The Toronto Blue Jays were embarrassed by the Oakland Athletics this weekend at the Rogers Centre—there is no point in sugar-coating it. However, they have an excellent opportunity to prove that they belong in the playoff conversation over the next nine games.
The Blue Jays are about to enter a period of three, three-game series with no days of rest—against some of the best teams in the MLB. In order of schedule, the Blue Jays will oppose the 26-21 Angels, the surprising 27-18 Philadelphia Phillies, and the division rival 32-15 Red Sox (all records based on the date this article was written, May 21).
Currently, the Blue Jays find themselves 5.5 games out of the second wildcard spot, with three teams ahead of them. Granted, the Blue Jays have played just 47 games and there is plenty of baseball to play. However, the second wild-card team, Seattle, currently has a winning percentage of .587, on pace for a 95-67 season.
In the first year of the second wild card, 2012, the Orioles and Rangers tied for both wildcard positions with identical 93-69 records. No other team, first or second wildcard, has ever surpassed the 92-win mark, and the 2017 Yankees are the first wildcard to pass the 90-game win mark since 2013. Therefore, a 95-win second wild-card is incredibly far-fetched and improbable. However, with more and more teams tanking in order to pick higher in the draft, this could be the year that a second wildcard surpasses the 94-win mark.
I mention this because I believe that if the Blue Jays want to make the postseason, they will have to make their move early. The standard for wildcard teams has been raised, and they don’t have an easy road ahead with both the Red Sox and Yankees on pace for 110-plus-win seasons.
In terms of remaining games, the Blue Jays would need to maintain about a 103-win pace from now on to match a 95-67 season. Or, to reach a more realistic 90-72 record (where I see the second wildcard falling to), they would need to maintain a 96-win pace. Encouragingly, before entering May, the Blue Jays maintained a 93-win pace.
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Thus, herein lies the importance of the next nine days. The Blue Jays have a chance to right the ship emphatically or risk losing control. With series victories in all three match-ups, the Blue Jays would emerge back at .500 with many key teammates returning from the DL. Aside from the boost in the standings, this would be a key moral victory for a team that just dropped four at home to a team 2.5 games back of a playoff spot.
Winning all three series against high powered offences may be a lofty goal. However, winning 5 out of the nine games would also be a good moral victory, and would leave the bluebirds just two-games back of .500, with a record of 27-29.
Each team the Blue Jays draw in the next nine games is top-15 in the majors in both runs scored and team OPS. Therefore, the pitching staff will need to step up at this important time
for the Jays. Encouragingly, the Blue Jays begin a new turn around the rotation Tuesday night. J.A. Happ must start some momentum that the Blue Jays can carry through the 9-game stretch. As well, the fresh rotation limits the 5th spot in the rotation to just one start.
The Angels, Phillies, and Red Sox all have top rotations in the Majors this year, with the Phillies and the Red Sox the strongest of the three. It goes without saying that the Jays bats will need to awaken from their slumber to win these series, it’s not just on the arms of the starters.
However, it is encouraging that the bats will welcome the addition of a new name on the lineup card for Tuesday’s game. Don’t look now, but the spark of the 2017 Blue Jays strong May, Devon Travis, is currently riding an 8-game hit streak in Buffalo. While his overall numbers are still poor, holding a .210/.234/.274 line, any kind of heat would be welcome in this lineup.
The Blue Jays should rest up Monday because an important stretch of schedule awaits them. If the Jays perform well through this stretch, they could set themselves up well for a push in June.