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A Primer and Rooting Guide on The Jays’ Playoff Scenarios

T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

With 12 games left in the season against just two opponents, the remaining scenarios for the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes are pretty clear. This is the time of year when my (severely diseased) brain starts obsessively combing through schedule permutations to figure out what it would take to help put the Jays into the playoffs. Since we don’t have a game tonight, I thought I’d go over the various places the Jays could finish, and what it’d take to get them there.

The Long Shots:

Winning the East: This one’s wildly improbable, but not mathematically impossible. Toronto trails Baltimore by 10.5 games with 12 to play and has already lost the tiebreaker. Basically, Toronto needs to go 11-1 or better and Baltimore needs to lose out. The Rays also need to be factored in. Going 11-1 or 12-0 implies sweeping their six games against them, which would give Toronto the tiebreaker. Even still, they’d need Tampa to help out by improbably losing at least 3 of 5 to the Red Sox and Angels. Not happening, but until at least Wednesday we can dream.

Taking the first wildcard: Only marginally more plausible. Again, sweeping the Rays would bring them within 2.5 games, but then they’d still also need to dominate the Yankees and have the Rays lose several times to bad teams who’ve given up. Worth mentioning, but it won’t happen.

Jays are caught by the Yankees: New York stands 7 games back of the Jays, and 6.5 back of the last wildcard. To get themselves into contention, they’d all but have to sweep Toronto, pick up some more ground against in their series Arizona and Kansas City, and they’d need help from at least one of Texas, Houston, or Seattle also falling apart. Barring really exotic scenarios in which the Jays also dominate the Rays and both Texas and Houston implode completely, getting caught by New York would mean the Jays’ season was over.

Luckily, they control their own fate here, as they can ensure finishing ahead of the Yankees by going a combined 4-2 in their two series together (or if they can’t do that, by also picking up some wins off the Rays or having the Yankees lose to the D-Backs or Royals).

There are also even darker scenarios. Any of the Red Sox, Guardians, and Tigers can theoretically catch the Jays, but all of them involve Toronto going 3-9 or worse. If any are in play, it means the season is effectively over by this weekend and there will be no drama.

The Likely Scenarios:

The above situations are edge cases, and they mostly involve Toronto either launching into orbit or falling down a manhole. Since this team has steadfastly refused to run either hot or cold for more than a few games in a row all year, it seems more likely they end up somewhere in the middle.

There’s a four way logjam below the top of the AL wildcard race. Baltimore and Tampa Bay might flip flop with each other but are all but locked to the East title and the first wildcard. The Central exists, but decent people need not concern themselves with it. That leaves four teams (Toronto, Houston, Seattle, and Texas) scrapping for three places (two wildcards and the West). Seattle and Texas hold tiebreakers over the Jays, while the Jays hold one over Houston.

Those three West teams play a lot of games against each other over the next two weeks:

  • Houston plays Seattle three times, plus three each with Baltimore, Kansas City, and Arizona
  • Texas Plays Seattle seven times, and Boston and LA three each
  • Seattle plays Texas seven times, Houston three, and Oakland three

That helps out a little. Remember, doing any one of these three things down the stretch puts the Jays in: lose one fewer than Houston or Texas, or lose the same number as Seattle. The ten games featuring two of those teams mean there will be at least ten more losses on their collective records by the end of the regular season. Even if those losses get distributed in the worst possible way for Toronto, someone in the West has to wind up losing 71 or more. Going 9-3 or better would ensure that the Jays lose 70 or fewer games and lock them into a wildcard spot.

To bring that hurdle down, what we primarily want is for Seattle-Texas to be unbalanced. The toughest outcome for the Jays would be a 4-3 win for Seattle. The farther we get from a split, the better. Seattle sweeping would mean the bar for the third wildcard is no higher than 89 wins, Texas sweeping would put it no higher than 88. Our rooting interest in the Seattle-Houston series is a little more contingent. If Seattle beats Texas this weekend, we probably want them to also beat Houston next week to push the Astros back into the wildcard pack where the Jays can catch them. If Texas wins, we definitely want the Astros the finish the Mariners off.

More unbalanced results in the West also make the third wildcard more likely than the second, since either Seattle or Texas losing a lot of games means the other wins a lot and unless the Jays finish very strong probably passes them. Given how tough it’s going to be just to make it, I don’t want to get greedy by picking out opponents. The Blue Jays should count themselves lucky if they get any spot. That said, if I did have the choice I’d rather go to Minneapolis than The Phantom Zone Tampa, so the third wildcard is certainly no worse than the second, and probably actually preferable.

The Bottom Line

The Jays can make this all a lot easier for themselves if they just win. The more they do themselves, the less help they need. That said, when you’re tracking other games over the next couple of weeks, remember: 1) anyone over the Astros, Mariners or Rangers, and 2) when they play each other, root for sweeps rather than any specific team.