Likely Playoff Teams: Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Guardians, Seattle Mariners
This group of teams is who I would consider being in the same tier as the Blue Jays. By no means are any of them locks to make the postseason, but if I had to put money on it, these are the teams I would pick. Much like the last tier, even though these teams are all grouped together, they’re all very different.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays were the top seed in the American League the past two seasons, and while few people expected them to do it for a third straight year, the general consensus seemed to be that they would be back in the postseason in 2022.
The Rays sit in the top Wild Card spot, half a game ahead of the Blue Jays, a game and a half ahead of the Mariners, and four games ahead of the Orioles. After finishing third in MLB for OPS+ in 2021, their offense has taken a big step back, now being relatively average. Their pitching, however, has been outstanding, with their 3.29 team ERA ranking third in MLB. Outside of Cy Young candidate, Shane McClanahan, and 2021 American League Rookie of the Year, Randy Arozarena, as per usual, the Rays have been comprised mostly of a rag-tag group of misfits cobbled together to somehow win a lot of baseball games. Highly touted shortstop, Wander Franco, has missed significant time due to injury, and star second baseman, Brandon Lowe, has failed to fully meet expectations, which has forced players like Yandy Diaz, Ji-Man Choi, Harold Ramirez, and Isaac Paredes, to step up and lead their offense.
Their pitching staff is, once again, mostly a group of guys you have never heard of that do what’s asked of them.
The unorthodox nature of the Rays’ roster construction makes them both very beatable and incredibly dangerous at the same time since their reliance on so many different players leads to plenty of inconsistency. This makes them a tough team to project when it comes to the postseason, but in general, while I think the Blue Jays stack up well against them, they aren’t necessarily a team I would be eager to face. They currently lead the season series with the Jays 6-4, with nine matchups still remaining. I think the Blue Jays’ offensive depth and improved bullpen certainly give them the upper hand against Tampa, but this is a team that has historical given the Jays a lot of problems, so they’re a team I’d rather not face, come October.
The Cleveland Guardians might be the least talked about good team in baseball. They’re not really someone you think about often, but when you really look at them, the only conclusion you could come to is that they’re pretty good.
In their first season under the “Guardians” moniker, they’ve struggled to draw crowds, currently ranking 25th in average attendance, and receive little national media coverage, but are somehow in control of the AL Central. Led by Jose Ramirez, who’s having another elite season, and Andres Gimenez, who’s turned himself into arguably the best second baseman in baseball, the Guardians have produced a solid offense in 2022 to go along with some pretty good pitching, led by the likes of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Emmanuel Clase, who may be the best closer on the planet.
The Guardians were not kind to the Blue Jays this season, winning the season series 5-2, and have been hot so far in August, with a record of 14-7. Their offense has some really high-end bats and their rotation could eat innings in a potential playoff matchup, so even though they may not be the class of the league, they could present a challenge in the postseason.
There are no real holes in their game, but I think their biggest weakness may be that they’re more of a jack of all trades, master of none. Both their offense and pitching could be outmatched by the Blue Jays, but they’re a team that you can’t afford to play poorly against. I still think the Jays would stack up favourably in the postseason, but I think they may be the biggest dark horse in the American League.
After a rough start to their season, the Seattle Mariners have gone 38-18 since going ten games below .500 in mid-June, and have been one of baseball’s hottest teams.
A popular pick to end their MLB-leading, 20-year playoff drought, the Mariners have been squarely in the Wild Card race for the past couple months and currently sit 2.5 games ahead of the Orioles for the final spot. They’ve been solid on almost every level, with an offense that’s loaded with good players, namely Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Julio Rodriguez, they appear to be on pace to do what they haven’t done in over two decades. Despite adding 2021 Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray, in the offseason, their rotation has been largely disappointing, but the addition of Luis Castillo at the deadline, and their rock-solid bullpen should more than keep them afloat for the rest of the year. They’re an easy team to root for and play an exciting brand of baseball, which could make them dangerous down the stretch.
After the Blue Jays took their first series against the Mariners 2-1 early in the season in Toronto, they ran into them again in the midst of a 14-game Seattle winning streak and got swept in a four-game series. At that time the Mariners were playing their best ball of the season, and the Jays were likely playing their worst, but those games still count for something, and they show that this could be a tough team to face in the postseason.
When it comes down to it though, I think a lot of what the Mariners do well, the Blue Jays are capable of doing better, and while they’re no pushover, I think Toronto’s offense matches up favourably against an inconsistent Seattle rotation.