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State of the playoff races: early-September

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

For better or worse, at the trade deadline the front office bet heavily on making the postseason in 2021, such that falling short would now be not only disappointing but at some level represent a failure. Accordingly, down the stretch, it behooves us to periodically to a deep dive on where the Blue Jays pursuit of the postseason stands.

What the Jays did

Since the end of the their disappointing West Coast roadswing, the Jays are 7-8 over the last two-and-a-half-weeks. That’s a damaging outcome just in the absolute sense of being under .500, but as I noted looking ahead then, it was a soft stretch of schedule and 9-6 was really the minimum acceptable baseline.

Not only did they undershoot that by two games, but winning ten or eleven should not have been out of reach and would have gone a long way. It’s worth noting that after really stumbling the first week against Washing and Detroit (1-4 when 3-2 or better was needed), they did at least hold serve in splitting against the division leading White Sox and taking home series against the Tigers and Orioles (again, ideally they’d have taken another game of those ten).

AL East “Race”

The Jays had already done significant damage their any chance they had of making a charge at the AL east and securing a guaranteed playoff series, with their chances already estimated at just 2.5% by FanGraphs from the the August 9th peak of about 11%.

The bad news is, they’re dead. At 13.5 games down with a month to play and three teams ahead of them, FanGraphs accordingly has them at 0.0% for the division (last above that on August 30th and above 1% on August 21st).

The good news, or at least silver lining, is the Jays stumbling really didn’t matter. Tampa Bay has gone 12-2 since then, while the Yankees are 11-4. Given that they were going to do it, any chance at making a 2015-like mad dash for the division was purely illusory. In some sense, it would have been immensely frustrating to play .600+ baseball over the last month and not make up (or even lose) ground. The 2015 Blue Jays played .750 baseball over the last two months; even that might not have been enough (even with a bunch of head to head).

Wild Card Race(s)

On August 17th, the Jays sat in 7th place, 4 games behind Oakland for the second wild card. There’s been shuffling since then, but the situation remains largely the same. While the Rays and Yankees were white hot, the Jays were fortunate that both Oakland and Boston stumbled, going 5-9 and 7-8 respectively.

As a result, the situation at the margin is roughly the same. The Yankees leapfrogged both to ascend from just outside to the top wild card, but Boston now hold the second wildcard with Oakland on the outside with the Jays 4.5 games out. Technically, they’re one spot further down with Seattle having jumped them, but at the end of the day as long as they stayed neck-and-neck with Seattle it as never going to matter.

So at least they didn’t lose ground — but the real damage was losing a third of the remaining calendar, with just four and a half week and 30 games remaining to make up the distance. In the end, not losing ground just means eventually they run out of roadway. And that’s why their wild card odds have halved from a little over 20% two-and-a-half weeks ago to now just under 10%. And if two weeks from now they’re in the same position, it’ll be closer to 0% too. That means...

Upcoming

The next two weeks are a critical stretch, as the Jays play 14 games in 13 games with the majority coming against fellow contenders they have to close down. Given the overall quality of the opponents, in a vacuum, going 8-6 would be a reasonable baseline expectation.

But at this point, that simply won’t suffice, and that would be the case even the Jays hadn’t stumbled a couple weeks ago given the strength from Tampa and Yankees. They’re in a position where their baseline has to be winning each of the series: take two-of-three from Oakland, three-of-four from the Yankees and Orioles, and two-of-three from the Rays for a total of 10-4.

That’s a tall order, with the upcoming week the upcoming week against Oakland and New York being particularly important. Unless the Jays can run down the Yankees, it’s three teams for one spot, and this is the head to head opportunity. It’s a lot of ask for or expect, but a sweep of Oakland put move the Jays past them, and while not a complete deadknell would deal a real blow while breathing new life to the Jays’ chances.