thursday. He is 9-2 with a 3.36 ERA but he may not toe the rubber again this season. His premium pitching performance coupled with his .957 OPS with 44 home runs and 94 RBI makes him a leading candidate for the AL MVP. But Ohtani’s offensive struggles and now arm issues could open the door for voters to take another look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as the MVP. Guerrero is leading the league in hitting (.317) and is tied for first in home runs (45) with Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez. He trails Perez in RBI by nine. If the Jays make the playoffs, there may be some writers that interpret the word “value” in a way to help Guerrero.