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MLB-Best Yankees, Blue Jays Division Battle Will Go Down to the Wire

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2015

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The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays opened a three-game series Friday with everything on the line, and they finished it Sunday with nothing settled.

That's how it's going to be in the American League East: back and forth, tit for tat, right down to the wire. Simply put, we're watching the best division battle in baseball unfold.

For a while, it looked like the Jays might fly away with it.

Toronto went all-in at the trade deadline, acquiring All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace left-hander David Price, and they ripped off an 11-game winning streak that included a three-game sweep of New York at Yankee Stadium.

Suddenly, there was a new juggernaut in town. And it was worth wondering if the Yankees would ever recover.

The Blue Jays added ace David Price at the trade deadline and reeled off 11 straight wins.
The Blue Jays added ace David Price at the trade deadline and reeled off 11 straight wins.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Over the weekend, the boys in Pinstripes gave us their answer.

New York took the first two games at Rogers Centre, including a thrilling 4-3 comeback Friday, to reclaim first place.

Then, on Sunday, they sent touted rookie Luis Severino to the hill with a chance to return the sweeping favor and deliver a staggering blow.

Toronto, however, had an answer of its own. Backed by a two-run homer off the bat of Jose Bautista and a solid outing by right-hander Drew Hutchison, the Blue Jays notched a 3-1 win and trimmed the Yankees' lead to half a game.

Just how close is this race? FanGraphs puts the chances of the Yankees winning it at 47.8 percent. The Jays? They're sitting at 48.0 percent.

So it's a statistical dead heat, a veritable coin toss—back and forth, tit for tat.

The Jays can mash, but so can the Yankees; the two squads rank first and second in MLB in runs scored, respectively.

The Jays added Price to bolster their rotation. The Yankees boast a shutdown bullpen headlined by Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. 

If you're looking for a tipping point, it could be that the Yankees are leaning—hardon veterans with injury histories like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran to make the offense hum. And their starting five is counting on continued health from Masahiro Tanaka, he of the ticking-time-bomb elbow.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has tried to give his veteran players a breather.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has tried to give his veteran players a breather.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Skipper Joe Girardi, though, has made a point to give his aging core a breather whenever possible.

"Joe has done a real good job with everyone here being able to find some days to give us a break, keep everyone fresh," Beltran said, per Billy Witz of the New York Times. "This time of the year, you have to come ready to play. It doesn’t matter the situation. I know everyone's banged up, a little sore, but we cannot be thinking about that."

On the flip side, the Jays are no wide-eyed neophytes, as manager John Gibbons explained to SportsNet.ca's Shi Davidi.

"We don't have a bunch of young kids riding that emotional roller-coaster," Gibbons told Davidi. "These guys have all been through it before."

As a franchise, however, Toronto hasn't been through it for a long time.

In this case, "it" is a postseason berth, something the Blue Jays haven't secured since 1993, the longest such drought in North American professional sports.

Even if many of Toronto's top players—guys like Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Price—have playoff experience, there's no denying the added pressure the Jays must feel to bust their ignoble streak.

A-Rod compared the ups and downs of the 162-game grind to the stock market.
A-Rod compared the ups and downs of the 162-game grind to the stock market.Aaron Josefczyk/Associated Press

As ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews noted, while the Yankees' once-comfortable division lead has evaporated, "the edge is still there, the team is still in first place."

For how long? Time and, more to the point, the seven remaining games between Toronto and New York will tell.

The two squads tangle in a four-game series beginning Sept. 10 in the Bronx, followed by a three-game set beginning Sept. 21 north of the border.

That flurry of head-to-head action could resolve the matter, but here's betting it'll drag on till the end.

This is how A-Rod summed things up to Witz: “Keep working hard. Five, six-hundred at-bats, you're going to go through ups and downs. Like the stock market."

Only in this case, the situation's even more volatileand the future's even harder to predict.

All statistics and standings current as of Aug. 16 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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