MLB Playoff Picture 2021: Yankees-Blue Jays and Most Pivotal Series Remaining

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2021

MLB Playoff Picture 2021: Yankees-Blue Jays and Most Pivotal Series Remaining

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays flipped around the American League wild-card race during their last meeting with the New York Yankees. 

    Toronto will hope to replicate the performances from the four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium earlier this month to claw into a wild-card position. 

    New York comes into Rogers Centre as the top team in the AL wild-card race, but that status could change with one loss. 

    The Yankees are one game ahead of the Boston Red Sox. Toronto is one game behind Boston, while the Seattle Mariners are 1.5 games adrift of the Red Sox. 

    Seattle has a chance to knock out the Oakland Athletics from the AL wild-card race in a series that began on Monday. The Mariners won the series opener at home and now Oakland has a slim margin of error for the rest of its games in the pacific northwest. 

    All of the playoff attention in the National League is centered on the East division race between Atlanta and the Philadelphia Phillies. 

    The top two teams in the NL East will go head-to-head starting Tuesday in a three-game set at Truist Park that could determine the division champion.

New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays (September 28-30)

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Toronto stunned the Yankees during its four-game sweep from September 6-9. 

    The Blue Jays went on to win each of their next three series with the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins before slowing down a bit.

    Toronto lost four of its first five games last week to drop below the Red Sox and Yankees in the wild-card hunt. 

    The Blue Jays used two wins over the Twins to get back on track, but they will need a much better performance on Tuesday to defeat the Yankees, who are on a six-game winning streak. 

    Jameson Taillon and Hyun-Jin Ryu will kick off the series on Tuesday. Gerrit Cole opposes Jose Berrios on Wednesday and Robbie Ray does battle with Corey Kluber on Thursday. 

    Toronto should have the advantage in the third game with Ray on the hill. He has not faced the Yankees since May and is in some of the best form of any pitcher in the majors right now.

    For Ray's Thursday start to carry significance, the Blue Jays must win on Tuesday or Wednesday. Ryu should have the better chance of earning a win since he recently outdueled Taillon in the Bronx.

    Ryu tossed six scoreless inning on September 6, while Taillon was touched up for three earned runs over seven innings. Toronto broke that game open with five runs off Brooks Kriske in the ninth.

    If Toronto wins two games, it has a chance to make a final wild-card push at home against the Baltimore Orioles to close the season. 

    New York has the tougher matchup on paper versus the Tampa Bay Rays, but the AL East champion may opt to rest some players with the postseason on the horizon.

Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners (September 27-29)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Seattle got off to an early start this week by picking up a 13-4 win over Oakland on Monday.

    The Mariners' victory drug them within 1.5 games of the Red Sox. Boston has the easiest schedule of the wild-card contenders since it faces Baltimore and Washington. 

    Chris Bassitt and Tyler Anderson will square off in Tuesday's pitching matchup. Bassitt recently returned to the mound after he was struck in the head with a line drive against the Chicago White Sox.

    Anderson, a trade deadline addition from Pittsburgh, was pulled after two innings in his last start versus the Los Angeles Angels. He is returning on short rest since he did not pitch deep into the game in which he conceded nine earned runs. 

    With Bassitt throwing Tuesday and Frankie Montas on Wednesday, the A's have a chance to claw back into the wild-card race. 

    Both teams will be rooting for the Blue Jays to bring the Yankees back in the chaos. If New York keeps winning, the margin between it, Boston and the rest of the pack will grow. 

    Oakland and Seattle have to assume they are playing for one spot due to Boston's easy schedule and that should make them the biggest Toronto fans. 

Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta (September 28-30)

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    You can throw away all of the previous results this season between Atlanta and Philadelphia. 

    The teams last met before the July 30 trade deadline in which Atlanta revamped its roster in the wake of Ronald Acuna Jr.'s season-ending injury.

    Brian Snitker's team brought in Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson to add more power to the lineup around Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley.

    Atlanta won a good amount of its games in August and September through its power bats. That should be the key to finishing off the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East race. 

    Atlanta currently holds a 2.5-game lead over the Phillies, so it does not need to record a sweep at Truist Park. 

    Philadelphia is throwing ace Zack Wheeler on Tuesday against Charlie Morton. Wheeler has been Philadelphia's best pitcher all season and he could get the series off on the right note for the visitors. 

    Philadelphia's pitching problems are abundant after Wheeler. Wednesday's starter Aaron Nola has a 5.32 road ERA and he conceded six earned runs in his last start versus Pittsburgh.

    Max Fried, who will oppose Nola on Wednesday, is coming off a complete-game shutout against the San Diego Padres. 

    The Phillies have struggled to find consistency on offense as well. They scored three or fewer runs in each of their last four losses. They are 9-3 in their last 12 games, but if their bats are slowed down by Atlanta's pitchers, their playoff run could come up short. 

    Atlanta is back home for the first time since September 15. Since August 1, it is 5-3-1 in its home series. The NL East is coming off a road trip in which it won six of its final seven contests. 

    If Atlanta wins twice, its lead will grow to 3.5 games and it will eliminate the Phillies with three games to play. If the Phillies take two victories or sweep, they will go into the final weekend with a glimmer of hope.