The Blue Jays are definitively the second-best team in the AL East.
I know, crazy right?
Who would’ve thought we would get here. At the beginning of the year, it seemed all but a lock that the Yankees would reign supreme over the rest of the division (and the rest of the American League). The Blue Jays and Rays projected to be in a fight for the wild card, with only one presumably making it to the winner-take-all showdown. The Red Sox, off a horrendous 2020 season and an underwhelming year previous, were looking at fourth place.
Then, you know, the Orioles.
Instead, nobody is where they were expected to be (except the Orioles, who everyone saw being 45 games back at this point in the year). I can’t tell which was more surprising, that the New York Yankees are a fourth place team in the middle of September or that the Rays continue to be successful despite limited fans, limited salary space and trading away star pitcher Blake Snell in the offseason. Hell, they were even considered sellers at the trade deadline, acquiring power bat Nelson Cruz but also trading away rotation piece Rich Hill.
Regardless, the Rays have proven to be top dogs in this division, with a commanding nine game lead over the next team with just a couple weeks left in the season. After that, it’s a three horse race for control of second, with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays swerving in and out of the two spot this past week. Currently, the Sox and Jays are tied for second, while the Yankees sit a game out. What makes things all the more interesting is these three teams are also the frontrunners for the two coveted wild card slots.
But Boston and New York have been slipping as of late, with the Red Sox not being the same team since the All-Star Break and the Yankees falling straight off a cliff after their 13 game win streak last month. Boston going a little over .500 the rest of the way should ensure them a wild card spot, which is an attainable goal with most of the team returning from the COVID list and a remaining schedule ranking among the easiest in the majors. New York has more work to do, having lost 12 of their last 15 games and team morale at an all-time low.
Meanwhile, the team that will likely claim that other wild card slot is none other than the Toronto Blue Jays. They are easily one of the hottest teams in baseball, going 9-1 in their last 10, sweeping two wild card hunters in the Yankees and Athletics, with the A’s series lasting four games. Their run differential since Sept. 1st? +51.
Get out of the way of Toronto, who has been obliterating teams on a daily basis. Team leader Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who would easily be an MVP frontrunner if it weren’t for some guy named Shohei Ohtani. Guerrero has been raking as of late, pushing himself into real contention for the Triple Crown, as well as the slash line Triple Crown (SLG/OBP/OPS).
The rest of the offense is clicking as well, as the Blue Jays lead the league in on base percentage, slugging percentage and are second in batting average. The pitching has been a top third unit all year, but recently they have been performing even better, despite a few blowup games. In the last 30 days, they rank 5th in the league in WHIP with 1.18 baserunners allowed per inning. In that span, Toronto is also ranked 10th in ERA, allowing only 3.84 runs per nine innings, as well as 4th in strikeouts with 251.
You may be asking yourself, where has this team been all year? The short answer is that they’ve been there all along. They’ve consistently been a top team in the league in terms of run differential, despite hovering over .500 most of the year. With the run differential being as high as it was, analysts were able to predict that the Jays were a team just waiting to break out. And break out they have.
They have somewhat of a tough road ahead in terms of schedule, playing the Rays in six of their next nine games, but at this point, that doesn’t even matter. Toronto is so hot right now that no team is going to look forward to playing them. As a Red Sox fan, I am hoping the Yankees miraculously stumble their way into the Wild Card and not the Blue Jays, as the Yankees would be much easier competition. The Sox may end up with more wins at the end of the year, but it’s evident which team would go farther in the playoffs and which team is rightfully the second-best squad in the American League East.