What you need to know for the Jays' final playoff push
Including a potential wild tie-breaking scenario
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The Jays are down, but not out
Less than two weeks ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were the hottest team in baseball. After beating Minnesota on Sept. 19, they'd won 18 of 22 games — a hot streak that propelled the Jays from also-rans to tied with division rivals Boston and New York in the race for the two American League wild-card spots. Led by 22-year-old MVP contender Vladimir Guerrero Jr., MVP-calibre second baseman Marcus Semien and Cy Young candidate Robbie Ray, Toronto's results were finally matching the underlying metrics that suggested they were among the best teams in baseball. The Jays had about a 2-in-3 chance of making the playoffs and all the makings of a trendy World Series pick.
Now, heading into their final three games of the regular season, Toronto's playoff odds are down to about 1 in 7. Since that Sept. 19 peak, the Jays have split a series vs. the lowly Twins and dropped two of three to both AL East-winning Tampa Bay and the Yankees. In their rubber match last night, the Yanks tagged Ray for four of their five homers (including three in one devastating inning) en route to a 6-2 gut-punch that gave them a two-game lead in the wild-card chase and put them three games up on the Jays. New York has all but secured one of the wild cards — its odds of doing so are now over 96 per cent.
That leaves one AL wild-card ticket realistically up for grabs — with three teams fighting for it. The spot is currently shared by slumping Boston, which has dropped five of six and just lost a series to the awful Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle, which has the run differential (minus-48) of a sub-.500 team but is now 89-70 after winning 10 of its last 11. Toronto trails the Mariners and Red Sox by one game.
A few more things to know heading into the decisive weekend of the season:
Boston is favoured to win the second wild card. The Red Sox have about a 60 per cent chance of taking it, according to various playoff-odds models. Seattle's odds are about 30 per cent, and Toronto's about 14 per cent. Every other team in the American League is eliminated.
Toronto has the easiest schedule. The Jays' final three games are at home vs. Baltimore, a laughingstock of a team that has the worst record in the American League (52-107) and the worst run-differential (minus-278) in all of baseball by a whopping 48 runs. Toronto is 11-5 against the Orioles this year and outscored them 125-75 in those games. The last time they met, three weeks ago, the Jays dropped 44 runs on their fellow birds in two days alone. Seattle's final series is at home vs. the Angels (75-84), who have said presumptive AL MVP Shohei Ohtani won't pitch again this season (though the Japanese Babe Ruth will continue to hit). Boston visits lowly Washington (65-94), which is playing out the string in the NL East. So the Red Sox and Mariners aren't facing the toughest opponents either, and they have that one-game cushion over the Jays. Toronto will probably have to sweep the Orioles to have a shot, starting tonight at 7:07 p.m. ET with so-so Steven Matz on the mound. Impressive rookie Alek Manoah is slated to start Saturday at 3:07 p.m. ET, with 2020 Cy Young finalist Hyun Jin Ryu in line for the season finale Sunday at 3:07 p.m. ET.
What if there's a tie? Then things could get messy. And fun. Let's assume the Yankees, as expected, clinch the top spot and the right to host the AL wild-card game. A two-way tie for the second spot would be resolved simply enough, with a one-game showdown on Monday hosted by the team with the better head-to-head record. The Blue Jays lost their season series vs. both Boston and Seattle, so they'd hit the road no matter what in this scenario. The real chaos would come in the event of a three-way draw between the BoSox, Mariners and Jays, which triggers a fascinating tie-breaking mechanism. Under this system, Team A hosts Team B on Monday. The loser is eliminated, while the winner hosts Team C on Tuesday to decide who moves on to face the Yankees. The fun part is that the team with the best head-to-head record (in this case Boston) gets to pick whether to be Team A or Team C (they could technically choose to be Team B, but that's obviously the worst option). So the Red Sox would have to decide whether they'd rather win two home games on back-to-back days or one road game on a day of rest.
The National Women's Soccer League called off all of its matches this weekend in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations against a former coach. North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired by the team Thursday after The Athletic published a report detailing the alleged misconduct, which included claims by two former players of sexual coercion. Riley denied the allegations. The NWSL Players' Association is calling for an independent investigation. At least two star players — Canadian Christine Sinclair and American Alex Morgan — called out the league on Twitter, demanding it "protect" its players. Several other team officials have lost their jobs this season due to allegations of abuse and/or harassment of players. Read more about the NWSL's troubles here.
It's Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick on Sunday night. The most anticipated matchup of the NFL season pits the greatest quarterback-coach tandem in football history against each other for the first time. In their 19 seasons together once Brady became a starter, they won an incredible six Super Bowls and reached the title game an equally incredible nine times. But their relationship soured toward the end and Belichick let Brady walk away after the 2019 season, believing that the then 42-year-old QB was washed up. Brady immediately proved him wrong, joining a much more talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and winning his seventh ring (along with his fifth Super Bowl MVP award) with them last season while Belichick's Patriots missed the playoffs. Brady will play his first game in New England as a visitor on Sunday night. And how's this for timing: he needs just 67 yards to become the NFL's all-time leading passer.
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame's 2020 class is being inducted on Sunday. A group of six athletes and five builders was announced in 2020, but the traditional fall induction gala in Calgary was postponed due to the pandemic. It'll finally happen Sunday at 7 p.m. MT / 9 p.m. ET and will be streamed live. The inductees include two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, golfer Lori Kane, the equestrian horse-and-rider duo of Hickstead and Eric Lamaze, and a pair of hockey players known more for their social-change impact than their work on the ice: Willie O'Ree, who was the NHL's first Black player, and Sheldon Kennedy, who has devoted himself to preventing abuse and harassment after being sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. Read more about the entire class here.
This weekend on CBC Sports
Here's what you can watch live on TV and online:
Canadian university football: Stream the annual Panda Game between the rival Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton Ravens on Saturday at noon ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Junior hockey: Watch 16-year-old phenom Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats host the Prince Albert Raiders on the opening weekend of the Western Hockey League season on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT. This is the first of six Canadian Hockey League games that will be broadcast live on the CBC TV network this season. They'll also be streamed for free on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Read more about how the CHL is trying to bounce back from two pandemic-marred seasons here.
Figure skating: Stream the Skate Ontario Sectional Series September Hub event live Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Spelling Bee of Canada national championship: S-T-R-E-A-M it live Sunday at noon ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Something else to check out
The Olympic Channel is re-airing memorable moments from the Tokyo 2020 Games over the next few weeks, starting with the Canadian women's softball team's bronze-medal win over Mexico on Sunday at 8:50 a.m. ET. The channel is available in Canada only on the free CBC Gem streaming service. Watch it here.
You're up to speed. Have a great weekend.