Losing is never a good thing, but Toronto picked the wrong moment to slip in the standings.
Just 12 days ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were in possession of one of the American League's two wild card spots. As of Monday, though, they're four games back thanks to a 3-7 mark in their last 10 games, while their competition -- the Royals and Mariners -- finally turned things on to create separation in the standings. The season isn't over for the Jays, not even close, but things just got a whole lot more difficult.
These are just probabilities, but the Blue Jays had a 37 percent chance at a wild card on Aug. 6 according to the math at Baseball Prospectus. They were only half-game up on the Royals and one game up on the Mariners, so possession of the wild card didn't mean everything, but still, 37 percent in what was still a four-team race at minimum (the Yankees were also a game out) was pretty good. Their 3-7 record since, though, has dropped their odds at a wild card to just 7 percent, which is the lowest playoff probability the Jays have had all season long. Even their preseason projections, based on nothing more than expected results, came in at 22 percent.
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Seven percent isn't zero, however. The Jays aren't mathematically eliminated, and they still have 37 games left to play. A four-game deficit is not insurmountable over 37, and you need look no further than the Jays' slipping four over 10 games for that. Four games with 37 left isn't in the realm of historic comebacks, like when the 2011 Rays closed a nine-game gap with the Red Sox with nothing but September to play, the Mets lost a seven-game lead over the last few weeks of the season in 2007 by losing 12 of their final 17 games, or when the Braves squandered all of their 8½-game lead for the wild card in 2011 with a 9-18 September collapse. The Jays don't need that kind of help, not unless they spend the rest of August setting themselves up for a similar situation.
The Jays have games left on the schedule that can directly impact this race, as they still have four games against the Mariners in late September. Part of their seven losses in the last two weeks came to the M's, though, as Seattle swept them right after Toronto made life difficult for the Tigers by taking two of three. They'll obviously need to do better the next time around. The Jays also have seven left against the Yankees and six against the Orioles, so it's not as if their only chance of direct advancement toward October is through the wild card: They could clean house in those two series and find themselves atop the AL East in spite of recent troubles.
They'll also likely be in a better position to succeed than they were during most of this recent stretch. Edwin Encarnacion just returned from the disabled list three games ago, and made his presence felt on Sunday with a homer and two walks. Adam Lind also returned to the lineup within the last week, and while he doesn't have Encarnacion's bat, he's still been an important contributor Toronto missed. The Jays have Danny Valencia to face off against lefties and pair with Lind in a platoon as needed, both Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes are healthy ... if they could just get Colby Rasmus to hit even a little bit again, things would be going almost perfectly in terms of the lineup's outlook.
Getting Encarnacion's power back was a must. (Photo credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
The rotation still isn't quite what it needs to be, as Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are all in the very good, not great realm. Buehrle's season stats still look great, but his ERA was also a full run lower two months ago. He's not as bad as he's been since mid-June, a stretch in which he's posted a 5.33 ERA, but he's also not as good as he was prior to that fall. Aaron Sanchez won't be able to help them from anywhere but the bullpen thanks to an innings limit, so the Jays are just going to have to hope that Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ can continue to be good enough to get by unless they can somehow upgrade through an August waiver trade.
What's a little heartbreaking is that if the Jays do climb back in, it will likely be at the expense of someone else who hasn't been to the playoffs in a long time. The Royals, Jays and Mariners are the three teams with the longest playoff droughts in the game, with the Royals absent from the postseason since winning the World Series in 1985, the Jays watching October at home since winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, and the Mariners not making the playoffs since they lost in the 2001 ALCS after a record-setting 116-win campaign. Even if the Blue Jays make it through the AL East, it'll possibly doom the Orioles, who snapped their own postseason-less streak back in 2012, but are still without a World Series appearance or victory since 1983, and without a division title since 1997.
It's safe to say none of the other organizations care much about that, though, just their own heartbreak. The Jays haven't been to the playoffs since before a single wild card existed, never mind the dual format of today's game, so any broken hearts or crushed spirits it takes to change that will be worth it. They'll need to start winning again for that to happen, but there's no reason that can't happen: The key parts of the lineup are back together, the pitching might be enough with that being the case, and none of the teams they're chasing are perfect, either. It's going to be an exciting last 37 games of the season for more teams than just the Jays. It would have been less exciting -- in a good way for those north of the border -- if not for their last 10 contests, though.