The Blue Jays' struggles against AL East opponents may very well be their downfall

In a season where playing the AL East less was meant to represent an advantage for the Blue Jays, their poor play versus all of their divisional rivals could still prove to be their undoing when it comes to any playoff aspirations.
San Francisco Giants v Toronto Blue Jays
San Francisco Giants v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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You can use any number of adjectives to describe the AL East - strongest, hardest, best and so on. Certainly the division has caused plenty of achievements and (more) frustrations over the years for the Blue Jays.

In terms of the latter, the Blue Jays have only made the playoffs on nine occasions since joining the Majors for the 1977 season. While this isn't just purely compromised by the division they are based in, it still plays a significant role.

The most recent example of the challenges of playing in the most competitive division in baseball came in 2021. They missed out on the playoffs by just one game despite winning 91 times, and in a year when three teams qualified from the AL East.

A reduction in AL East games a blessing ... in theory

With all this said, there were a lot of Blue Jays fans who rejoiced when the schedule format was revamped prior to the 2023 season. Most significant among the changes was seeing a reduction in games versus each divisional opponent, from 19 to 13.

In theory, playing less games against the likes of the Yankees and Rays would mean a chance for more overall wins. In this respect, the Blue Jays do have a winning percentage of 65.5 percent versus the rest of the Majors up to and including July 2.

And yet, the Blue Jays still sit just fourth in the AL East entering the slate of games on July 3. The main reason for this comes down to their record within the division.

Just not getting it done in the division

With a record of only 7-20 versus their divisional opponents, the Blue Jays have performed terribly up to this point of the 2023 campaign. The latest example of this was being swept over the weekend by a Red Sox team propping up the AL East.

This evidently isn't remotely good enough, especially in a year when all five teams in the AL East are competitive and above .500. The winning percentage within their division for Toronto is also third-lowest in the Majors as a whole - only the Athletics and Rockies are worse.

What makes this turn of events even more frustrating, is that the Blue Jays had previously done just fine this decade within their division. They had the third-best internal record within the AL East in 2020, and second-best in both 2021 and last year.

Perhaps most galling, the Blue Jays would be in a tremendous position this year if they were just average -- i.e. around .500 -- versus the AL East. Improving to 13-14 or 14-13 would give them the second-best record in the AL and the first wild card spot.

Heck, the Blue Jays would even be within reasonable striking distance of the Rays. This speaks volumes when considering exactly how good the team from Tampa Bay has been so far in 2023.

Looking ahead

Back in the real world, the Blue Jays are 45-40 as of Monday morning and 1.5 games out of the third and final wild card spot in the AL. Not bad, but also alluding to how they have underperformed so far this season when considering the talent on their roster.

Moving forward, there is no doubt the Blue Jays will need to do better against the AL East. In this respect, they have 25 games remaining within their division this year.

Significantly, the last 15 games within the AL East double as the final 15 games on Toronto's overall 2023 regular season schedule. The irony is not lost that despite the reduction in games versus divisional opponents, their four rivals will still more than likely determine the Blue Jays' playoff fate.