The leaves haven’t started to change colour yet, but for a few MLB teams, it already feels like October. Six teams in the American League have a shot at the postseason, with just three spots up for grabs. Suddenly, games in August are nail-biters. For the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rays, Twins, Orioles, and White Sox, every game could push them in or out of the playoff picture.
The tight wildcard race is a product of the new CBA this season. In each league, the division winners plus three wildcard teams make the playoffs, an increase from just two wildcard teams last year.
The extra spot has produced extra chaos in the American League this season. At the time of writing, four of the six teams chasing an AL wildcard spot have an over-50 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs. All six sit within 3.5 games of each other with just under 50 games left to play.
While worrying about the third wildcard team in August may seem like an exercise in extreme (and possibly delusional) fandom, any spot in the playoffs provides hope for a stretch run. Since 2012, multiple wild card teams have shed their underdog label and put together impressive postseason performances.
In total, two wildcard teams have won the World Series, three have made it to the Fall Classic, and five have reached either the ALCS or the NLCS. Sometimes all it takes is a ticket to the dance.
Not only does the race provide extra intrigue for the regular season, but it also ensures more talented teams don’t miss out on the playoffs.
Few teams are more thankful for the extra playoff opening than the Blue Jays. Coming off a season in which the team missed the postseason by one game, the Jays have been a mainstay in one of the three wildcard spots this season, despite their rocky, up-and-down play. Yet with two teams in their division jockeying for wildcard position (the Orioles and Rays), the Blue Jays have plenty of work left as they enter a busy final stretch.
Toronto will play 45 games through the final 48 days of the season; 42 percent of those games will come against either the Rays or Orioles. The Jays will play one of either team 19 times through September and October. Toronto will not play any of the other wildcard contenders (Mariners, White Sox, Twins) through the final stretch.
Of the Blue Jays’ 19 games against the Orioles and Rays, 11 will be on the road, including a potentially postseason-clinching three-game series in Baltimore to end the season.
Toronto has struggled against both teams this season, going 3-6 (.333 win percentage) against the Orioles and 4-6 (.400 win percentage) against the Rays. If the Blue Jays were to maintain the same win percentage through the remaining 19 games against both teams, they would finish 7-12 in pivotal and possibly playoff-deciding games.
Promisingly for the Jays and their fans, though, this team has proven an ability to turn a corner the closer they get to the postseason. Last year, after a disappointing 16-14 record in August, the Blue Jays compiled 22 wins in the final 31 games of the season. For those scoring at home, that’s a remarkable .709 win percentage – a pace that, if sustained over a 162-game season, would lead to a 115-47 record (just one win short of the all-time leading 1906 Chicago Cubs).
It likely won’t take a run quite that remarkable to make the playoffs this season, but the Blue Jays certainly won’t have any easy games the rest of the way.
Buckle up, Blue Jays fans, October will be here before you know it.