The Blue Jays have always had to contend with the beasts of the AL East, and what used always to be a two horse race has recently turned into a three horse race with the prominence of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Now, potentially three of those horses in the AL East could find themselves in the playoffs. As encouraging as the expanded playoffs news was, it seems like the bar to make it into the postseason just keeps on rising.
That coveted playoff spot is not necessarily designated for the bridesmaid in the AL East either, as the prominence of teams like the Rangers and Angels over in the West could threaten as well.
Just for the heck of it, I thought it would be run to play revisionist and see how the expanded playoffs would have affected previous Blue Jays seasons.
Interestingly enough, since the Wild Card format was adopted in 1995, the only season where the Blue Jays would have qualified for the second Wild Card spot was 1998. That's just once in the past 16 years.
So, those who think the dogfight is about to get much easier for the Blue Jays will be sorely mistaken. If anything, the requirements to make the playoffs have actually been trending upwards.
I crunched the numbers and took the winning percentages from the last 16 seasons of the AL East division winner, the Wild Card winner, the winning percentage of the would-be second Wild Card team, and of course ... the Toronto Blue Jays.
I also averaged out what the win total of all these teams from the past 16 seasons, just to give you a sense of what the Blue Jays should be gunning for if they want to make it into the playoffs.
Nine wins might not seem like that much to close the gap, but that fine line is what has separated the Blue Jays from the playoffs since 1995. Last year alone, that gap was as many as 10 games.
Picking up a few extra wins here and there seems like a reasonable goal for 2011, but manufacturing an extra 9-10 wins seems like a very daunting task for this team.
I'm not saying it's impossible, but the Blue Jays definitely have an uphill battle ahead of them. To some, that gap might only seem like a small crack in the pavement, but it may as well be as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps that's why Alex Anthopoulos opted not to make a big splash in the free agent market this off-season; because the addition of one or even two key players might not even bring the Blue Jays that 10 or so extra wins they'd need to be a playoff contender.
The inherent problem of adding another Wild Card team is that squeaking your way into the playoffs via the Wild Card is no longer good enough. To ensure their spot in the playoffs and avoid the one-game tiebreaker, teams need to secure the division title.
While the Blue Jays would love to return to the postseason, the last thing they want to do is have a "one and done" playoff scenario. If the Blue Jays are going to make a run at the playoffs, they need to gun for the top spot in the AL East.
If they shoot for the stars and end up on the moon, so be it. But no team should aspire to merely squeak their way into the postseason. And I think that's the philosophy the Blue Jays are trying to instill not only in the locker room, but amongst the fanbase as well.
If Alex thought the team was on the doorstep of contention and they only had to make up 2-3 wins, then securing a big name free agent would certainly help put them over the top. But they're not quite that close just yet.
Realistically, if the Blue Jays want a shot at making the playoffs, they need to shoot for at least a 90 win season. And even that might not be enough with the expanded playoffs, so it would be a safer bet to raise the bar to 92-93 wins.
I guess that just goes to show you how slim the margin of error is in the American League East. And like I said, making up ground with a couple more wins shouldn't be much of a problem for the Blue Jays this season. The uphill battle will be trying to somehow accumulate those 9-10 extra wins.
Unless six or seven position players put up career years this season, that's just too much ground to make up in one season. I see the Blue Jays journey as more of a slight progression; this year it's an extra two wins, the next year it's another two, and the following is another two or three.
For the Blue Jays, it's all about chipping away little by little. And by adding another Wild Card team, that cracks open the door of opportunity for them just a little bit further.