AL wild-card race: Are the red-hot Blue Jays headed to the postseason?
Entering September, the Blue Jays were 4 1/2 games back of the final AL wild-card spot and their playoff chances looked murky, at best. Ten days later, they're practically a coin flip to make the postseason.
It's been a crazy start to the final full month of the season for Toronto, which capped off its eighth consecutive win Thursday over the Yankees - coming within a half-game of its AL East rival for the American League's final wild-card spot. The Blue Jays are now priced as -115 favorites to make the postseason, with the Yankees (-175) and Red Sox (-225) also heavy favorites to make the 10-team field.
There's only one problem: one of those three teams won't make it.
At this rate, Toronto looks like a likely bet to crash the party. The Blue Jays floundered through August with a near-.500 record but have looked like a complete team since then, plating at least five runs in each of the last eight games and holding their opponents to four or fewer runs in six of them.
So how have they done it? Toronto's starting rotation, which has been a question mark for years, ranks fourth in ERA (3.21) in September and is the runaway AL leader in fWAR (6.8) since the All-Star break. The bullpen, while shaky at times, is striking out 30.2% of batters over the last 10 days. And its lineup leads the majors in wOBA (.338) and exit velocity (90.2 MPH) across the entire season - anchored by likely MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who boasts a .412/.459/.676 slash line with three homers in eight September games.
As quickly as the Blue Jays have risen, though, they can fall. And you don't need to look far to find another cautionary tale.
The Yankees won 13 consecutive games in mid-August by an average of 3.08 runs per game - just shy of Toronto's margin (+3.62) over the past 10 days - and owned the AL's top wild-card spot. Just like that, it vanished. New York has since lost 10 of 12 games, including six straight.
Those losses have come amid a brutal stretch of adversity for the Yankees, who watched ace Gerrit Cole, starter Jameson Taillon, and top reliever Jonathan Loaisiga leave with injuries within the last week. All are expected back this season, though it couldn't come at a worse time with the Blue Jays looming and the Red Sox holding steady in the No. 1 wild-card spot.
It's not just the Yankees, either. The Athletics held the top wild-card spot on Aug. 14 before dropping 15 of their next 23 games to fall two games back. The Mariners surged into September but were stymied by the Astros this week and face a challenging schedule down the stretch.
Will regression hit the Blue Jays, too? It almost certainly will, especially with 23 games still left to play. However, a soft schedule should insulate the damage. Toronto faces the second-easiest remaining strength of schedule among those five teams jockeying for the final wild-card spot, per FanGraphs, which includes 14 combined games against the hapless Orioles and Twins.
Banking heavily on regression also implies that this roster isn't as good as its results. That simply isn't true. The Blue Jays' bats are for real, and they'll likely welcome back injured slugger George Springer this weekend. The rotation is legit, too, with Cy Young contender Robbie Ray and former All-Stars Jose Berrios and Hyun Jin Ryu leading an inspired staff that finally looks potent enough to survive in October.
Toronto is healthy, and it's streaking behind stellar (and mostly sustainable) play on the mound and at the plate. That's all you can ask for a team knocking on the door of a playoff spot. The pieces are all there for this team to punch its ticket to October.