David Price and the Blue Jays celebrate during their recent 11 game win streak.
It's the middle of August and the Toronto Blue Jays are in the hunt for a playoff spot. No, really. With a 66-55 record, the team is two games back of the New York Yankees for the American League East lead, but more importantly they're 2.5 games up on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the first Wild Card berth.
The Blue Jays currently have the longest drought in Major League Baseball, going 22 years without making the playoffs. As a result, the city is dying for a playoff berth and after the additions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, the city has been electric. With average crowds of over 40,000 people at the Rogers Centre, the building has been reminiscent of the early 1990s.
There are a few important series that will make or break the Blue Jays making the playoffs, however if they continue to stay around .500, they'll have a real chance at breaking that drought. Although every game is meaningful until the season ends on October 3, here are a few series that are more significant than others.
August 21-23 @ Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim
Aug. 21 - David Price (11-4) vs. Hector Santiago (7-6)
Aug. 22 - Marco Estrada (10-7) vs. Andrew Heaney (5-1)
Aug 23 - R.A Dickey (7-10) vs. Garrett Richards (12-9)
In terms of statistics, the Blue Jays have a disadvantage facing the Angels on the road. Whenever David Price is on the mound that should be a guaranteed win, but after that, the team may struggle. Marco Estrada has been decent on the road, but Andrew Heaney has been lights out at home with a 3-0 record, 2.63 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. The Blue Jays' bats will have to be working extra hard that night in order to get a win off the 6'2" left-hander.
During game three of the series, the Blue Jays will be in trouble with R.A. Dickey on the mound. The former Cy Young winner has a 1-7 road record, that includes a 5.11 ERA and an opposing .305 batting average. The Angels are scheduled to have the hard-throwing Garrett Richards pitching that night, which screams trouble for the Blue Jays. Even though Toronto has the best offence in baseball, Richards' 8-3 record, 2.53 ERA, 73 strikeouts in 83.0 innings and .195 opposing batting average will make it tough to secure a win.
September 4-6 vs. Baltimore Orioles (click for tickets)
Sept. 4 - Drew Hutchinson (12-2) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (9-7)
Sept. 5 - Mark Buehrle (13-5) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (9-8)
Sept.6 - David Price (11-4) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (7-6)
As the Wild Card Standings sit right now, the Baltimore Orioles are 0.5 games back of the second place spot, and 4 games behind the Blue Jays. As a result, this series will be very important in a few weeks. If the standings were to stay the same, the Orioles could end up tying the Blue Jays or potentially moving ahead of them.
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, they'll have their two best pitchers in Price and Mark Buehrle scheduled to pitch. In addition, Drew Hutchinson has been unstoppable at home this season with a 10-1 record, 2.57 ERA and one complete game, so he should primed for a win against Jimenez who's 3-5 on the road with a 4.51 ERA. Baltimore is sixth in baseball in runs scored, and fourth in home runs, which means they have the ability to overpower Toronto, but they'll be in tough with Buehrle and Price on the mound. Also, with a 9-3 home record in August, Toronto has been hot as of late, so expect them to keep that rolling against Baltimore.
September 10-13 @ New York Yankees
Sept. 10 - Mark Buehrle (13-5) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (12-2)
Sept. 11 - David Price (11-4) vs. Ivan Nova (5-4)
Sept. 12 - Marco Estrada (10-7) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (9-5)
Sept. 13 - R.A Dickey (7-10) vs. Luis Severino (0-2)
The last time the Blue Jays went to Yankee Stadium they swept them three games straight. It was a huge moment in the season and pushed them within games of the AL East lead. Since Toronto and New York have continued to stay even as of late, this series will be huge towards determining who wins the division title. If Toronto or New York is able to win three or four games in this series, it could be the boost they need to secure the AL East.
Since the series is still roughly three weeks away, those starters are scheduled to be changed. A lot can happen in that timeframe, so it's very likely that one of those pitchers won't be pitching on that day as listed. However, let's just pretend they are and break it down accordingly.
Starting with September 10, Toronto's most consistent pitcher is projected to face 'Nasty Nate' Eovaldi. Buehrle has pitched better at home this season, but his 6-4 record and 3.48 ERA has been pretty impressive away from the Rogers Centre. Nathan Eovaldi has a 12-2 record, but that record doesn't reflect his season. He's receiving roughly 8 runs of support per game, and has been racking up the wins because of it. With a 4.26 ERA, the Yankees have been able to score in bunches when he's been on the mound, so although he's pitched decent, he's been more lucky than anything this season.
As previously mentioned, the next game in the series should be a win for the Blue Jays. Whenever David Price steps on the mound—especially against the AL East—it usually means a victory for his team. On the other hand, Ivan Nova is coming off Tommy John Surgery and although he's had a decent season, he's no David Price.
The last two games of the series in terms of pitching match-ups are a wash. Tanaka torched the Blue Jays when they last played at the Rogers Centre and there's nothing to think that he won't do it again. R.A. Dickey has had a rough season on the road, but he's played pretty well against the Yankees all season. In three games thus far, he's posted a 1-0 record and 1.27 ERA, so the knuckleball has been working against the Yankees. The veteran is scheduled to go up against the rookie Luis Severino, which could make it an easy win for the Blue Jays. Severino has had a good start to his rookie season, but he hasn't been able to get any run support. If Dickey can continue to keep Yankees hitters swinging and missing, then it could turn into another loss for Severino.
The Blue Jays will also play the Yankees at home from September 21-23, which will be just as important as their series in the Bronx. Depending on where they are in the playoff standings, the series at home could end up being the most important of the season, but they'll have to at least split the series at Yankee Stadium to keep themselves in the hunt.
September 18-20 vs. Boston Red Sox (click for tickets)
Projected Starters: TBA
By the middle of September, the Boston Red Sox lineup may be filled with many Triple A call-ups because they'll be waiting for the season to end. Currently holding a 53-66 record, the Red Sox can only afford to lose a few games in their remaining 43 in order to make a playoff spot and that seems incredibly unlikely. The Red Sox should be officially out of the playoff run by middle of September which means the only reason they'll be playing is to try to keep Toronto from gaining any ground in the AL East.
It's unsure who will be pitching for either the Blue Jays or Red Sox because it's so far in advance, but no matter who it is for Boston, Toronto should be able to match them. The Red Sox have batted well all season, but their pitching has been near the bottom in every category in the major leagues. Take that into consideration, along with Toronto having the best offence in the league, and Toronto should be vying for a sweep.
September 21-23 vs. New York Yankees
Projected Starters: TBA
Like the Red Sox series before it, it is too early to speculate on who the starting pitchers will be, except to say that you can be sure David Price will get the ball for one of the 3 games. Part of the reason they acquired him was to maximize him in the pennant race, and no other games matter as much as those versus the Yankees.
September 25-27 vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Starters: TBA
If Toronto isn't able to secure a home playoff game, these will be the last home games of the season. Toronto has had a tough time against Tampa Bay this year, but that was before they made the blockbuster trades for Tulowitzki and Price. Since making those trades, Toronto has been a totally different team and they'll be sure to do better against the Rays this time.
Tampa Bay has been a consistent team in terms of pitching this year and that's what could cost Toronto. Although they're one of the best offensive teams in baseball, they'll be in tough if they have to face Tampa Bay's ace Chris Archer. Compiling a 10-9 record and 2.93 ERA, Archer has been a strikeout machine this year with 194 strikeouts in 160.0 innings pitched. Other than Archer, the Jays shouldn't have any trouble with the 59-60 Rays.
There is plenty of baseball left to play and anything could happen by this point. The Blue Jays could go on another 11-game winning streak and guarantee themselves a playoff spot by then, or they could go on a losing streak and make this series feel as important as the World Series. Either way, with roughly 40 games remaining there isn't a game that isn't important. Although there could be some trouble along the way, the Blue Jays are well on their way to securing their first playoff spot in 22 years.