The Blue Jays continue their road trip tonight, opening a three games series against the resurgent 56-52 Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
They then return home for a weekend series against the pesky 56-52 Cleveland Guardians, before hosting Baltimore next week. And then they head off again for three games against the swooning Yankees (5 straight losses) in the Bronx, followed by three at Fenway against the 54-56 Red Sox.
The importance of the next sixteen-game stretch against Baltimore, Cleveland, New York, and Boston through August 25th cannot be underestimated. These are key AL East divisional matchups versus the Orioles, Yankees, and Red Sox; especially given the new MLB playoff format, where the season series record determines any potential tiebreakers, and the top Wild Card team (currently Toronto) will play the second place WC team (currently Tampa). The third WC team will play the division winner with the worst record (currently Minnesota in the AL Central, who the Jays just split four games with).
Key 16 Game Stretch with Wild Card Tiebreaker Implications
At 60-46, the Jays sit atop the Wild Card standings, two games ahead of Tampa Bay and Seattle, four games ahead of both Baltimore and Cleveland, and seven games up on Boston. They still trail the Yankees by 9.5 games for AL East supremacy, but they were as many as 16.5 games back of NY on July 10th, after a disastrous 1-6 west coast swing which led to former manager Charlie Montoyo being fired.
But these head-to-head matchups are key to putting more light between the Blue Jays, Baltimore and Cleveland in the Wild-Card standings. Baltimore is 31-21 at home and 20-24 against AL East opponents this season. They’re 7-3 in their past ten games, including a five-game win streak before they lost at Camden Yards yesterday to Pittsburgh.
Star 1B/LF Trey Mancini and All-Star closer Jorge Lopez were traded away at the deadline last week, but the team keeps rolling behind strong hitting from rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, RF Anthony Santander, and perennial Jays killer Ryan Mountcastle. They also feature a lights-out bullpen group led by Félix Bautista, Dillon Tate and lefty Cionel Pérez. The Jays have a 2-2 series tie so far this year versus the Orioles after four games at home June 13-16.
Cleveland is 27-30 away, and 10-13 against AL East opponents season to date. They are 6-4 in their past ten, including two straight wins over the Astros. They’re led by four time All-Star 3B José Ramírez, 2022 All-Star 2B Andrés Giménez, and 1B/OF Josh Naylor from Mississauga. They feature a solid young rotation led by Shane Bieber and Triston Mackenzie that also features Port Hope, Ontario’s own Cal Quantrill, followed by a swing-and-miss bullpen led by All-Star Emmanuel Clase. Toronto is 1-3 against the Guardians this year after a four-game set in early May which included a Saturday doubleheader. The Friday night game that weekend was postponed due to inclement weather.
In terms of their head-to-head records versus NY and Boston for any potential Wild Card tiebreakers, the Blue Jays currently sit 4-8 against the Yankees. They’ve already guaranteed a season series win against Boston with a 10-3 record to date.
Blue Jays a Bit Banged Up Ahead of Key Stretch
After a .500 current road trip so far through Tampa Bay and the Twin Cities, the Blue Jays also enter this next key stretch without some key players:
CF George Springer (2.5 bWAR) was placed on the 10-day injured list retroactive to August 5, with right elbow inflammation. That means that, absent any setbacks, the earliest he’s available to return to the active roster would be August 15th at home next week against the Orioles. He’s been replaced by the newly acquired Whit Merrifield (bWAR -0.1) in the leadoff spot and CF.
Fourth starter Ross Stripling (bWAR 1.3) was placed on the 15-day injured list retroactive to July 31st with a right glute/hip strain. Assuming no rehab assignment or setbacks, the earliest he’s available to return would also be that Baltimore series in Toronto. The recently acquired Mitch White (bWAR 0.4) has replaced him in the rotation.
Veteran lefty set-up man Tim Mayza (bWAR 0.6) was just placed on the 15-day IL on Sunday with a right shoulder dislocation after a collision at home plate in Saturday’s game with the Twin’s Nick Gordon. He won’t be available until late August at the earliest. He’s been replaced on the active roster by RHP Trent Thornton (bWAR 0.1) rather than fellow southpaw Matt Gage (bWAR 0.4).
And who’d have guessed that six games against Baltimore in August would be so important? But remember that the best wild card team will play the second wild card team in a three-game playoff series, all to be played at home.
The Blue Jays currently occupy that slot and can control their destiny by continuing to win games and taking season series against their closest Wild Card rivals to earn tiebreakers. And we can only dream of what a playoff rotation of Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and José Berríos might be capable of in a short, three-game playoff series in Toronto. Let’s go Blue Jays!