The Blue Jays enter play today in Atlanta with a three game lead in the AL East over the New York Yankees, who refuse to fall too far out of the race. Looking ahead to the remaining games on their schedule, it’s time to get greedy with our Blue Jays fandom and not just hope for a pennant, but for Toronto to lock it up before the final weekend of the season.
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After this series against the Braves, Toronto will return home to the Rogers Centre for three series against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays. It’s imperative to at least maintain this three-game lead through that series, because a road series at Baltimore beginning on September 28th has “trap” written all over it. Despite being out of the race, beloved scowler and all-around buzzkill Buck Showalter would love nothing more than to spoil the party.
Toronto wraps up the season at Tropicana Field with three games against the Rays, finishing on October 4th. With the first game of the American League Divisional Series set to be played on October 8th, avoiding the playoff race going down to the final day will give the Blue Jays a significant boost entering their first postseason appearance since before Forrest Gump hit theatres.
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Given the built-in off days that come with the ALDS, it’s appearing likely that Toronto will only need their four hottest starters in the playoff rotation. How Marco Estrada, Mark Buehrle and Marcus Stroman fare out over the final weeks will determine that, but if the Jays are able to lock up the AL East by October 2nd or 3rd, manager John Gibbons gains the ability to set up the rotation how he wants, not how the schedule determines.
Doing this would allow Gibbons to throw out a placeholder for the final game of the season, one who is likely to remain off the playoff roster such as Drew Hutchison, Jeff Francis or Chad Jenkins. Not overly appealing, but in a meaningless game, there’s no value in adding strain to an arm you’ll soon need.
This would then allow Gibbons to set up David Price in game one of the series, which is critical as it lines him up for a potential fifth game if that rolls back around. In a dream world where the Jays can sweep the ALDS in three straight, it also sets up Price to lead off the ALCS beginning on October 16th, though a likelier scenario would see him ready for the second game on the following day.
Along with the composition of the 25-man playoff roster, these are the unfamiliar conversations we’re left to have over the next three weeks. While a playoff berth of any form should be satisfactory, locking one up early positions the Blue Jays well to maximize their opportunity. Their rare, rare opportunity.