After a tough two months to start the season compared to AL East peers New York and Tampa, the Blue Jays enter the month of June with a winning record, a five-game win streak, and sit only five games back of the Yankees in the loss column entering games played Tuesday.
That start included 29 games against potential playoff teams in the Yankees, Boston, Houston, Cleveland, and Tampa in their first 35 games, with a stretch of 17 straight games without a day off!
According to Power Ranking Guru, Toronto has had the second most difficult schedule season-to-date after the Phillies.
Conversely, the Yankees played 19 games against Baltimore, Kansas City, and Detroit over the first two months of the season. Those three teams have combined for only a .382 winning percentage so far in 2022. All are double-digit games off the pace already in their respective divisions.
Tampa had 28 games in April and May against weak teams, including NL non-contenders in the Cubs and Marlins, and 23 games so far against Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, and Seattle.
Power Ranking Guru ranks Tampa as having had the fifth easiest schedule in MLB season to date; the Yankees rank sixth on easiest schedule so far, even though that’s partly skewed because their opponents have lost 33 of 48 games against them.
In terms of the remaining schedule, the Yankees have the fifth toughest schedule, while the Rays have the ninth hardest stretch of opponents remaining.
What lessons can be gleaned from the tough part of the Blue Jays early-season schedule?
1. The Jays still aren’t banking enough wins early against AL East opponents: 5-2 against a scuffling Boston Red Sox team, but only 3-6 versus the Yankees and 1-2 against Tampa. When the inevitable injuries and slumps hit, those wins against AL East rivals are vital for playoff-bound teams. And elite teams win no matter who the opponent is.
They will have to do better than a .487 winning percentage against those three opponents over their remaining 38 head-to-head matchups, especially as Boston is showing signs of turning around their season.
2. The hitters struggle against tough left-handed starters, which seems counterintuitive given the mostly right-handed hitting lineup. Their record in games versus southpaw starters is 4-5, which may be a concern in a short playoff series given the Yankees feature two lefties in Nestor Cortes and Jordan Montgomery, while Tampa features a lefty ace in Shane McClanahan and the crafty Ryan Yarbrough.
Hopefully, a healthy Teoscar Hernandez will help here, along with improved production from Vlad Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette with George Springer at the top of the lineup.
3. In addition to having the third easiest remaining schedule in MLB, the Blue Jays still have 19 games against Baltimore (.420 winning percentage ahead of Tuesday’s games), seven each against Detroit (.383) and Kansas City (.340), four vs. Seattle (.417), three at Oakland (.392), and a combined eight games against weak NL foes in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia (combined .417).
To say those 48 games will be vital to the Jays’ playoff hopes is to sell the importance of them short. The Jays will need to be well over a .600 winning percentage in those games, with greater than 30+ wins.
And don’t sleep on the Orioles who’ve taken four of eleven against the Yankees so far; they’ve called up stud catching prospect Adley Rutschman, and have a tough lefty (see above) in their rotation in Bruce Zimmermann and two good LHP relievers in Keegan Akin and Cionel Pérez.
4. Enjoy the ride when we have two early potential AL Cy Young candidates in Alex Manoah and Kevin Gausman, one of the best closers in Jordan Romano, and a much better bullpen than last year with Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, Yimi Garcia and David Phelps acting as a solid bridge from the starters to Romano.
As the slow starts for Vlad, Bo, and Teoscar all highlight after their career years in 2021, witnessing MVP and Cy Young calibre seasons should never be taken for granted; there’s a reason the Blue Jays have only ever had two AL MVP winners in their 46 seasons; it’s special. That being said, let’s hope all three can get untracked as the schedule turns easier.
FanGraphs currently puts the Blue Jays’ playoff odds at 94%, and ahead of the Tampa Rays even though Tampa is a half-game up in the Jays ahead of Tuesday’s games. In formulating their playoff odds, they include a strength of schedule (SOS) estimation of “the difficulty of each team’s remaining schedule by taking the average neutral-opponent winning percentage of each of a team’s remaining opponents, weighted by how many times the teams play.”
As we enter June, do you think the Jays were successful enough through the tough part of their schedule to put them on track to win the AL East pennant? To ensure a playoff spot? Are they an elite AL East team? Looks like things are heating up right as the calendar turns and summer unofficially starts.