It’s been said many times before that a great start can’t win you a playoff spot, but a really poor start can lose you one. The Toronto Blue Jays might be the latter. They have started their 2017 campaign at just two wins in their first 13 games, which is bad even for a team with the lowest of expectations.
Writers around baseball media have already been penning postmortems, so to speak. At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron wrote that because they were only projected to win about 86 games preseason, the Jays would have to play better than the Cubs and Dodgers from now on to make the postseason.
According to those FanGraphs projections, they had a 52% chance of making the postseason. Now, they have just a 14.8% chance. With another bad week, they sink below 10%. And with Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez on the disabled list—not to mention the lost production from Edwin Encarnacion—the likes of Marcus Stroman, Jose Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki would have to have career years collectively for them to get back in it.
On one hand, that’s not impossible. They made a strong push in 2015, putting them to the point where they acquired David Price at the trade deadline and bumped the Yankees off the top of the division. But this is an older team, and such a bad start is sometimes too difficult to overcome.
This has interesting implications for the Yankees. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the Blue Jays—and that’s largely out of the Yankees’ control—but they’re having quite the opposite experience. They’re off to a fantastic start, even despite injuries to Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, and they have playoff odds around 38%.
If there are a finite amount of teams that can compete, knocking out the Blue Jays presents a unique opportunity. This was supposed to be a very crowded division, not even the Rays could be counted out. Tampa Bay looks pretty mediocre, and now the Jays find themselves in the hole. In such a crowded division, this could very well thin the herd.
If the Yankees are to legitimately compete, everything has to go right. We know this. That doesn’t just include internal factors, though. Of course Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Masahiro Tanaka, and the other core players need to have monster years, but every external factor has to lean right as well.
You can’t have a juggernaut Red Sox team and two 85-win teams in the AL East; that’s pretty much where they found themselves the past couple of years, and it resulted in a crowded field as well as having one of the hardest schedules in the league.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not going to underestimate Toronto. Donaldson is still Donaldson, if he returns, and Bautista is still Bautista, even if he’s a little older. If they start to play to the back of their baseball cards, as the saying goes, they’re not such a laughingstock anymore. But so far they have been, and that’s only good news for the Yankees. The Yankees can only control what they do, but they’d love to see another AL East rival quietly slip out of view.