Blue Jays / Red Sox / Yankees: Wild Card Chase Determining Factors
By Dave Litman
By winning 14 of their last 16 games, the Blue Jays have seemingly taken command of the chase for the American League Wild Card spots.
They’re now in a virtual tie (though one better in the loss column) with the Boston Red Sox for the first Wild Card spot while the New York Yankees trail the pair by a half-game going into Monday night. (Oakland and Seattle are three games back of Boston and Toronto).
According to FanGraphs, however, the Red Sox still have the best odds of making the post-season, at 75.9%.
The Blue Jays are next at 66.3%, while the Yankees are about break-even, at 49.9%.
But not so fast; there are a lot of factors to consider in the remaining three weeks of games that will go into determining which teams grab those one-game playoff positions.
Strength of Schedule:
The Red Sox have a bit of an edge here, likely giving them the best odds from FanGraphs, as they will face teams with a combined .470 winning percentage from here on out. That features six games with the Baltimore Orioles and another three with the Washington Nationals, both cellar-dwellers at this point in the season.
The Yankees face a collection with a .494 winning percentage, while the Blue Jays have the toughest road to hoe, facing teams with a .508 winning percentage, including six of their next nine games against the AL-leading Tampa Bay Rays.
The Blue Jays have seemingly taken command of the chase for the AL Wild Card spots but there are a lot of factors to consider in the remaining three weeks.
Off The Field Factors:
The biggest one here seems to be “team vaccination rates.” At least that appears to be an issue, as the Boston Red Sox, who notably have not reached the 85% vaccination threshold mandated by the league to ease up on safety restrictions, have ten players currently on the Covid-19 injured list, including ace starter Chris Sale who just tested positive this past weekend and will miss at least his next start.
The Yankees, off the field, have to deal with a fanbase that has been absolutely losing its mind at the recent collapse of the Pinstripers.
This, of course, is where the Blue Jays soar ahead of the pack. Winners of 9 of their last 10, and 14 of 16, the Jays have been pounding their opponents into submission, putting up astonishing offensive numbers including 44 runs in the last three games against the woeful Orioles.
As noted by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Jays are combining that league-leading slugging percentage with a starting rotation that ranks 3rd in the American League in ERA. There seems to be no stopping this team.
Except that the Tampa Bay Rays are not the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays now have to face the Rays six times in their next nine games. That could conceivably put a stop to the momentum in a hurry.
And the Yankees, who had been on the other end of the momentum train, losing 9 of their last 13, have begun a 10-game run of facing sub-.500 (and some sub-.400) teams: the Twins, Orioles, Cleveland and Texas.
The next week and a half should go a long way towards determining the Blue Jays’ Wild Card fate.