The Blue Jays’ 9-4 loss to the Yankees last night didn’t just kick off a three-game series between the two clubs, it marked the start of the Jays’ most important stretch of the 2013 season.
Major league teams play each of their divisional opponents 19 times this season for a total of 76 games. For the Blue Jays, 33 of those contests—nearly half of their season total—will already be in the books before they hit full-time interleague play at the end of May.
Over the next 37 days, the Blue Jays will play nine more games against the Yankees, seven each against the Orioles and Rays, and six against the Red Sox. Series-wise, it divides up to one at home and two on the road against New York, with one each at home and on the road against Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay.
The best way to for a team to control its own destiny and put itself in a better position to make the postseason, obviously, is to dominate against divisional opponents. The only problem, though, is that the Blue Jays haven’t had much success in that department in recent memory, especially over the last four years.
Sure, the Jays were able to string together a lengthy streak of consecutive wins against the Orioles. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Blue Jays have gone 43-29 against the O’s with a run differential of +42--though it was an Orioles club that finished last in the AL East three out of four times.
The results against the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t as rosy. Over the same span, the Blue Jays have gone 30-42 against New York with a run differential of -24, and 32-40 with a run differential of -72 against Boston. The results against the Rays are much, much worse, as the Jays have gone 22-50 against Tampa Bay with a run differential of -142 since 2009.
Starting with the 2009 season could fall into the arbitrary endpoint argument, but the results aren’t drastically better when going further back in Blue Jays history. Though they have came close a few times, the Blue Jays haven’t finished .500 or better against all four divisional opponents in the same season in 15 years. 15. The last time Toronto accomplished the feat was in 1998, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays played their first season and when teams only played divisional opponents a maximum of 12 times. In other words, since Major League Baseball increased divisional play in 2001, the Jays have never had a winning record against each of their foes in the same season.
Doing just that this season wouldn’t only be nice, it’s essential.