It is the final series of the season, a three-game weekend clash against a division rival to determine — or more likely firm up — the post-season fate of the Blue Jays.
And with securing an American League wild-card spot a near certainty, the champagne and other celebratory beverages will be on ice at the Rogers Centre over the next couple of days.
When they get consumed — and sprayed on anyone and everyone — seemingly is the only remaining question.
After a 6-0 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday night, the Jays’ magic number for playoff qualification was trimmed to two — any combination of Toronto wins or a loss by either the Seattle Mariners or Houston Astros.
That number almost dropped to one late on Thursday, but the gain was thwarted when the Mariners scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win over the Texas Rangers.
Still, the permutations mean the Jays could clinch a spot as early as Friday, though it would likely be too late to celebrate in the team’s Rogers Centre clubhouse, a bash that could be delayed by a day.
First, the Jays and starter Yusei Kikuchi would need to defeat the Rays, who come to town with nothing to play for after the Baltimore Orioles clinched the AL East division title on Friday.
Then, a loss by either the Mariners or Astros, who face the Arizona Diamondbacks would do it for the Jays. That game doesn’t get started until 9:40 p.m., however, while the Rangers-Mariners contest is slated for a 10:05 p.m. first pitch.
The Jays are close enough to smell it now, hoping for a good couple of days to first take care of business and then hone in on playoff plans, both in terms of pitching matchups and resting key players.
“A good weekend would be three wins, mix in some good times in between and continue to swing the bat well,” manager John Schneider said following Thursday’s win to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees. “An ideal weekend would be three wins and go from there.”
The “good times in between” reference would be for Schneider and his team to seriously get after some celebratory beverages and, the earlier into the weekend, the better.
There is one scenario that could see the Blue Jays left out in the cold. One Toronto win this weekend plus one Houston loss would not be enough for the Blue Jays to clinch. That, plus a Seattle sweep, creates the four-way tie at 89 wins, which, according to mlb.com, leaves the Blue Jays out of the playoffs.
Even though the odds are prohibitively in favour of the Jays advancing to the post-season for a second consecutive season, there is still some business to settle. No matter what happens elsewhere, taking two of three from the Rays — just as they did this past weekend at Tropicana Field –would get the Jays in.
The Rays have nothing to play for this weekend given the O’s finished off a terrific season by locking up the AL’s top seed. The Rays, second in the AL East, will be the top wild-card team, guaranteeing home field for the best-of-three wild-card round.
With a possible date against the Jays in that opening round starting next Tuesday in St. Pete, Fla., it will be interesting to see how Schneider and Rays counterpart Kevin Cash handle lineup and pitching decisions over the weekend.
Once the Jays get in, still to be determined will be whether they snag the second or third wild-card spot. Second secures the date in Tampa Bay, dropping to third would send them to Minneapolis for a clash with the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins.
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