Never a Dull Moment: Jays/Yankees' Preview and Predictions
TORONTO-As the 2016 regular season winds down, the time is running for such American League teams as the New York Yankees to make their move in the AL Wild Card race. Entering a crucial four game wrap around series between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blur Jays that begins tonight at 8:00 pm Atlantic/7:00 pm Eastern at Rogers Centre, AL Rookie of the Year front runner Gary Sanchez and his team find themselves just three games back of the Detroit Tigers for the second AL Wild Card and just four back of the Jays for the first wild card berth.
The Blue Jays and Yankees match-up is always a fun one to watch, no matter what month the calendar reads or whether or not it impacts the playoff picture. Such memorable moments include the Jays' clinching of the AL East/Phil Niekro's 300th career victory in Oct. 1985 at Exhibition Stadium; Jays' catcher Kevin Cash causing Derek Jeter to be injured on a play at the plate; Alex Rodriguez's phantom calls of "Ha, I got it" or "Mine" as he was rounding third base on a routine pop up that caused Howie Clark to think he was being called off by Johnny Mac.
More recently/at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees got out to a sizable early lead this past August before a downpour of rain enabled the Jays to regroup long enough for them to mount an offensive comeback after play resumed. More recently, a memorable snow cone by Brett Gardner in left field stopped a Jays' comeback dead in its tracks.
Fortunately for fans of both of these franchises, the calendar reads September and their upcoming series most definitely impacts the playoff picture. Despite the fact that the New York Yankees all but eliminated themselves from the AL East pennant race last weekend following four heartbreaking, come-from-behind losses to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, they still find themselves in a position to qualify for the 2016 playoffs, IF, and only IF, they can complete a four game sweep the Toronto Blue Jays starting tonight. Based on the way that the Jays have played this month, coupled with the fact that the Yankees swept them at Yankee Stadium the last time that these two teams squared off against one another, such a Jays sweep is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Yankees have a better than average chance to win the series opener, given that their pitcher Mitchell (1-1) will be opposed by Jays' southpaw Francisco Liriano, a pitcher who has struggled this season in both the National (Pittsburgh Pirates) and American League this season. However, if there is a silver lining for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, Francisco Liriano looked very strong in his last outing against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
On Saturday (note the 5:00 pm Atlantic/4:00 pm Eastern start time due to FOX Sports' exclusive 2-5 pm Atlantic/1-4 pm Eastern Fox Saturday Game of the Week coverage of such intriguing games as the Kansas City Royals at the Detroit Tigers and/or the St. Louis Cardinals at the Chicago Cubs), the visiting Yankees send lefty C.C. Sabathia (8-12) up against Marcus Stroman (9-9) in an equally intriguing pitching matching up between two enigmatic starters. I suspect that this game will come down to which team can get to the other's starting pitcher first. Based on the way that Estrada (9-9) pitched in his last outing against the Seattle Mariners, his most important start of the season thus far, the Blue Jays stand a good chance of defeating Michael Pineda (6-11) and the Yankees. Finally, the Yankees have yet to announce who will be facing J.A. Happ (20-4) in the series finale on Monday. Based on how Happ has pitched all season long for the Jays, I don't like the Yankees' chances in this game.
Sunday's Yankees/Jays game will start at 2 pm Atlantic/1 pm Eastern while Monday will be at Fr8 pm Atl./7 Est.
While the situation is not as dire (yet) for the Toronto Blue Jays, realistically speaking, they too are likely out of the American League Eastern Division pennant race as the Boston Red Sox, who may never lose again in 2016 (it certainly seems that way as they are currently riding an eight game winning streak following successive four game sweeps of both the aforementioned New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles), currently hold a five-and-a-half game lead over the Jays in the AL East. As a result, the Jays' four games with the Yankees (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday) and three game with the Orioles (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) have become even more important as they look to hold off not only the Orioles (one game back of the Jays) and Yankees (four games back of the Jays), but the Detroit Tigers (half game back of the Jays for the first AL Wild Card; they currently hold the second spot by a half game over the Orioles), the Houston Astros (two-and-a-half games back of the Jays) and the Seattle Mariners (three games back of the Jays) in the very tightly contested American League Wild Card race.
Next weekend (Friday, September 30, Saturday, October 1 and Sunday, October 2), the Blue Jays will end their regular season at Boston. If the Blue Jays are to have any hope winning the AL East Division Title again this year, they would have to be within striking distance (three games) of the Boston Red Sox by next Friday, September 30.
In conclusion, while the Yankees require a four game sweep, the Jays would benefit immensely from taking three out of four games from the Yankees. Anything less than a four game split with the Yankees could prove fatal for the Jays at this point of the season as the Detroit Tigers (three at home against the Royals, four at home against the Indians and three on the road against the Braves) are now just one game back of Toronto in the ALWC race.