Blue Jays reduce magic number to 1 with resounding win

September 30th, 2023

TORONTO -- Throw another bag of ice in the tub, the champagne will have to wait for tomorrow.

Friday’s 11-4 win at Rogers Centre over the Rays put the Blue Jays on the doorstep of the postseason, but the loss they needed from the Mariners later in the night to officially clinch didn’t come through. The Mariners instead shut out the Rangers, 8-0, leaving the Blue Jays’ magic number at one. Win Saturday and they’re in the playoffs.

“It’s like a doubleheader,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider after Toronto’s win, just as Seattle’s game was beginning. “We’ll pay attention to what’s going on. I think you still have to focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, things get done tonight. If not, we’ve got a game to win tomorrow, but we’ll be watching.”

Toronto’s run to the postseason has been exhausting, the AL Wild Card race taking on a dozen different shapes over the past month. Riding one of baseball’s best rotations and some excellent defensive play, the Blue Jays have slowly separated themselves and now have their shot to rewrite 2022’s heartbreak with their new brand of “pitching and defense” baseball.

  • Games remaining: vs. TB (2)
  • Standings update: Toronto (89-71) sits second in the AL Wild Card race, one game up on Houston (88-72), which defeated Arizona, 2-1, and two games up on Seattle (87-73), which defeated Texas, 8-0.
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; lose vs. Seattle; lose vs. Texas
  • Path to Postseason: Win one of the last two games and they're in. If they lose both, they can still make it as long as the Mariners lose at least one of their last two games. They also still make it if they lose both and the Astros lose both of their games. But if the Blue Jays lose both, the Mariners win both and the Astros win at least one, then the Blue Jays would miss the postseason.

With the Rays already locked into the top AL Wild Card spot, their approach to Friday’s game looked nothing like what the Blue Jays could see beginning Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

The clearest example came early when Aaron Civale, who could line up for a potential Game 3 start in the AL Wild Card Series, went through the lineup just once before turning things over to a bullpen game handled by arms the Blue Jays won’t exactly be seeing in the ninth inning Tuesday.

The Blue Jays still put together one of their best offensive performances of the season, though, collecting 16 hits and four walks.

While the usual suspects impressed, including a combined nine hits from the trio of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, the Blue Jays also got some production from the veterans they’ve been waiting on.

Brandon Belt and Matt Chapman both homered for the second consecutive night, which is extremely encouraging news just days from the postseason.

Belt recently returned from the IL and Chapman has struggled to drive the ball until recently. Most days, the Blue Jays will give themselves a chance to win on pitching and defense alone, but outbursts like this can turn a quick glimpse of the postseason into an extended run.

“These guys have all the confidence in the world in themselves,” Schneider said. “When you look at the two games against [the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday], that’s two really good pitchers back to back in [Michael] King and [Gerrit] Cole, but this is what we can do. These guys are hitting their stride a little bit. The power is coming around at the right time. It’s about timely hits.”

While the Blue Jays enter the weekend still needing to clinch, the Rays have already handled their business. They’re in, waiting to host an AL Wild Card Series, but they also recognize that there’s no way around the fact that these final days will be a poker game, each side trying to set themselves up just right.

“Definitely unique,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “But I don't know how we can -- they can't hide from us; we can't hide from them. We've got to play, and we're going to make sure that the pitchers that we need to pitch are going to pitch."

For years, the Rays have been the big brother in this relationship. The Blue Jays hold a slight edge in the season series, 6-5, but they still need to prove that they can beat the Rays in the postseason, and do it in a place that hasn’t exactly been kind to them over the years.

“They’re an extremely good team,” said George Springer. “They know how to pitch, hit and play defense. I think everyone understands that and our team understands that, especially with being in the same division. With the way that the schedule is kind of lined up, we’ve played them in six out of our last 12, which is ironic, it’s funny at the same time. If it ends up that it’s us versus them, then it is what it is.”

It will take another day, at least, but the Blue Jays could pop champagne Saturday, leaving Game 162 as a dress rehearsal for the big show.