MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can clinch with win over Yankees Thursday

Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen joins Hazel Mae after going 4-4 with two home runs against Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees, to discuss what a great confidence boost it is for him at the plate.

One year after losing 95 games, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the brink of their first playoff appearance in four years. And this time, they don’t need help from anyone else to clinch.

With Hyun Jin Ryu slated to face the New York Yankees Thursday evening, the Blue Jays’ magic number is finally down to one. A win would eliminate the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners and assure the Blue Jays the last available American League playoff berth. On the mound, there’s no one Toronto would rather have pitching than Ryu, whose 3.00 ERA has been instrumental in the team’s success.

Watch live Thursday on Sportsnet, SN1 and SN NOW as the Blue Jays look to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Yankees. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT with Blue Jays Central.

Considering where the Blue Jays were a year ago, they weren’t considered a playoff favourite entering the season, but they’ve overcome injuries to get this far – all while playing at their triple-A park. And while the Blue Jays would undoubtedly be underdogs should they advance, anything can happen in a three-game series. First things first, though – they have to get there.

Here’s a closer look at where Toronto stands in the MLB playoff picture…

If the playoffs began today
The top two teams in each division make the playoffs along with the top remaining two teams from each league for a total of 16 playoff teams. Those 16 teams will then face off in eight best-of-three series that precede the League Division Series.

If the post-season began today, these eight American League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays
No. 2 Oakland Athletics vs. No. 7 Cleveland Indians
No. 3 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 6 Houston Astros
No. 4 Chicago White Sox vs. No. 5 New York Yankees

And these eight National League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Cincinnati Reds
No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 San Francisco Giants
No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins
No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals

How seeding works in 2020: According to MLB, the top three seeds in each league go to the three division winners in order of record. The next three seeds go to the three teams that finish second in their division, in order of record. The final two seeds will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division.

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In striking distance
In the American League, only two teams outside the top eight have a chance of advancing to the playoffs and both will need everything to go right to qualify. The Angels (26-31) and Mariners (25-31) are both off Thursday, but a Blue Jays win would eliminate those AL West teams. Even if the Blue Jays lose Thursday, the Angels and Mariners will still be a single loss away from elimination as they enter their weekend series against the Dodgers and Athletics, respectively.

Meanwhile, in the National League, there are still eight teams in the mix for the final four spots. The Phillies (28-29) and Brewers (27-28) are just one game behind the Giants (28-27) and Reds (29-28), putting lots of pressure on San Francisco and Cincinnati. Even the Mets (25-31) and Rockies (24-31) are still technically in the mix, though they’d need some help to advance.

Playoff odds report
Objectively speaking, here’s where the Blue Jays stand in relation to their closest adversaries, according to FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight:

Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 99.8% | Blue Jays’ FiveThirtyEight odds: more than 99%

Angels’ FanGraphs odds: 1.5% | Angels’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 1%

Mariners’ FanGraphs odds: 0.1% | Mariners’ FiveThirtyEight odds: less than 1%

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Next up
The Blue Jays will send Ryu to the mound Thursday evening while the Yankees will counter with Jordan Montgomery. Once the Yankees leave town, the Baltimore Orioles will arrive in Buffalo for three games to wrap up the regular season. Of course if all goes well for the Blue Jays Thursday, that series against the Orioles will merely be a tune-up for the playoffs.

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