Blue Jays control the fate of the regular season stretch drive playoffs

A series win over the Baltimore Orioles this week gave the Toronto Blue Jays some much-needed breathing room in the American League playoff race.

Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team has its own destiny in its own hands with four weeks left in the regular season.

Securing one of the three wildcard spots remains a likely outcome for Toronto. Home advantage in a first round series is a possibility and there is a slim chance of first place in the East Division standings.

Toronto will begin a three-game set against the Texas Rangers on Friday night before returning to Rogers Center for an important eight-game homestand against divisional opponents.

With a record of 76-60 and some momentum thanks to a strong road trip, the Blue Jays seem well positioned for the stretch drive.

East party

Six of Toronto’s eight remaining series will be against East Division opponents. Next week there is a crucial five-game run against Tampa Bay, ahead of a three-game set against the Orioles.

In Thursday’s games, idle Toronto was half a game behind the Seattle Mariners (77-60) and 1 1/2 games behind the Rays (77-58). The leading New York Yankees (83-54) were five games ahead of Tampa Bay and 6 1/2 games ahead of the Blue Jays.

In the wild-card race, Toronto was 4 1/2 games ahead of Baltimore and 7 1/2 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

Under the new playoff format, a pair of AL wildcard series will be played with the two higher-ranked division winners securing a byes to the division series. The other division winner (No. 3 seed) will host the third wildcard team (No. 6 seed) in a best-of-three series, while the first wildcard club (No. 4 seed) will host the second wild-card team (No. 5 seed) in the other.

The Blue Jays have a 5.7 percent chance of winning the East and a 92.1 percent chance of securing a wildcard seat, according to the FanGraphs website.

Aces high

The one-two punch from Alek Manoah (14-7, 2.42 ERA) and Kevin Gausman (11-9, 3.12) at the front of the rotation helped Toronto stay in the playoffs.

Ross Stripling (7-4, 3.03) has been a reliable presence since he replaced Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation, but he only worked in the seventh inning in two of his 19 starts.

Inconsistency has plagued Jose Berrios (10-5, 5.23) all year and Toronto’s No. 5 spot – previously held by reliever Yusei Kikuchi and most recently by the relegated Mitch White – could be filled by openers from the bullpen depending on the opponent .

sweet relief

The return of southpaw Tim Mayza from a two-week stint on the injured list last month has helped stabilize a bullpen anchored by all-star closer Jordan Romano.

Yimi Garcia and the acquisition of Anthony Bass on the trade deadline were solid options with high leverage, while sidearmer Adam Cimber was a workhorse with a team leadership of 63 appearances.

A high-speed option like Julian Merryweather could be used more often in the coming weeks. And fireballer Nate Pearson remains an intriguing possibility as he moves forward on a minor-league rehab assignment.

From the Schneid

John Schneider has not been afraid to make his mark on the team since he was named interim manager following the mid-season resignation of Charlie Montoyo.

The Blue Jays are more aggressive on the basepaths under the new skipper, who has regularly tinkered with batting order. Schneider has also extended Romano’s appearances more often than his predecessor.

Romano, who shares the lead with AL with 31 saves, only worked more than one inning under Montoyo this year. Under Schneider, the closer made four saves and played twice in two innings.

Schneider is 30-18 in his new role (.625 win rate) while Montoyo left when the team was 46-42 (.523).

sweet place

Expectations for the season were high for the Blue Jays, who were initially seen as one of the favorites to reach the World Series.

A strong record of April 14-8 was followed by four months of mediocre results. Wins in eight of their last 10 games and a more balanced appearance on mound and plate have renewed optimism after the season.

Toronto has 26 games left to play, including nine matchups against Tampa Bay, six against Baltimore and three against New York and Boston. The Blue Jays’ season will conclude in early October with a three-game road series against the Orioles.