The Blue Jays are officially headed to the postseason as a Wild Card team. What do they have left to play for in the regular season?
For most of the fan base this is a fairly obvious question, but I know not everyone tracks this team as obsessively as I do, or as many of you that are reading this might.
I had a friend text me yesterday and ask, “Will the Blue Jays start to rest their regulars in advance of the playoffs?”. That’s a reasonable question to ask now that they have a guaranteed playoff spot, but I think we can all agree that the answer is a hard no.
The reason for that of course is that the Blue Jays are still working toward trying to secure a first-round series in their home ballpark in Toronto. With the new playoff structure in MLB, there will be six teams that qualify for the postseason in the American League: The three division winners, and three Wild Card teams. The top two division winners will get a bye through the first round, with the worst record among them having to play the 6th seed in a three-game series. As of this writing, that would mean the Cleveland Guardians would host the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round.
Before the MLB schedule gets started on Friday, the Blue Jays currently hold a 1.5 game lead over Seattle for the top Wild Card spot, and if they can hang on to that position then they’ll host the Mariners for the three-game series in the first round. This is an improved position for the Mariners after they’ve won their last two games in a row while watching the Rays drop their last two, which flip-flopped the two Wild Card teams. As of this writing, the Jays have a 2.0 game lead over the Rays.
It’s especially important to maintain that lead when you’re talking about squaring off against the Rays, because I really believe the Blue Jays have to do whatever they can to avoid letting the Rays pass them and having to play that series in the House of Horrors known as “The Trop”. That said, T-Mobile Park in Seattle wasn’t exactly kind to the Blue Jays this year either.
The most important part would be the opportunity to play at home in the first round, which would be a significant boost to the Blue Jays, and their enthusiastic fan base. The Rogers Centre is a special place to be when the Jays are playing meaningful baseball in the fall, and many of the young core players on the roster have a chance to experience it for the first time. They don’t call it a home field advantage for nothing, and I believe there’s real value there for the Blue Jays.
Secondly, if the Jays can take care of business against the Red Sox this weekend it might allow them to take their foot off the gas pedal a bit for the last three games against the Orioles to finish up the regular season. They could use that series to give their regulars a day or two of rest before the opening round begins, and more importantly, they can line up their starting rotation the way they want to. I’m all but certain that they’ll go with Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Ross Stripling as their starters in the first round, and securing their home field advantage will allow them the luxury of setting things up properly.
So while the Blue Jays can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief now that they’re guaranteed to be in the playoffs, there is still plenty to play for over their last six games. Here’s hoping that can head into the postseason riding a serious high.