Wild card gridlock leaves Blue Jays no room for error

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The MLB post-season is still a few weeks away, but it certainly feels like there’s playoff baseball in Toronto right now. The Blue Jays opened September with an eight-game win streak, climbing up the standings with crucial wins over the Athletics and Yankees in the process. They’ve lost just two games this month, and both times have bounced back with a strong offensive showing the following game — including a scoring spree of 44 runs in three games over two days in Baltimore after the Orioles snapped their win streak last Friday. Forty-four!

As a result, the Blue Jays now sit in the second wild card position, their 82-64 record and .562 winning percentage identical to that of the Yankees, who occupy the first. There’s no room for error in the next two weeks — the Boston Red Sox are breathing down their necks after being ousted from the playoff picture.

Here’s a closer look at where things stand in the MLB playoff race…

If the playoffs began today
The top teams in each division make the playoffs. In addition to the six division winners, the top remaining two teams per league qualify as wild cards for a total of 10 playoff teams.

The wild card teams in each league face off in winner-take-all games for the chance to advance to the LDS against the top seeded division winner. Meanwhile, the remaining two division winners match up against one another in each league.

If the post-season began today, these five American League teams would qualify:

Wild-card game: New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays

No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. winner of wild card game
No. 2 Houston Astros vs. No. 3 Chicago White Sox

And these five National League teams would qualify:

Wild-card game: Los Angeles Dodgers (x) vs. St. Louis Cardinals

No. 1 San Francisco Giants (x) vs. winner of wild card game
No. 2 Milwaukee Brewers vs. No. 3 Atlanta Braves

(x = playoff berth clinched)

In striking distance
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox are closest to the final wild card spot with a record of 83-65, their .561 win percentage just a hair shy of those of their AL East foes in New York and Toronto — that’s how close this race is. (The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t officially clinched their divisional crown just yet, but they’re sitting pretty comfortably atop the tough AL East with 90-56 record.) The Red Sox won’t see the Blue Jays again in the regular season, but we’ll all be watching closely when they take on the Yankees late next week — a series that could very well determine everyone’s fate in this race.

Behind Boston is Oakland, their 78-67 record making them a lesser (but still potential) threat to jump back into the wild card picture.

What has long looked like a race for just one wild card spot in the National League is officially just that, with both the San Fransisco Giants and L.A. Dodgers clinching post-season spots. All that’s left for those two powerhouse clubs is to fight for the right to a playoff series, as opposed to the wild card game. Right now, the 75-70 San Diego Padres are the closest team knocking on the post-season door, just one win behind the St. Louis Cardinals for that second wild card spot. Behind the Padres are the Cincinnati Reds (75-71).

Playoff odds report
Objectively speaking, here’s where the Blue Jays stand in relation to their closest adversaries, according to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference:

Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 63.7% | Blue Jays’ Baseball-Reference odds: 79.4%

Yankees’ FanGraphs odds: 60.9% | Yankees’ Baseball-Reference odds: 46.1%

Red Sox FanGraphs odds: 72.5% | Red Sox Baseball-Reference odds: 68.6%

Next up
After Thursday’s day off, the Blue Jays will send Hyun-jin Ryu to the mound to open up a three-game series against Minnesota on Friday while the Twins will counter with Michael Pineda. Meanwhile, the Yankees will face the Orioles Thursday evening before the Red Sox host Baltimore Friday.

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