It’s OK to have a sinking feeling about this year’s Blue Jays after Wednesday’s ugly 7-0 loss against Baltimore. Even though the defeat followed three straight wins, Toronto has been scuffling for a while, winning just 11 of 20 games in August heading into Thursday’s rubber match with the surprising beasts of the American League East.
Unexpectedly poor offensive seasons from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk (both all-star starters a year ago), George Springer and newcomer Daulton Varsho, plus a team-wide inability to hit with runners in scoring position and a lost season for former top starter Alek Manoah have made the playoffs less certain for this team than most expected.
Seattle’s gone 16-5 this month to move from 3.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the AL’s final wild card spot, to a game in front. Houston currently holds the second wild card, but remains in reach, just 1.5 games in front of the Jays. However, Boston is still lurking, three games back of Toronto.
The good news for the Jays is the schedule is about to get extremely friendly. The next 15 games following the Orioles finale are against Cleveland (10th from the bottom in the MLB Standings), Washington (7th-worst), Colorado (3rd-worst), Oakland (last place) and Kansas City (second-last). This will be a golden opportunity for the Jays before the final 19-game stretch that will be far tougher, with games against only Texas, Tampa Bay and Boston, plus the disappointing but still dangerous New York Yankees.
Conversely, if the Mariners are to keep rolling, it will have to happen against far stiffer competition than Toronto’s, other than the next six against awful Oakland and Kansas City, plus three more later against Oakland. Following those games, Seattle will still have seven games against AL West-leading Texas, three against the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, three against the rival Astros, three more vs. the solid Cincinnati Reds and four against Tampa. After feasting on minnows, the Mariners will be tested.
Boston’s remaining schedule looks quite challenging, with only Kansas City and the White Sox being weaker opponents. There’s also 22 more games against current playoff teams, yikes.
What about the teams from Texas, you ask? Well, Houston looks to be in pretty good shape thanks to nine games against Oakland or Kansas City, but that doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk. Seattle, Baltimore, Texas, Boston and Arizona — each well above .500 — make up close to half of the remaining slate for the franchise that won last year’s World Series. Houston is five games behind Tampa Bay for the first wild card spot, but catching the Rays seems unlikely.
The Rangers, tied with Houston in the win column, but with two games in hand, appear on paper to be most vulnerable to falling out of the mix. Besides three games left against Oakland, there’s 17 contests against current playoff teams, plus four against the Jays and three against Boston.
SERIES TO WATCH
Here are some of the upcoming series that could significantly impact the AL playoff race:
HOUSTON AT TEXAS (Sept. 4-6): The AL West battle has been one of baseball’s best and this series should be crucial. A sweep by either side could prove the difference.
TEXAS AT TORONTO (Sept. 11-14): The clubs could well have identical records by this point. Texas has the second-highest OPS in baseball, while Toronto has one of the best pitching staffs. Should be fun.
BOSTON AT TORONTO (Sept. 15-17): No rest for the Jays, as another rival arrives. By this point, the Sox could be out of the race, given the three-week trial by fire awaiting before then, coupled with Toronto’s easy slate. Or, they could be neck-and-neck with Toronto.
HOUSTON AT SEATTLE (Sept. 25-27): The Astros swept the Mariners away in last year’s playoffs but there is less separating the two clubs in 2023.
TEXAS AT SEATTLE (Sept. 28-Oct. 1): Now this is some good scheduling. The regular season will wrap up with games that could determine who makes the playoffs and who watches from home. The teams also meet in Texas earlier in the month.