We’ve entered the stretch run of the MLB season and the two American League Wild Card spots are still very much up for grabs. While the Yankees and Red Sox appear to be in the driver’s seat, there are a number of challengers in contention. The Athletics are just two games back of Boston for the second slot, while the surprising Mariners are four games out. Then there’s the Blue Jays; a team that has disappointed this season, but is still within striking distance at five games back. Sitting at 70-62, they’ll need to finish at least 20-10 over their final 30 games to give themselves a chance, but a combination of factors suggest that could be possible.
Red Hot Starting Pitching
Coming into the season, the Blue Jays were expected to be held back by their starting pitching. It was a foregone conclusion that they’d be elite offensively, but the rotation was filled with question marks behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. While Ryu hasn’t quite been at his peak form (3.92 ERA), it’s Robbie Ray that has stepped up to become the team’s ace (2.71 ERA). Ray is fifth in fWAR (3.4) among American League starting pitchers this season, something few could’ve predicted. Additionally, rookie Alek Manoah has had a strong debut season (3.15 ERA). Altogether, the Blue Jays rank seventh in starter’s ERA (3.74) and 11th in FIP (4.00) for the season.
Specifically, the staff has been elite since the July 30th trade deadline. Since that date, the Blue Jays are second in rotation ERA (3.15), and first in both FIP (3.06) and fWAR (4.8). Toronto acquired Jose Berrios from the Twins, and he has been a stabilizing, if unspectacular, presence thus far (3.73 ERA in six starts). That gives the Jays four quality starting pitchers, a luxury most teams don’t have. Instead, the problem has been the bullpen, which is 20th in fWAR (0.6) since the deadline. That’s a concern Toronto needs to clean up in a hurry.
The Blue Jays offense has been as advertised this season, ranking second in both wRC+ (110) and HR (197), and first in team OPS (.776). Vlad Guerrero Jr. has delivered an MVP-caliber season (.312/.405/.600 triple-slash line with 39 HR and a 168 wRC+). Meanwhile, Marcus Semien (130 wRC+, 30 HR) has been one of the league’s best offseason acquisitions, while George Springer (152 wRC+) has been outstanding when healthy. However, several injuries have limited him to just 52 games this season.
While the offense has been great overall, the team has been in a moderate slump lately. Since the start of August, Toronto is 12th in wRC+ (102), and 16th in OPS (.745). From August 17th through August 30th, they were just 21st in wRC+ (90) while George Springer nursed a left knee sprain. Star shortstop Bo Bichette has also struggled since the All Star break (95 wRC+). All in all, the Jays haven’t had a stretch where their lineup and pitching staff have both been at their best at the same time. If that can come together in the season’s final month, this will be a very dangerous team.
Toronto’s remaining schedule is a combination of crucial head-to-head matchups with the teams they’re chasing, and winnable games against bottom-feeders. Overall, it’s the 12th easiest remaining schedule in baseball. Notably, the Blue Jays have 14 combined games against the last-place Orioles (41-91) and Twins (58-75). Needless to say, the Jays need to dominate those games. 11-3 or better is both achievable and likely necessary.
|Opponent||Games Remaining||Games ahead of Blue Jays in Standings|
|Rays (84-50)||6 (3 at home, 3 on the road)||13.0|
|Yankees (77-56)||7 (3 at home, 4 on the road)||6.5|
|Athletics (74-60)||3 (all at home)||3.0|
|Twins (58-75)||7 (3 at home, 4 on the road)||N/A|
|Orioles (41-91)||7 (3 at home, 4 on the road)||N/A|
The remaining 16 contests on Toronto’s ledger are against the Rays (six meetings), Yankees (seven) and Athletics (three). The Blue Jays are looking up in the standings at all three of those teams, meaning they’re both challenging games and opportunities to gain ground. If they can tread water against Tampa, the Blue Jays will have an opportunity to pounce against the Yankees and Athletics. Going 7-3 in their 10 games against New York and Oakland won’t be easy, but it’s their best chance to get back into contention. The pivotal Blue Jays vs. Athletics series starts tonight, meaning we’ll know much more about Toronto’s playoff hopes following the weekend.