PHILADELPHIA — As the Toronto Blue Jays’ win total mounts, the strategic questions facing the team’s decision-makers change, sometimes overnight. But on the field, the challenge on the field remains the same: simply win.
On that front, the Blue Jays did what they had to do Tuesday, beating the Phillies in an 18-11 fight at Citizens Bank Park to improve to 84-64. Ross Stripling wasn’t at his best and Julian Merryweather made him a lot closer than he had to be, but Alejandro Kirk returned to the lineup with a walk and three singles from DH on a night when Toronto’s offense created plenty of breathing room behind. 21 hits.
It was ugly, but it counts.
Although Stripling allowed five earned runs over four innings, Teoscar Hernandez had a four-hit game and catcher Danny Jansen added three while Matt Chapman knocked down Kyle Gibson for his 27th home run of the season.
All told, a welcome lopsided win during a stressful stretch of the season. At the same time, each individual game also fits into a larger puzzle. The results of the Rays and Mariners games determine how much breathing room the Blue Jays have at the top of the AL wild card standings. Arguably more important are the results of the Yankees and Orioles games, as changing tack with either team would represent a real game changer for the Blue Jays.
“He’s so confused right now,” interim manager John Schneider said Tuesday afternoon. “It changes all the time, so I know it sounds cliche, but we’re trying to focus on the task at hand. You want to put yourself in a place to dictate your own script.”
First things first, the Blue Jays have to make the playoffs. But since FanGraphs pegged their probability of advancing at 99.6 percent before beating the Phillies, let’s assume they’ll play more than 162 this year.
Getting there is one thing. How they get there is also important. So, tactically speaking, how do the Blue Jays approach the final two weeks of the regular season?
“You make informed decisions based on where you are in the standings and where other teams are,” Schneider said.
If there’s any chance of upsetting the Yankees, the Blue Jays need to push, as a first-round bye would eliminate the risk that comes with a three-game wild-card series. The Yankees started the day 5.5 games ahead of the Blue Jays, but play three games in Toronto next week, so there’s a chance to gain head-to-head ground.
With that in mind, the Blue Jays could keep Alek Manoah on regular rest for Friday’s opener against the Rays and set up a possible appearance for Manoah in Wednesday’s finale against New York.
At some point in the Rays’ upcoming series, Mitch White will join the rotation, but details have yet to be determined. One scenario in play would see White, who is with the Blue Jays in Philadelphia on the taxi team, starting on Saturday.
Confirmed rotation plans
Tuesday vs. Phillies – Stripling
Wednesday vs. Phillies – Kevin Gausman
Possible rotation plans
Thursday vs. Rays – Jose Berrios
friday vs. Rays–Manoah
Saturday vs. Stripes – White
Sunday vs. Rays–Stripling
Monday vs. Yankees – Gausman
Tuesday vs. Yankees – Berrios
Wednesday vs. Yankees–Manoah
The state of the bullpen will affect the Blue Jays’ decisions, as will outcomes in other parts of the American League playoff race. For example, if the Yankees gain more ground on the Blue Jays, there’s a case for finding additional rest for Manoah. He’s already setting career innings records with each successive start and his biggest starts are yet to come.
“It’s fluid,” Schneider said. “Having options is good. Much will be dictated in the next three days.”
The Blue Jays had to use their bullpen for five innings after Stripling’s departure with Merryweather allowing five earned runs and throwing 29 pitches in his worst outing of the year.
Ideally, they’d line up Gausman and Manoah for the wild-card round, but that duo may also be needed on the final weekend of the season. Either way, it looks like the Blue Jays, Mariners and Rays are headed for an especially close endgame. The better team among those three gets home-field advantage, while the last-place finisher may have an easier path to the AL Championship Series with the AL Central winner followed by the Yankees.
Under those circumstances, the second wild-card spot is arguably the worst place to be, creating a huge incentive for the Blue Jays to keep winning. But at this point, it’s too early to think about perfecting an ending. The more they earn now, the more options they have later. In other words, let the explosions continue.
“You play to win every game,” Schneider said. “However, you want to be A) playing well, B) coming on, and C) playing well when we come on.”