TORONTO — It’s not often one gets to say this literally, so let’s take the opportunity: Sunday’s game is a must-win for the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s the only way to continue their season. When the Boston Red Sox eked out a win over the Washington Nationals Saturday to move level with the New York Yankees atop the wild card standings, it forced the Blue Jays into a do-or-die scenario against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. And even if they do, they may still die. Here’s the wild card standings entering Sunday’s action:
The simple way of looking at it is this: the Blue Jays must win Sunday, and one of the Red Sox or Yankees must lose. Whatever the Seattle Mariners do is irrelevant to Toronto’s chances of playing beyond Sunday. And no matter what happens, the Blue Jays cannot finish in sole possession of a wild card spot. They can only end up in a two-, three-, or four-way tie. If the Blue Jays are going to live to fight another day, it will be in a tiebreaker scenario on Monday.
With the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Mariners all in action beginning at 3:05pm ET Sunday, there are 16 possible outcomes. In six of them, the Blue Jays would continue their season and play a tiebreaker game on Monday. Here’s how those 16 scenarios look:
So, if the Blue Jays’ season is going to continue, it’ll require some tiebreaker chaos. Just how much chaos is largely up to the Los Angeles Angels and Mariners. And, just in case you were wondering, all tiebreaker games are considered regular season games. That means stats count toward regular-season totals and the runner-on-second extra-innings rule applies.
Let’s take a look at the six possible outcomes that could create a game on Monday for the Blue Jays, starting at the top of the image above. Here are Toronto’s season series records against the clubs it’s contending with, which we’ll need to guide us through the tiebreaker abyss:
TOR vs. NYY — 11-8
TOR vs. BOS — 9-10
TOR vs. SEA — 2-4
Scenario 1: Blue Jays win, Red Sox win, Yankees lose, and Mariners lose
This scenario would give the Red Sox sole possession of the first wild card spot and create a tie between the Blue Jays and Yankees for the second spot. Since the Blue Jays topped the Yankees in their season series, Toronto would then host the tiebreaker game between the clubs on Monday at Rogers Centre. The winner of that game would travel to Fenway Park to play the Red Sox in the wild card game on Tuesday. It’s one of the simpler outcomes:
Monday, Oct. 4: NYY @ TOR
Tuesday, Oct. 5: NYY / TOR @ BOS
Scenario 2: Blue Jays win, Red Sox win, Yankees lose, and Mariners win
The Red Sox again win the first wild card outright, but this time the Mariners join the Blue Jays and Yankees in a three-way tie for the second spot. Any three-way tiebreaker process begins with teams being designated as Club A, B, and C. The first determinant is head-to-head winning percentage. But since none of these three teams won its season series against each of the other two, we have to move on to the next one — the highest overall winning percentage in games among the three teams combined. Here’s how that looks:
TOR — 13-12 (.520)
NYY — 13-13 (.500)
SEA — 6-7 (.462)
How about that, the Blue Jays have somehow found their way into an advantage and will have first choice of team designation. Club A hosts Club B in the first game of the tiebreaker, with the winner hosting Club C the following day to determine the wild card team.
Crazier decisions have been made, but it’d be fairly shocking for the Blue Jays not to choose to be Club C, requiring them to win only one game versus two — even if it’s on the road. The Yankees would then certainly choose to be Club A and host the Mariners, with the winner hosting the Blue Jays on Wednesday to determine who gets to travel to Boston the following day to play the Red Sox in the wild card game. The likely schedule in that case would look like this:
Monday, Oct. 4: SEA @ NYY
Tuesday, Oct. 5: TOR @ SEA / NYY
Wednesday, Oct. 5: TOR / SEA / NYY @ BOS
Scenario 3: Blue Jays win, Red Sox lose, Yankees lose, and Mariners lose
This produces a three-way tie for both wild card spots between the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays. Again, we need Club A, B, and C designations. But this time there’s a wrinkle to the tiebreaker games. Club A hosts Club B on Monday to decide the first wild card spot. The loser of that game then travels to play Club C on Tuesday to determine the second wild card team.
Selection order is easier this time as Boston won its season series versus both Toronto and New York, giving it the right to choose first. The Blue Jays would select second thanks to their season series advantage over the Yankees.
Again, crazy things happen — but it’s almost a certainty the Red Sox would choose to be Club A, giving themselves a home game and two coin flips rather than one. That would leave the Blue Jays with the fascinating choice between Club B, which gets two chances to advance to the wild card game on the road, or Club C, which has one chance to advance at home.
You could make a case that Club C has some intangible advantages despite only getting one flip of the coin. It would be well-rested, having had Monday off. And it’s playing at home against a team that played an intense game the day prior before travelling overnight.
Still, considering the overwhelming role luck can play in one baseball game, it’s likely the Blue Jays would choose Club B and head to Boston on Monday to play for the first wild card. Win that game and they’re in. Lose and they’d head to the Bronx to play the Yankees on Tuesday for the second spot, needing a win to return to Boston on Wednesday to play the wild card game. Here’s how that schedule would look:
Monday, Oct. 4: TOR @ BOS
Tuesday, Oct. 5: TOR / BOS @ NYY
Scenario 4: Blue Jays win, Red Sox lose, Yankees lose, and Mariners win
This is the fun one. All four teams would tie for the two wild card spots with 91-71 records. Now we’d need Club A, B, C, and D designations. The selection order is decided by winning percentage amongst the pool. Here’s how that shakes out:
BOS — 24-21 (.533)
TOR — 22-22 (.500)
NYY — 22-23 (.489)
SEA — 9-11 (.450)
Club A hosts B for one wild card spot; Club C hosts D for the other. The winners then play each other in Tuesday’s wild card game, with home field advantage decided by which team won the season series between the two.
Once again the Blue Jays find themselves with an advantage. With the first selection, the Red Sox would assuredly choose to be Club A or C, leaving the Blue Jays to select whichever of the two is remaining and hold home field advantage on Monday. The Yankees would then have the intriguing choice of playing a must-win in either Boston or Toronto, while Seattle would travel to play the team the Yankees opt not to.
So, let’s say the Yankees end up choosing to play the Red Sox, while the Mariners head to Rogers Centre. If the Yankees beat the Red Sox, and the Blue Jays beat the Mariners, Toronto would then host the wild card game on Tuesday thanks to winning its season series against New York. Incredibly, the Blue Jays could come out of this with a pair of home games, needing to win both to move on to the ALDS.
Scenario 5: Blue Jays win, Red Sox lose, Yankees win, and Mariners lose
Now, the Yankees hold the first wild card spot, while the Red Sox fall into a tie for the second with the Blue Jays. In this case, the Blue Jays lost their season series with the Red Sox, which means they’d head to Boston to play a tiebreaker on Monday. The winner would then be off to the Bronx for Tuesday’s wild card game. Simple stuff:
Monday, Oct. 4: TOR @ BOS
Tuesday, Oct. 5: BOS / TOR @ NYY
Scenario 6: Blue Jays win, Red Sox lose, Yankees win, and Mariners win
The Yankees win the first wild card spot in this world, with the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays ending up in a tie for the second one. We again need Club A, B, C designations, with Boston selecting first thanks to its season series advantage over both Toronto and Seattle. The Mariners would select second by virtue of winning its series versus the Blue Jays.
As indicated above, you can expect the Red Sox to choose to be Club C, setting up a game between the Blue Jays and Mariners on Monday in Seattle, with the winner hosting Boston the following day to determine the wild card team. Here’s how that schedule would look:
Monday, Oct. 4: TOR @ SEA
Tuesday, Oct. 5: BOS @ TOR / SEA
Wednesday, Oct. 5: BOS / TOR / SEA @ NYY
And there you have it. Six ways the Blue Jays season could continue beyond Sunday, depending on the results of Saturday afternoon’s games. Toronto’s reward if it successfully navigates this 72-hour odyssey? A five-game series with the well-rested Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS. Hey, no one said it’d be easy.