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Blue Jays: A historic leap needed in win column to truly compete

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action during the spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at TD Ballpark on February 27, 2020 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action during the spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at TD Ballpark on February 27, 2020 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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If the Blue Jays were to win enough games to qualify for the postseason in 2020, it would take one of the biggest win total leaps in MLB history.

Yesterday I wrote with my glass half full, talking about how Nate Pearson could make the difference between the Blue Jays playing meaningful baseball down the stretch this season, or being closer to a .500 team. I’ll admit that I was looking through my rose-coloured glasses while writing that one, but I stand by the sentiment.

Today, however, I’d like to talk about the long odds against the Blue Jays being a postseason team, especially in the context of MLB history. Spoiler alert: The deck is really stacked against them.

I’ll keep this fairly simple, and start with last year’s American League playoff picture, where the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays were the two Wild Cards teams, with the latter getting the last spot. It was a stiff year of competition in the AL, as the Rays had to win 96 games to secure the second Wild Card spot, beating out the Cleveland Indians, who finished with 93 wins.

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As most of you likely remember, the Blue Jays were a long way back from those win totals last season, finishing with a record of 67-95, some 29 games back of the Rays. With that in mind, has any team ever made a 29-game leap in a single season? Let’s have a look at the history books.

The answer is yes, and the biggest year to year jump happened fairly recently. In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks won just 65 games, but followed that up with a 100 win campaign in 1999, shocking fans around the league with a 35-win increase. The second biggest jump belongs to the 1946 Boston Red Sox, who went from 71 wins to 104 the following year (and that was in the 154 game schedule).

If we’re using the jump in win percentage (so we can include the 154 game seasons too), the Blue Jays would have to increase their number from the 41.35% they posted last year, up to 59.25% in 2020. That would give them an increase of 17.9%, which is a feat that’s only been done 16 times in MLB history. The most recent example would be the Diamondbacks pulling it off again, going from 65 to 94 wins from 2010 to 2011. As far as this century goes, the AL East’s own Tampa Bay jumped from 66 wins in 2007 up to 97 in 2008, and the Detroit Tigers went from 43 in 2003 to 72 the following year, although they had nowhere to go but up. The Red Sox’s jump from 69 wins in 2012 to 95 in 2013 still stings a little too, even if it’s just shy of the mark.

With all of that in mind, is it possible that the Blue Jays could be serious competitors for a playoff spot this year? Well, a lot would have to go in their favour, including a massive increase in their own win total, and probably a fair bit of regression from their division rivals. They’ll need to leapfrog at least two of the three of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, and the Wild Card picture is going to be highly competitive elsewhere as well.

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I fully expect that the Blue Jays will be playing meaningful baseball much later in the season than they have since 2016, but asking them to make a 30-win jump may be a bit much. Is it possible? Indeed, but it would require a historic jump in their win total.

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