This season marks the beginning of what should be a competitive era of Blue Jays baseball, but like all good stories, this one began in the middle. Toronto continued their second half surge today with their 83rd win. Over the past year, the Jays have supplemented young cornerstones Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette with an impressive collection of veterans including George Springer, Marcus Semien, Jose Berrios, and two years ago, Hyun Jin Ryu.
Buying low and hitting on reclamation projects like Robbie Ray, Steven Matz – and even Semien – further fueled their organizational turnaround. Give the development team credit for turning less-heralded pieces like Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Jordan Romano into significant supplemental assets. Young pitching has started to arrive as well, with Alek Manoah impressing in his first 17 starts and Nate Pearson hitting triple-digits in limited usage out of the bullpen.
Charlie Montoyo’s club has pushed all year, but only recently have they angled their way into the AL’s playoff quintet. In fact, today’s win puts them back into playoff position with 14 games to go. Per Fangraphs’ playoff odds, the Jays are well-positioned with a 62.6 percent chance of nabbing one of the two wild card spots.
The Yankees don’t have the momentum of their northern neighbors, but this team is better than the negative press would have you believe. It’s a tough road to hoe, however, with just 13 games remaining and their final nine against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays. Put positively: the Yankees control their own fate. A loss today dropped them a half game behind the Jays, but patience is key.
Good thing, because they Yankees aren’t just the tallest team in the AL, they’ve also been the most patient with a 10.4 percent walk rate. Pairing a walk-heavy approach with the power bats of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Luke Voit, Joey Gallo and Gary Sanchez ought to be a recipe for success. They’ve been six percent better than average as a group since the trade deadline, but their offense ranks just around the middle of the pack on the year: they rank 9th in the AL in runs, 8th by ISO, 6th by wOBA and 7th by wRC+.
The pitching staff has carried the day, however, ranking 2nd in the AL by fWAR, strikeout rate, ERA, and SIERA, and 3rd by FIP. Gerrit Cole has lived up to his billing as one of the game’s few true frontline starters. But he’s not alone, as Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jordan Montgomery, Luis Gil, and Domingo German have all provided valuable innings.
Regardless, they will enter play tomorrow 1.5 games behind the Red Sox for the top wild card spot. Boston nabbed their 85th win of the season today, pushing their playoff odds to a robust 85.8 percent. They trail the Rays by 7.5 games, so Tampa’s hold on the division is ironclad, but Boston seems a safe bet to find themselves in the wild card game.
That said, a 1.5 game lead with 12 to go isn’t quite ready to take to the bank. Alex Cora’s team does have the benefit of a soft schedule the rest of the way. Not only do they have the least amount of games remaining among the contenders, but they will happily circle the Beltway for four against the Orioles and three against the Nationals. They have two with the Mets and three with the Yankees, but the BoSox could even mitigate a tough series against the Yanks by taking care of business against inferior teams in those other nine games.
The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Yankees pose the most compelling cases among the wild card hopefuls because of their divisional rivalries and star power – but they aren’t alone. There are a pair of contenders out west who are still hanging around this race.
The Athletics were largely expected to take a step back this season after losing Semien, Liam Hendriks, Tommy La Stella, Robbie Grossman, and Joakim Soria to free agency. But Bob Melvin has turned in another solid season from the bench, steering this club to 80 wins (and counting) and a .544 win percentage. As of this writing, Oakland sits 2.5 games out of a playoff spot with a lead early in their game against the Angels. Chris Bassitt’s return may provide an emotional boost, but with their final four series switchbacking against the Astros and Mariners, they have an uphill climb ahead.
Speaking of the Astros, they have a seven game lead over Oakland for the AL West and a magic number of nine. With six head-to-head match-ups remaining, the A’s could theoretically overtake Houston to win the division, but that’s not all that likely. Houston has a 99.4 percent chance to win the division right now, so that’s probably where they’ll be after game 162.
The Mariners round out our group of potential playoff teams from the American League. They have six more games against a beatable Angels team, but Scott Servais’ crew remains a long shot contender. They are 3.5 games behind Toronto with three teams to leapfrog and a 1.3 percent chance to play beyond the regular season, per Fangraphs.
The Mariners’ aren’t toast yet, but with seven head-to-head match-ups with the A’s still to come, the two western contenders are likeliest to eliminate one another from wild card contention. These final games count the same as any other, however, and something like a 12-2 finish from either the Mariners or A’s wouldn’t be unheard of. All we can say for sure is that it won’t happen for both teams.
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk ran through the NL Wild Card contenders just a few days ago, and more than 50 percent of readers went chalk in voting the Cardinals to keep their hold on the NL’s last playoff spot. Now’s your chance to make the call for the AL contenders. Will the Red Sox and Blue Jays hold on? Can the Yankees, A’s, or Mariners yoink a ticket to postseason play? What say you?
(Link to poll for app users)
(Link to poll for app users)