MLB Prime Time: 2021 Pennant Race Editionby Logan Lockhart September 11, 2021 1 comment
When the Toronto Blue Jays played the Oakland Athletics on September 3, it appeared as though all hope was lost. Charlie Montoyo’s squad trailed 8-2 in the eighth inning, before a two-out rally saved the Blue Jays’ season and restored hope that a wild-card berth was possible.
Fast forward to today, and Toronto has put themselves back into the conversation of obtaining one of the two wild card positions in the American League. The Blue Jays represent just one of the great stories in baseball to emerge out of the early goings of September.
Winning Ways North of the Border
As of September 11, Toronto has won eight out of its last nine games. Due in large part to a number of stellar performances by the team’s pitching staff, the Blue Jays made history during their four-game set this week in the Bronx. Canada’s team became the first club since 1924 to sweep a four-game series at Yankee Stadium, without ever allowing the Yankees to obtain a lead. Not only did this year’s Blue Jays achieve a near 100-year-old feat, but they also gained enough ground in the standings to sit only half a game back of a playoff spot.
The Blue Jays’ lineup has received national attention throughout the campaign, and rightfully so. But the team’s best pitcher in 2021, Robbie Ray, may be the one in Toronto who finishes the season most deserving of the league’s hardware. The former Arizona Diamondbacks left-handed hurler has posted a 2.69 ERA, while limiting opposing hitters to a .209 batting average. Over the last month, Ray has solidified himself as a front-runner to win the AL Cy Young Award.
A Wide-Open National League East
The New York Mets’ pedestrian second-half performance has opened the door for either the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies to potentially raise a division-winning banner at season’s end. Wild-card hopefuls in San Diego and Cincinnati appear to be locked into a two-team race to obtain the final playoff spot in the NL. The East is as wide-open and unpredictable as it’s ever been. As a result, expect the Mets, Phillies and Braves to add their fair share of intrigue down the stretch.
The Padres and Reds have remained in a virtual tie for the final NL wild card spot over the last week and a half. But the Phillies, Mets and St. Louis Cardinals all sit no more than four games back of the much coveted playoff position.
Opposite Coasts, Same Outlook
Both the NL West and AL East divisions pose similar outlooks to their respective leagues. The scenario of three clubs from both divisions making the playoffs is becoming more likely. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will both be playing in October, barring an unprecedented collapse from either club. If the Padres do in fact become the team to play in the one-game wild card showdown, the NL playoffs will be dominated by the West’s division.
The AL East presents similar possibilities. With the Blue Jays’ emergence into the fray, the division is currently home to four teams who are in contention. The Tampa Bay Rays’ nine game lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox puts them in a position to win back-to-back division titles. That leaves the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays as the three remaining clubs in the AL East who will spend the last three weeks of the season fighting for the last two wild card spots. In the AL West, the Athletics and Seattle Mariners remain in the hunt, but seeing three teams emerge as playoff clubs in the East is still the most likely scenario, according to FanGraphs.
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