Blue Jays set sights on home-field advantage
East champs vying for AL's top seed with Royals
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays officially clinched the American League East on Wednesday but their work in the regular season is far from over as the focus shifts to securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Toronto owns a one-game lead over Kansas City for the top record in the American League. The Blue Jays also own the tiebreaker between the two teams, which means they'll secure top spot even if both clubs finish with the same record.
The team that finishes with the best record will face the winner of Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser in the Division Series. Whichever team finishes second between Toronto and Kansas City would then host the winner of the American League West.
"I think home field for us, with the environment that we have now in that stadium, and I've talked to other GMs, other teams, everybody across the league is talking about what an unbelievable environment it is," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after his team clinched the division with a 15-2 victory in Game 1.
"So to have a dome, playing conditions, all of that I think it's a big advantage for us so we'd love to get it. We're certainly going to fight for it, but you do balance that out with having to give guys rest."
There are pros and cons to each scenario, but the Blue Jays would prefer to have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The downside to that is Wild Card teams have fared quite well since the postseason format was expanded to 10 teams in 2012.
Dating back those three years, Wild Card teams are 3-3 in the ALDS. Last year, the Royals and Giants won the Wild Card Games and eventually made it all the way to the World Series. That clearly means the first round is hardly a guarantee against a team that is riding high after winning the one-game playoff.
Even so, there are plenty of reasons why the Blue Jays want to finish first. Toronto finished 53-28 at home this season, which is the best record in the AL, and the club also has the advantage of being used to playing on artificial surface, which is slightly unfamiliar to the rest of the league. The good news for the Blue Jays is that their second-half surge also included a much better record on the road with a 16-7 record since Aug. 1.
"I think to get to this point, we had to do that, we had to be better on the road," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We've been really good at home all year but to get to this point, we needed to pick it up on the road, that's for sure.
With home-field advantage, the Blue Jays would host the first two games in each series. Toronto would then potentially play two games on the road in the ALD and three in the ALCS and World Series, before returning home for the decisive games if necessary.
It's a big advantage for any team and seemed virtually impossible a couple of months ago. Toronto had a 50-51 record on July 28 compared to a 61-38 record for the Royals. The Blue Jays have since gone 41-15, while the Royals struggled to a 29-28 record.
The first priority is to give the regulars a bit of a rest, and Gibbons opted to sit his entire starting nine for Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader and said that a similar strategy likely will be taken for Thursday's series finale. After that, it will be back to business as normal.
"We'd love to do that," Gibbons said of the top seed. "I think that would be very important, every team would want to do that. ... These guys going to get a day off to recoup, but it will keep you sharp, keep you playing."