Are the Blue Jays a Dark Horse To Win the AL East?

The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Can they figure out a way to win the AL East?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - OCTOBER 08: Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates after hitting a double against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning in game two of the American League Wild Card Series at Rogers Centre on October 08, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Following a busy 2022-23 offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays were one of the top teams on paper, with a core group consisting of a solid mix of farm-grown talent and free-agent/trade acquisitions.

Fast forward to today, and the Blue Jays sit third in the AL East, seven games back of the Baltimore Orioles and five games behind the Tampa Bay Rays. Outside the division, the Jays currently occupy the third spot in the AL Wild Card standings and sit just half a game behind the Houston Astros.

With 48 games left in the season, do the Blue Jays still have a shot at taking home the AL East crown?

The Rest of the Blue Jays’ Schedule

Looking ahead, the schedule has some favorable advantages but will end through a division gauntlet, as the last three weeks of the season will see them face the Boston Red Sox (x3), the New York Yankees (x6), and the Tampa Bay Rays (x6). They will also kick things off with four games against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.

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So far this year, the Blue Jays have struggled against AL East teams, sporting an 11-23 record, putting themselves in a tough spot if it comes down to a tiebreaker scenario for one of the Wild Card spots.

While the end of the season will be tricky for the Jays, there are a few teams the club will face over the next two months that are struggling this season, such as the Colorado Rockies, the Washington Nationals, the Oakland Athletics, and the Kansas City Royals.

Winning these games will go a long way for the Blue Jays to help pad their record toward securing a postseason spot, especially if they can’t shake off the AL East rust at the end of the year.

Looking at the Jays’ Roster

Statistically, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff has been stellar as of late, posting a collective 3.75 ERA heading into Wednesday night, which is ranked No. 1 across MLB. Their 1,084 strikeouts currently rank fourth in the big leagues, as does their 9.50 K/9.

Four of their starters have ERAs below the 4.00 mark. Kevin Gausman is currently in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award, while the likes of José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi have had resurgent seasons after struggling last season. Chris Bassit has been solid, as expected.

In the bullpen, the Blue Jays currently have one of the deepest groups in the American League. Tim Mayza currently owns a 1.13 ERA through 52 outings, while the club also employs Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson, and Trevor Richards – although two of those three (Romano and Richards) are currently on the IL. In addition, veteran Chad Green is slated to return in the near future after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.

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Outside of those five, Jay Jackson has been a pleasant surprise with his one earned run allowed through 15 outings, while newcomers Génesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks give the club some added velocity. Waiting in the depths as well are Nate Pearson, Zach Pop, and Bowden Francis, rounding out a deep group of relief arms.

While the pitching staff has been world-class, the Blue Jays’ bats have been wildly inconsistent this season, one of the reasons why the club isn’t higher in the standings. Through 114 games, the Jays have scored three or fewer runs in 46 contests (40.3%).

However, the Jays currently rank fifth in average (.261) and OBP (.331), ninth in OPS (.750), and 15th in home runs (134). The club is hitting fewer long bombs and using more singles and doubles (they rank second with 1,031 total hits) to generate run support.

Shortstop Bo Bichette currently leads the AL in hits (144) and average (.321), while he, Brandon Belt, and Matt Chapman all own an OPS over .800.

On the other hand, some bats have been cold this season, including Daulton Varsho, Santiago Espinal, and Cavan Biggio, although Biggio has had his clutch moments. The club also recently called up utility player Davis Schneider, who went 9-for-13 through his first three games while adding two home runs – he’s the first rookie in MLB history with nine hits and two homers in his first three contests.

The biggest issue for the Blue Jays bats this season is scoring with runners on base, as the club has struggled to a .684 OPS (28th in MLB) with a .241/.319/.365 slash line with runners in scoring position. In order to make a postseason run, the club will have to find more ways to score when runners are on base.

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The Blue Jays and the AL East

The odds are not currently in the Blue Jays’ favor to take the AL East, given how well the Orioles and Rays are doing, but anything could happen over the next two months, especially since Baltimore employs numerous players that will be hitting career highs in playing time within the next two months.

It will really come down to whether the Jays can break their AL East demons that have plagued them for most of the year. They’ll need to hope for a little bit of luck for opponents facing the Orioles and Rays down the stretch, while fending off the Yankees and the Red Sox in the process.