Hypotheticals for A Tough 14-Game Stretch

Tom Szczerbowski

The Jays will embark on the toughest Strength of Schedule you could imagine. Where could they be on Independence Day?

The Toronto Blue Jays have won eight straight games, improving their playoff odds from basically zero to about 1-in-20. The streak has pushed them to 35-36, just a game below .500 and "just" 7.5 back of the division-leading Boston Red Sox at the time of this writing.

But now comes the tough part – sustaining the streak over a tough stretch of schedule, one that sees the Jays host the Baltimore Orioles for three, travel to Tampa Bay to play three with the Rays, take on the Red Sox in Boston for a four-set, and return home to host the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers for four. That’s 14 games, all against top-six offenses in terms of wOBA, 10 of them against division opponents.

Obviously, a winning record would be a huge positive for the Jays, both for momentum and in terms of moving up in the standings.

But saying "play well" doesn’t really help. Exactly where would the Jays be if they struggle, split, or dominate this stretch of schedule? That’s what I set out to find out.

I took the American League East standings as they were the morning of June 20, and then projected each AL East team’s record between now and July 4, the last game of this stretch for the Jays. By "project" here, I mean something must simpler than project – I’m giving them their expected wins based on their Win% and their opponents Win%. It’s not a sound projection method, but in a two-week time frame a difference in approach would probably make a one win difference at most.

AL East on June 20
Team W L GB
Red Sox 44 30 --
Orioles 42 31 1.5
Yankees 39 32 3.5
Rays 37 35 6
Blue Jays 35 36 7.5

So when we bring up each team’s schedule for this stretch, project their won-loss record and take out the games against the Jays, we get a picture of what the standings will look like without the impact of Jays games (rounded to the nearest game).

AL East, June 20-July 4
Team Opp1 Opp2 Opp3 Opp4 Exp W Exp L Jays W L
Red Sox 4 @Det 2 vCol 4 vTor 3 vSD 5.1 3.9 4 49 34
Orioles 3 @Tor 4 vCle 3 vNYY 4 @CWS 6.5 4.5 3 49 35
Yankees 4 vTB 3 vTex 3 @Bal 4 @Min 7.3 6.7 0 46 39
Rays 4 @NYY 3 vTor 3 vDet 4 @Hou 5.9 5.1 3 43 40
Blue Jays 3 vBal 3 @TB 4 @Bos 4 vDet XX XX 14 35 36

So we see what you probably figured – if we’re using projections, almost nothing will change in less than a tenth of a season. In reality, some of these teams might get hot or cold, but it’s tough to predict that, so we assume the basic scenario.

But now we can play with what happens if the Jays go bonkers or, you know, revert to April.

AL East on July 4
Team xW xL WvJays LvJays W L GB
Red Sox 49 34 0 4 49 38 1
Orioles 49 35 0 3 49 38 1
Yankees 46 39 0 0 46 39 3
Rays 43 40 0 3 43 43 6.5
Blue Jays 35 36 14 0 49 36 --

AL East on July 4
Team xW xL WvJays LvJays W L GB
Red Sox 49 34 4 0 53 34 --
Orioles 49 35 3 0 52 35 1
Yankees 46 39 0 0 46 39 6
Rays 43 40 3 0 46 40 6.5
Blue Jays 35 36 0 14 35 50 17

Those are your extreme scenarios, and neither is bloody likely. Instead, we’ll show three other scenarios (and the win-loss against the teams is basically assumed to be spread evenly, though I made a judgment call when moving a single win around).

AL East on July 4
Team xW xL WvJays LvJays W L GB
Red Sox 49 34 1 3 50 37 --
Orioles 49 35 1 2 50 37 --
Yankees 46 39 0 0 46 39 3
Rays 43 40 1 2 44 42 5.5
Blue Jays 35 36 10 4 45 40 4

AL East on July 4

Team xW xL WvJays LvJays W L GB
Red Sox 49 34 2 2 51 36 --
Orioles 49 35 1 2 50 37 1
Yankees 46 39 0 0 46 39 4
Rays 43 40 2 1 45 41 5.5
Blue Jays 35 36 7 7 42 43 8

AL East on July 4
Team xW xL WvJays LvJays W L GB
Red Sox 49 34 3 1 52 35 --
Orioles 49 35 2 1 51 36 1
Yankees 46 39 0 0 46 39 5
Rays 43 40 2 1 45 41 6.5
Blue Jays 35 36 4 10 39 46 12

So it’s really not hard to see how much ground the Jays could gain or lose in this stretch. That’s not to say it’s crucial, since there would still be a lot of season left, but it would have to be considered a missed opportunity if they don’t do better than at least .500 over the 14-game trip.

If that sounds low, consider just how good these four teams are – the weighted average winning percentage for those 14 games is .563, so they’re essentially playing 14 straight games against teams as good as the Tigers, or perhaps better given the added difficulty those AL East teams face.

And while we’re talking strength of schedule, just how good is the AL East? Consider this: the division has a .580 winning percentage against other divisions. That’s nuts. Last year, when the division was considered strong but brought down by the Jays and Red Sox, the AL East had a .533 win rate against other divisions. This division is nuts.

It sucks, and that’s why this 14-game stretch is probably considered more important than is fair for a two-week stretch in June. There are 10 games against division opponents, and since every opponent stands between the Jays and one of the three playoff spots up for grabs, they essentially "count double."

No, all is not lost if they fail to capitalize, but it’d be a missed opportunity to say the least.

Prediction: Jays go 8-6, because I’m a homer.

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