Blue Jays: Are there any real challengers for a playoff spot?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 23: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays, right, celebrates scoring with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on August 23, 2020 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 23: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays, right, celebrates scoring with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on August 23, 2020 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /

The American League playoff race is starting to shape up and things are looking good for the Blue Jays. Who are they competing with for a playoff spot?

The Blue Jays are one game shy of reaching the halfway point of the unique 2020 schedule, which still sounds weird to say. However, since it’s gone relatively well for them, they’re in the enviable position of holding down a playoff spot as of today. That’s made possible by their solid play, but also the fact that the MLB playoffs have expanded to 16 teams for this year, with eight teams coming from each league. As of this writing, the Blue Jays are in the eighth and final spot in the American League.

They’re far from guaranteed a ticket the post-season, but things are actually looking pretty good for them. I talked about this last week when Fangraphs had them listed at 32.7% and the eighth most likely to qualify for the playoffs from the AL, and the situation has improved since then. In fact, as of Wednesday night their chances now stand at 65.7%. Their recent winning streak helped a great deal, but there are other factors in play as well.

The biggest variable would be the play of the rest of the American League, which has seen some unexpected results so far. Some teams like the Yankees, Rays, A’s, and Twins have done well as expected, but other situations weren’t as easy to predict. Take the Red Sox for example, who are second from the bottom in the American League at 10-21. I expected them to have a much more difficult time without Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and others, but I didn’t anticipate them completely falling apart, and I know I’m not alone.

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Before I bring up the current standings, I’ll readily admit that things can drastically change overnight, as we’ve learned many times while the league tries to navigate a schedule during a pandemic. We’ve seen teams like the Marlins and Cardinals shut down for extended periods, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again. There’s also been a rash of injuries around the league, particularly with pitchers, and the Blue Jays are among the teams that have felt that blow. It all adds up to a volatile situation, and as I said, it could change in a hurry.

However, with the trade deadline just days away, it does feel like teams are already deciding whether or not they’re contenders this year or not, with the Red Sox being an example of a seller when they shipped Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies, further depleting their ravaged pitching staff. That would be a clear signal that they’ve waved the white flag on this season. There are others doing the same, such as the Mariners trading Taijuan Walker to the Blue Jays.

Getting back to the standings here, let’s have a look at how things start as of Friday morning:

1- Oakland (22-10, 1st in West)
2- Tampa Bay (21-11, 1st in East)
3- Minnesota (20-12, 1st in Central)
4- Chicago (19-12, 2nd in Central)
5- Cleveland (19-12, 2nd in Central)
6- New York (16-11, 2nd in East)
7- Houston (17-14, 2nd in West)
8- Toronto (15-14, 3rd in East)
9- Baltimore (14-16, 4th in East)
10- Detroit (13-16, 4th in Central)
11- Seattle (13-20, 3rd in West)
12- Kansas City (12-19, 5th in Central)
13- Texas (11-19, 4th in West)
14- Boston (10-21, 5th in East)
15- Los Angeles (10-22, 5th in West)

To make this unprecedented format even more unique, it’s not just the top eight teams that get in. The way it works in 2020 is the top two teams from each division will qualify, and then the top two from the rest of the pool. That means that right now it would the Rays and Yankees from the East, Oakland and Houston from the West, and then Minnesota leading the Central and a tie between Chicago and Cleveland for the 2nd spot. The loser of the tie-breaker between Chicago and Cleveland would be the first Wild Card team, and right now Toronto would be in the 2nd spot.

To break it down further, let’s have a look at the race for just those two wild card spots. The Blue Jays are only 2.0 games behind the Yankees right now, and it’s possible that they could pass them for that 2nd spot in the East, but let’s look at the Wild Card situation for now anyway.

1- Clev/Chi (19-12, –)
2- Toronto (15-14, 3.0 GB)
3- Baltimore (14-16, 4.5 GB)
4- Detroit (13-16, 5.0 GB)
5- Seattle (13-20, 6.0 GB)
6- Kansas City (12-19, 7.0 GB)
7- Texas (11-19, 7.5 GB)
8- Boston (10-21, 9.0 GB)
9- Los Angeles (10-22, 9.5 GB)

If I’m Ross Atkins, I’m smiling pretty big looking at this picture. Not only are the Blue Jays currently in a playoff spot, there may not be that many challengers. That could change quickly as I’ve already mentioned, but let’s look at this more closely.

Of the seven teams that would be chasing the Blue Jays, you can all but eliminate the Angels and Red Sox now based on how far back they are, how little time is left to make up the difference, and even their strategy for the rest of the year. The Mariners are obvious sellers, as they shipped Walker to Toronto already and they may not be done, and Royals sent Brett Phillips to Tampa Bay. Texas has also been in the rumour mill with talented starters like Lance Lynn and Mike Minor possibly being available, and the same goes for Matt Boyd in Detroit.

Maybe we can’t write all of the “sellers” off just yet, but I’m sure you see where I’m going here. Assuming that the Blue Jays don’t fall off a cliff in the second half, they may only be competing with the Orioles, and maybe the Tigers, Mariners, Royals, and Rangers for that final playoff spot.

Next. Trent Thornton is done for the season. dark

With a closer look at the situation, it’s no wonder that the Blue Jays are suddenly treating the trade deadline as if they are headed to the playoffs. They’ll have to avoid a lengthy losing streak, and likely need to maintain something close to a .500 record as they have thus far, but they’re in a good position to do just that, especially when you look at the rest of the AL standings.