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State of the playoff race: late-September

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One week to go

Blue Jays banner, near Rogers Centre Center: Banner reads “... Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

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.

Previous instalments: mid-August | early-September | mid-September

What the Jays did

Since the last off-day, the Jays are 5-5, having dropped a series on the road in Tampa sandwiched around taking a series from Minnesota at home and splitting two on the road. Each of those outcomes in a vacuum is a reasonable outcome in terms of holding serve, though ideally the Jays would have found a way to pull out one more win in one of those series and go 6-4. That was the baseline I expected would have keep them in more-likely-than-not position, but also as expected at least 5-5 hasn’t proven catastrophic.

AL East Race

The Jays were formally eliminated Friday with Tampa’s win (independently, their loss would have done it too had the Rays lost), with Tampa clinching the division on Saturday. Any hope of catching the Rays required them to collapse down the stretch; instead they’ve gone 6-3 the last week and a half to put it away handily.

Wild Card Race(s)

With one week and six games left, both wild card spots are very much in play, with five teams alive and remarkably each separated by one successive game/win. After their weekend sweep of the Red Sox, the Yankees are in the catbird’s seat at 89-67, with Boston behind them at 88 wins. The Jays are the first on the outside one game behind at 87 wins, with Seattle somehow still on their tails at 86.

For their part, Oakland is just one game behind them, but at three back even if they won out they’d still be underdogs and need significant help. More significantly, with a three game series in Seattle starting tonight, they are positioned to spoil the Mariners chances and exact revenge. Bottom line, in three days one of those two is almost certainly done, and maybe both (if Oakland took two-of-three).

Fun fact: the Jays’ +172 run differential exceeds the sum of all four of those other teams (+131). Excluding Seattle’s -61 differential would leave the Jays only 20 runs behind the +192 total of the Yankees (+74), Oakland (+74) and Boston (+42).

While they are on the outside looking in and are the underdogs (if not longshots), there is one significant positive for the Blue Jays is that they do narrowly control their own destiny. If they win out, they are assured of securing one of the two wild card spots since that would mean sweeping and passing the Yankees in their upcoming three game set. That’s very unlikely of course, but the path is there. In that case, unless Boston won at least five, the Jays would even host the wild card game.

Upcoming

The Jays remaining schedule consists of hosting the Yankees and then the Orioles. While the Yankees are in the strongest current position, they have theoretically the toughest remaining schedule, travelling to Toronto and then hosting Tampa. The issue being that Tampa has little to play for beyond finetuning and setting up their rotation for the playoffs.

For their part, the Red Sox have easily the softest schedule with the two Potomac basement dwellers in Baltimore and Washington. Granted, both are on the road, but as an expectation, that’s probably worth the game by which they trail the Yankees. Finally, if Seattle takes care of Oakland, they do finish with the Angels, which is quite winnable.

Scenario analysis

As discussed above, if the Jays win out they’re guaranteed to make it, and Boston would need to win at least five to host the wild card game (they hold the season series tiebreaker 10-9).

If the Jays go 5-1, their chances though not assured are excellent. Presumably, that would be sweeping the Orioles and two-of-three from the Yankees, meaning the Yankees would have to sweep Tampa to finish ahead of the Jays. Even if that happened, the Jays would claim a share of the last spot unless Boston wins five. That is, conditional on winning five of the last six, to be completely on the outside next Sunday, the Yankees and Red Sox combined can only lose three games next week.

4-2 is where it gets dicier. If they take two-of-three from the Yankees, they’d still be a game behind them and they’d just need two-of-three from Tampa to run the Jays out. A Jays sweep makes it marginally better, since even going 1-2 versus Baltimore would then mean the Yankees need a sweep to repass (two-of-three to draw even). Boston likewise can stay ahead just by winning both of their two series, and 3-3 would set up a tiebreaker. There’s also some possibility or being passed from behind at that point (or at least being caught).

Finally, at 3-3 there are probably still theoretical pathways, but extremely marginal. Even if the teams ahead all stumbled, there’d be the likelihood of being caught or surpassed from behind.