Playoff Locks: Houston Astros, New York Yankees
This group is pretty self-explanatory. While neither of these teams have clinched a playoff spot yet, I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing them play in October. These are the heavy favourites to represent the American League in the World Series, and if they Blue Jays want any shot at winning it all, they’ll have to go through one of them.
To the surprise of practically no one, the Houston Astros are very good again. As of writing this, they have a 3.5-game lead on the Yankees for the top seed in the American League and are on pace for their fourth 100-win season since 2017. At age 39, Justin Verlander appears to be on track for his third career Cy Young, and Framber Valdez has easily been a top-five starter in the American League this season. Throw in a few more quality starters like Christian Javier and Jose Urquidy, along with the best bullpen ERA in baseball and you’ve got yourself what is likely the best pitching staff in the American League.
Their offense has been similarly excellent, with Yordan Alvarez proving to be one of baseball’s best hitters, and others like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker, all putting up great numbers. They may not have the offensive depth that they once did, but it honestly does not seem to matter.
This may come as a surprise, but the Blue Jays actually took the season series against the Astros, taking four of six, with five of the six being one-run games. However, the last time the two played was on the first of May, so as much as those games count in the standings, they mean very little now. The Blue Jays have better offensive numbers this season than the Astros, and I think this is a part of the game where the Jays could be the better team. I think where the Astros clearly outmatch the Blue Jays is with consistent, quality pitching.
Given the nature of a playoff series, the Blue Jays would certainly have a shot against Houston, but it would be ignorant to say that the Astros aren’t the better team.
New York Yankees
This may be obvious, but the Yankees have not played their best baseball as of late. The Blue Jays just took three out of four from them in a series in New York and looked like the much better team. This is a far cry from the Yankees earlier in the year who looked absolutely unstoppable and had fans certain that this was the year they finally got back to the promised land.
The reality is that neither of those versions of the Yankees is really who they are. They’re likely somewhere in the middle, but still one of the best teams in baseball. When healthy, their bullpen is the best there is, but their rotation is still not as good as they probably would have hoped. They’ve had the best offense in the American League thus far, but I don’t think that’s as clear cut as it may seem. While I have no questions about how good Aaron Judge is and how important Giancarlo Stanton is to the team, I think their offence’s high variance could lead to issues in the postseason.
The Yankees currently lead the season series 9-7, with three games in Toronto remaining which have a chance to have real implications in the division depending on how the next few weeks go.
I don’t want to sound like I’m just trashing the Yankees, because I do think they’re a legitimately good team, but I think the Jays matchup very well with them. The Yankees pitchers can often be prone to allowing big innings, something that the Blue Jays are very capable of doing, and health is a serious concern for them. Take injury out of the equation, and I think it’s a different story, but right now if the Blue Jays faced off against the Yankees in the postseason, I would like the Blue Jays’ odds.