Sports·The Buzzer

The Blue Jays are bashing their way to the playoffs

CBC Sports' daily newsletter takes stock of the Toronto Blue Jays' red-hot September and where that leaves them in the race for a playoff spot.

Toronto locked in battle with Yankees, Red Sox for AL wild cards

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. puts the Jays' home-run jacket on Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The jacket has already been worn 34 times in September. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

Over about 24 hours on the weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays scored 44 runs — 22 combined across a Saturday doubleheader and another 22 in one game on Sunday, all against the Baltimore Orioles. At 46-97, the Orioles are the worst team in baseball. Still, they stopped the Jays' eight-game winning streak by beating ace Robbie Ray on Friday night and appeared poised to play spoiler twice Saturday: up 10-5 late in the first game, and up 1-0 carrying a no-hitter into the final inning of the nightcap. Both times, Toronto roared back to victory. Between the 11-run outburst to come back in the late game and an early offensive explosion on Sunday, the Jays scored 27 runs in a four-inning span — an MLB record. Toronto is now 11-1 in September and tied with Boston for the top wild-card spot, one game ahead of the Yankees. A few MLB-leading stats from Toronto's astounding half-month:

  • 106 runs, 30 more than the second-place Mets
  • 34 home runs, 11 more than second-place Atlanta
  • .322 batting average (Second-place San Francisco is at .290)
  • .407 on-base percentage (Second-place San Francisco is at .379)

Some other things you should know as the Blue Jays push for the playoffs:

The race is coming down to the wire. Toronto is 80-63, tied in winning percentage with Boston at 81-64 and just ahead of the 79-64 Yankees. As Tampa Bay runs away with the AL East division lead, two of those three teams will be relegated to the single-elimination wild-card game — and one will miss out on the post-season entirely. Despite three more games against the Orioles and seven against another last-place team in Minnesota, Toronto has the toughest remaining schedule, beginning with a three-game set against the Rays at Rogers Centre that starts tonight. The Jays also have three home games left against the struggling Yankees, whom they swept in four straight last week. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have been about average since July after their blistering first half. FanGraphs, a baseball stats site, says the Red Sox own the best odds of the three at making the post-season at 75.5 per cent, followed by the Blue Jays at 66.4 per cent and the Yankees at 49.8 per cent. Seattle and Oakland also remain in the hunt.

Both the American League MVP and CY Young could come from Toronto. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is tied for the league lead in home runs (44), leads in batting average (.319) and on-base percentage (.408) and is five back of Chicago's Jose Abreu in runs batted in. With the Jays in a playoff spot, that type of season should be good enough to win the MVP. But two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani exists, tied with Guerrero Jr., in homers to go with a stellar 3.36 earned-runs average over more than 100 innings in double-duty as a starting pitcher. For months, Ohtani seemed to be a shoo-in for the award, even as his Angels lost more than they won. But the Japanese superstar has cooled off as a hitter in the second half (albeit while improving from the mound), opening the door for the Blue Jays' young slugger to wrestle away the award. 

The Cy Young, given to the top pitcher in each league, is a more straightforward race between Ray and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. They each boast a similar ERA over a comparable number of innings pitched, with advanced stats not doing much to settle the debate either. It might all come down to which team asserts itself in the playoff race.

The future is bright, but the pressure is still on to win now. Guerrero Jr., is just 22 years old, fellow all-star Bo Bichette is 23 and star outfielder George Springer is under contract for five more seasons, to go along with some other young pieces like starter Alek Manoah and catcher Alejandro Kirk. But while Springer battled injuries all season, the Blue Jays have been relatively healthy. Meanwhile, the team enjoyed career years all over the field, but most notably from Ray and second baseman Marcus Semien, a fringe MVP candidate in his own right. Unfortunately for Toronto, both are impending free agents that will command more than $100 million US over multiple years on their next contracts. The team, owned by media conglomerate Rogers, should be able to afford both — but there will be fierce competition on the open market. 

Nineteen games remain on Toronto's schedule. That's more than 10 per cent of the season and plenty of time for those playoff odds to swing in any direction. But after their staggering start to September, the Blue Jays suddenly feel like the team of destiny.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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