As we enter the penultimate week of the 2021 season, the Toronto Blue Jays are still hot. The team is 15-3 since September 1, going from 4 1/2 games out of a wild card spot to +1 1/2 in the race entering their game against Tampa Bay on Monday night.
The Jays have eclipsed the stumbling Yankees and now have the Red Sox and the #1 wild card spot in their sights. If they should slide into the top wild card slot, the Jays would host a playoff game on Tuesday, October 5.
Before they can play a wild card game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Jays have 13 more games, six of them against playoff teams or contenders, and the other seven against also-rans (the Twins and Orioles). Let’s break down the games for this week.
Blue Jays at Rays (Sep 20-22)
Monday, Sep. 20: Robbie Ray vs. Shane Baz
Ray is not just the Toronto ace, he’s the frontrunner to win the AL Cy Young Award (FanDuel has Ray at -280 for the award). His start on Monday not only affords him a chance to secure his grip on the Cy Young, it also lets him set the tone for an important three game series against the Rays, the best team in the league.
Shane Baz is making his MLB debut. The righty is one of the most highly-projected pitchers in the pitching rich Tampa system.
Tuesday, Sep. 21: Alek Manoah vs. Drew Rasmussen
The Toronto lineup hasn’t seen much of Rasmussen, but the way the Jays lineup is rolling, in may not matter, Manoah is one of the best rookie hurlers to debut in 2021, and he’s only getting better as the season wears on. His last start, Manoah went eight innings, allowed only one hit, and struck out 10.
Wednesday, Sep. 22: Steven Matz vs. Michael Wacha
Matz gets overlooked in the Toronto rotation, but he’s quietly set a personal-best with 13 wins, and he’s walking fewer batters and allowing fewer homers than he has in years. He has a sneaky quick slider and good command of his pitches. Wacha is a much-traveled veteran who has pitched inconsistently all season. He allowed six earned runs in six innings in his last start.
Blue Jays at Twins (Sep 23-26)
Pitching matchups have not been officially announced for these games. The matchups below are projections.
Thursday, Sep. 23: Ross Stripling vs. Bailey Ober
With the injury to Hyun Jin Ryu, Stripling will need to be summoned from his exile to the bullpen to make his first start since August 10th when he left a game with an injury. Stripling is seemingly healthy now, though he hasn’t seen much game action since coming off the IL on September 1st.
Friday, Sep. 24: Jose Berrios vs. Luke Farrell
These two met last week in Toronto, when Berrios beat Farrell for a 5-3 Toronto win. It shouldn’t be much different this time.
Saturday, Sep. 25: Robbie Ray vs. ?
Advantage: Ray and the Jays
Sunday, Sep. 26: Alek Manoah vs. Griffin Jax
Rookie Jax will be making his first-ever start against the Jays. He’s tall and has a low-zone fastball with good movement. That may be confusing to the Jays, who have never seen this youngster.
What If This Ends With Just One Playoff Game?
The Rays are going to win the AL East, that’s certain. Even with all the wins in the final weeks of the season, the Blue Jays would play a one-game wild card to secure a chance to play in a best-of-five playoff series. That’s the harsh reality of the tenuous wild card spot: win or your season is over just like that.
Right now, FanDuel has Toronto at +850 to win the AL pennant, which has them even with the Red Sox, according to the sportsbook.
There’s no team hotter in baseball than the Jays. Their lineup and their rotation are humming, and they seem on track to secure one of the wild card spots. But one game is one game, and even if they can finagle their rotation to get Ray on the hill, anything can happen, whether that game is played in Canada or on the road. Their most likely opponents would be either the Red Sox or Yankees. The Jays have played both of those division rivals pretty well on the road.
Toronto vs, Yankees and Red Sox in 2021
Jays vs. Red Sox … 9-10 (5-6 in Boston, 4-4 at home)
Jays vs. Yankees … 10-6 (8-2 in New York, 2-4 at home)