Can the Blue Jays creep into the WildCard?
After an incredibly disappointing start to the 2017 season, the Blue Jays find themselves 4.5 games back of the second wild card position in the AL. For fans, it’s a strange position to be in. Just 3 weeks ago, any chance at a playoff position at all seemed impossible. Now, they’re only 4.5 games out. Though 4.5 games may seem like a small margin after the awful start they had, it still doesn’t look as good as you might think.
Sporting a 54-60 record, sitting last in the AL east, 2 games back from the also underperforming Orioles, the light at the end of the October baseball tunnel is dim, but is still there.
Since the all-star break, the Jays have sported a record of 13-13, .500win%. During that stretch, they split 1 series, lost 3 and won the other 3.
What makes life difficult for the Jays as they try and make their push back into the wildcard spot for the 2nd straight season is the fact that between them, and the 2nd place Mariners(59-57) lie 6 other teams. If there is one silver lining for the Jays here however, only one of those teams have gone over .500% since the all-star break, the Baltimore Orioles. However, this can quickly be overlooked as the Mariners have won 16 of their 25 games since the all-star break, but are cooling off as of late.
For the Jays, they can’t be worried about the way the teams ahead of them are playing. Tonight, they’re at home for the start of a 3-game set against the just average Pirates. If the Blue Jays want any chance at all to make the playoffs, they need to start here by sweeping the Pirates. The way it’s looking this year in the AL, it will take at worst an 85-77 record to be the second wildcard team. Meaning the Jays need a 31-17 record here to the end of the year.
What could propel the Jays into a wildcard spot?
Well for one, the season Justin Smoak has been having is the only real reason the Jays have a shot at all. If he can continue his torrid season, that’ll be huge. While the surging Josh Donaldson looks to be returning to MVP form, which alone could fire up the rest of the Jays line up and cause serious problems for opposing defenses.
One thing that has killed their offense this season, has been their hitting with runners in scoring position. Stars Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales are hitting a combined .154% RISP this season, which is just not good enough for players of their caliber. If they can cash in a hit at least .250% of the time, it would definitely boost their chance at cashing a wildcard spot.
Another crucial thing that must happen if they want to accomplish a wildcard push will be the play of their starting rotation. If there is one positive in it, it would be the play of Marcus Stroman. He’s gone 10-5 in 23 games, with a 3.17 ERA, and has only given up 14 home runs. Outside of Stroman, the other TEN players with a start combine for 20-37, with an atrocious 6.52 ERA. The cast of 10 includes pitchers such as Cesar Valdez, Mike Bolsinger, and Casey Lawrence as well as the traded Francisco Liriano.
The 3 of those 10 pitchers are J.A Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada. While Happ dealt with an injury earlier in the season, he's back and healthy now. Sanchez on the other hand, still finds himself on the DL. Estrada and Happ struggled out of the gate, and had their names floated around at the trade deadline. Though with the stress of being moved at the no waiver deadline now gone, two seem to found their grooves once again.
In his last 3 starts, Estrada has gone 7 innings deep, giving up just 4 earned runs in that span. He seems to have re-discovered the magic in his fastball/changeup combination that made him an all star in 2016(Though he never played in the all star game due to injury). Happ on the other hand, has thrown a combined 18.2 innings in his last 3 starts, giving up just 5 earned runs to his credit. He’s starting to find the fastball control that got him 20 wins in 2016. With the two seemingly returning to tip top shape, this is a MASSIVE help down the stretch. This could all be worthless however if health issues that have plagued Sanchez this season can’t be solved.
With him on the DL, and out of the rotation, the Jays only have 3 MLB quality starting pitchers. That’s not enough if you need to win at least 31 of your remaining 48 games.
Final verdict: If the bats of Smoak and Donaldson can continue swinging the way they have lately, the other stars can pick up their end of the stick, and the pitching continues to trend in the right direction, sure I could see it being possible that the Jays end up in the wildcard game. However, the likelihood of all these factors into fruition all at one times seems to unlikely for me to say they can make it. Therefore ; No, they cannot.
What does this mean for next season?