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Stray Thoughts... - Can't seem to find my Belt!
On a massive win, good vibes, Martin Prince, chaos scenarios, lineup decisions, Brandon Belt's absence, Rays relievers, Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman, Cam Eden, Raimel Tapia, and more!
Well, I guess the Blue Jays will just have to do this their bloody selves. Which is fine. The Jays looked plenty capable of getting the one win they need to ensure a playoff spot out of the next two games on Friday night, exploding for 11 runs on 16 hits against a parade of Rays pitchers—and some uncharacteristically sloppy Rays defence.
Kevin Kiermaier must be spinning in his grave!
The Jays wobbled slightly in the top of the sixth inning, as the Rays ruined Yusei Kikuchi’s previously spectacular pitching line and cut what had been an 8-0 lead in half. But, really, that frame was just the baseball equivalent of pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
It was the most fun, most loud, most satisfying win of the season. The vibes were utterly magnificent. You could feel the heat of the crowd through your TV screen. It was the kind of high stakes performance this fan base has been waiting for all year. Maybe for years. The collective exhale and very apparent party atmosphere sure made it seem that way at least.
And yet—no thanks to the stupid, garbage Texas Rangers and, to a lesser extent, the dumb Arizona Diamondbacks—it has left the Jays with some work still to do.
Two nightmare possibilities remain on the table: a four-way tie at 89 wins, and a three-way tie between the Jays, Rangers, and Mariners.
The latter scenario is simpler, so let’s start there.
We’d get to this three-team tie if Mariners win both of their games with Texas, the Jays lose their final two, and Houston wins their final two in Arizona (and thus leapfrog the Rangers for the AL West crown).
Tiebreakers among multiple teams, unsurprisingly, are more complicated than ones between two individual clubs. In their excellent and comprehensive piece on the way all the various tiebreakers could play out in both the AL and NL, Thomas Harrigan and Brain Murphy of MLB.com explain that in the event of a three-team tie, “if one team wins the season series against both of the other clubs, that team gets the tiebreaker.”
In this case, that team would be Texas.
Thanks to a pair of one-run, come-from-behind Mariners wins in Seattle back in July, the Jays and Mariners split their season series, so the next tiebreaker would have to be used: intra-division record—i.e. which team had a better record against teams in their own division. Anyone who can remember back to the first half of the season knows that the Jays won’t fare well by that metric. Seattle would be in, and the Jays would be out.
A four-team tie would also leave the Blue Jays on the outside looking in.
OK... deep breath...
In the four-way scenario, the AL West winner would first have to be determined. None of those three teams won their season series against both of the other two, so we'd have to move on to the next tiebreaker. That one goes “to the team with the best combined winning percentage against the other two clubs.” In this case, that's the Mariners. They would be the AL West champs.
Next, using the same steps, the second wild card winner would need to be determined.
In this case, none of the three teams won the season series against both of the others, so we would again turn to the best combined winning percentage against the other two. And this, unfortunately for the Jays, is a problem.
Though Houston was 3-4 against the Jays, they went 9-4 against Texas. Against both teams combined, then, they were 12-8. (.600)
Texas may have been 6-1 against the Jays, but they were 4-9 against Houston, so 10-10 overall. (.500)
The Jays were 5-9 combined (.357), and so this step establishes—even though the Jays have the head-to-head tiebreaker over them—that Houston would be the second wild card team.
The tiebreaker for the third spot would then be only between the Jays and Rangers, and... well... we know how that goes.
The good news, of course, is that with either one Jays win, or one Mariners loss, those scenarios are off the table. Just win, baby.
Here are some Stray Thoughts on a Saturday...
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Hyun Jin Ryu taking the ball for the Toronto Blue Jays in a must-win game against the Tampa Bay Rays. What could possibly go wrong?
HEYO! We love a little bit of gallows humour, don't we?
It won't be quite so funny, of course, if the Jays come up short against what will likely be another parade of Rays relievers here on Saturday afternoon. And their lineup for this potential clincher is, frankly, a little discouraging.
No Brandon Belt? George Springer at DH? Cavan Biggio in right field? Kiermaier hitting sixth?
I’m sure there’s some sort of method to this madness, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the health of Belt. Or Springer, I suppose. Even if the Jays are saying it’s no big deal.
It must have been quite a conversation to tell him he’s sitting if he’s fine!
Like, I have been very willing to defend the days off this team gives to its players that everybody hates. You need only to look at how healthy the starting pitchers have been all year, or how many games they’ve been able to wring out of oft-injured veterans—like Springer, Kiermaier, and Belt himself—to see that the club’s High Performance department is doing something right. But with two games left and a playoff spot not yet clinched?
Because, make no mistake, even if the scenarios that would see the Jays miss out on the playoffs are longshots at this point, this is absolutely a must-win game. And even though the Rays seem to be easing up a bit, it’s going to be a hard-fought one.
If the Jays haven’t clinched by the end of the day, Kevin Gausman is going to have to pitch tomorrow, ruling him out of the wild card series. Getting to this incredibly advantageous position only to end up getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs without even getting to use your best starter seems, to me, to be a pretty bad outcome!
It’s hard to believe, if he’s as healthy as they’re saying, that even this team would do that with the guy who has been their best hitter all year. Unless they expected to see a bunch of lefties after right-handed “starter” Shawn Armstrong (averaging just 1 1/3 innings per appearance) makes his early exit from the ballgame. But that certainly won’t be the case.
The only lefties in the Rays bullpen are Jake Diekman and Colin Poche, two very important relivers for them, both of whom have fewer innings pitched than appearances. They're one-inning guys. And if they did get into the game, it might not even be a bad idea to have Belt face them, just to take a look in case that matchup arises again next week.
However, according to Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays “would like to limit the looks the Jays will get at some of their pitchers.”
I can’t say that it won’t mean Diekman or Poche won’t enter the ballgame, but clearly the Rays have a plan here. Keeping their own players rested and ready for next week is a big part of it. In fact, just today they designated RHP Erasmo Ramírez for assignment and brought up bulk RHP Cooper Criswell. So you'd have to think he'll get some innings in. You’d also have to think he could be fresh meat for a guy like Belt.
So… I don’t know. It’s odd!
It could—and probably will—work out entirely fine. But, man alive, I sure would love to not have to relitigate this bullshit all winter!
• It’s not like the Blue Jays don’t know how important it is to have their best players on the field at this critical time of year, as Ben Nicholson-Smith tells us in his latest for Sportsnet. The piece focusses on Alejandro Kirk, who has played in all 26 of the Jays’ games this month, and even gives Belt a mention. “Ideally,” Ben tells us, “playing Belt would be an option rather than a necessity by Sunday.” Turns out it’s an option today!
• I don’t really want to get into the “Fire Schneider!” stuff that dumbly follows this manager around—even from otherwise intelligent and plugged-in fans—but, uh… this:
• I wrote on Thursday about Matt Chapman, pointing out how awful he’s been since the start of May, and basically wondered if Santiago Espinal’s hot September bat might be a better option at third base for the time being. He responded by hitting his first home run since August 4th. I then half-jokingly wrote on Friday that this might not have been such a good thing, as the homer—a wall-scraper to the opposite field—made it less likely that Chapman would be dropped from the lineup for this crucial final regular season series. He then homered again on Friday night. So… uh… let’s keep trying this, shall we?
• Matt Chapman can’t hit and the Jays shouldn’t play him. Sad to see him in the lineup in such an important game.
• Worth noting: Not only is it important that the Blue Jays win today and clinch their playoff spot, it’s important that they win today and clinch their playoffs spot so I can then cheer for the garbage Texas Rangers to get swept in Seattle and miss the playoffs.
• Hmm. Not sure why Max hasn’t responded yet. Are you there, Max??
• This was a nice moment on Friday night—and a cheeky bit of savvy from the crowd. We get it!
• The overall vibes, clearly, were a big part of Eden’s reception. Which is fine! But… like… I mean…
• OK, just a short one today, folks. It is Saturday, after all. But, you know, lastly… KEEP THESE VIBES GOING AND WIN THIS ONE BOYS! HAVING TO PLAY FOR YOUR PLAYOFF LIVES TOMORROW SEEMS LIKE A VERY, VERY BAD IDEA. (BUT HEY, AT LEAST BELT SHOULD BE AVAILABLE I GUESS!)
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