Oh, how quickly things can change in September.
Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers to fall out of the AL wild-card picture, much of the talk around the Toronto Blue Jays was how resilient the club needed to be heading into their weekend series against the Boston Red Sox.
Well, the Blue Jays bounced back by sweeping Boston, securing a 6-4 homestand and taking advantage of the out-of-town scoreboard as all three AL West clubs dropped their weekend series, vaulting Toronto back into a playoff spot.
The Rangers, coming off their four-game beatdown of Toronto, have now lost four straight. Texas turned around and got swept by the Cleveland Guardians, getting outscored 25-6 in the process, before dropping their series opener to the Red Sox Monday night. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners continued to stumble in September, getting swept at home by the NL West-champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
For the Blue Jays, starting this week out strong will be important, as it is the last time that the three contending AL West teams won’t be in a series against one another. This means that if Toronto can secure some wins and hold onto its post-season spot heading into its final nine games, when its tightest contenders are guaranteed losses, the Blue Jays will have a great shot of locking down a place for October.
With that said, let’s dive into how the AL wild-card race is shaping up to open the week.
IF THE POST-SEASON STARTED TODAY
No. 1 and AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles (94-56): Bye
No. 2 and AL West-leading Houston Astros (84-67): Bye
No. 3 and AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins (79-71) vs. No. 6 Texas Rangers (82-68)
No. 4 Tampa Bay Rays (92-59) vs. No. 5 Toronto Blue Jays (83-67)
WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE
With their sweep of the Red Sox, the Blue Jays plunged their AL East rival to under .500 and did everything but mathematically eliminate a floundering Boston squad. Now Toronto will have the chance to do something similar to the New York Yankees, who are barely clinging to their playoff hopes.
However, the Yankees have started to string some wins together, winning six of their last eight and 11 of 16 in September. While, realistically, a wild-card spot is probably too far out of reach, New York looks like a squad primed to play spoiler over the final two weeks.
As for Seattle, now on the outside looking in, it will have the ability to decide its own fate in the final week of the season. The Mariners face the Oakland Athletics to open this week, but their last 10 games come against the Rangers and Astros, giving them a prime chance to knock off the teams ahead of them in what should be a wild race to the finish line.
LOOKING AT THE WILD-CARD RACE THIS WEEK
Houston Astros: With a chance to separate themselves in the battle for the AL West title, the Astros had a letdown with back-to-back series losses to the Athletics and Kansas City Royals. Suddenly, what was one of the easiest schedules remaining in baseball now looks a bit more arduous for the reigning World Series champions. Houston opened the week by blowing a ninth-inning lead against the Baltimore Orioles. The Astros’ three-game series this weekend against the Royals will be the club’s last chance to gain ground in-division against sub-.500 teams before heading to Seattle next week.
Toronto Blue Jays: As the Blue Jays embark on the final two weeks of the season, they have the ability to control their own destiny — something that didn’t look possible just five days ago. Toronto kicks off its final road trip of the regular season by heading to New York to face a Yankees team it hasn’t seen since May. Now, of course, this is a very different squad than the one that beefed with the Blue Jays over base-coach positioning, but as we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons, there’s always the potential for fireworks when these two teams meet. And with playoff positioning on the line, emotions will likely be running hot at Yankee Stadium this week.
Texas Rangers: Like the Astros, the Rangers bullpen blew a lead on Monday. After leaving Toronto with four games in hand, the question for Texas was whether it would continue its resurgence or return to the form it had shown over its 4-16 stretch earlier in the month. Now, with four straight losses under their belt, the Rangers will need to return to the win column this week, as the Mariners took the first game of their series in Oakland and own an identical record to Texas. With the Rangers’ weekend series against Seattle looming, Texas will look to take advantage of its two remaining games against the Red Sox.
Seattle Mariners: Owners of a 6-11 record in September, the Mariners can’t afford to slip against the Athletics this week. They got off on the right foot, taking the opening game of the series, 5-0, and are set up well in the final two games of the series, with Luis Castillo and George Kirby scheduled to take the mound. Because Texas currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Seattle — barring a drastic result in the seven games remaining between the two teams — the Mariners will need to finish a game better than the Rangers, so if they can take care of business against the lowly Athletics, it saves them from having to make up ground in the final week.
PLAYOFF ODDS REPORT
Baltimore’s FanGraphs odds: 100% | Baltimore’s Baseball Reference odds: 100%
Houston’s FanGraphs odds: 95.5% | Houston’s Baseball Reference odds: 91.7%
Minnesota’s FanGraphs odds: 99.9% | Minnesota’s Baseball Reference odds: >99.9%
Tampa Bay’s FanGraphs odds: 100% | Tampa Bay’s Baseball Reference odds: 100%
Toronto’s FanGraphs odds: 79.6% | Toronto’s Baseball Reference odds: 86.7%
Texas’ FanGraphs odds: 63.5% | Texas’ Baseball Reference odds: 59.4%
Seattle’s FanGraphs odds: 61.0% | Seattle’s Baseball Reference odds: 62.1%
New York’s FanGraphs odds: 0.4% | New York’s Baseball Reference odds: 0.1%