Sometimes, a glance at the standings tells the entire picture of a league, and other times, the wins and losses don’t capture the full story. Take, for example, the 2021 American League Wild Card race, where the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners are separated by 3.5 games.
On paper, the Blue Jays are a much better team than their 49-46 record suggests. Conversely, the Mariners are defying all odds and are only 1.5 games out of a playoff spot with a 54-46 record.
With a wealth of talent, the Blue Jays have underperformed this far, and the Mariners have shattered all expectations in 2021. What on earth is going on here? It’s like the Blue Jays and Mariners have pulled a “Freaky Friday” and switched teams this year.
Lady luck could not be any kinder than she has been to the Mariners this season. Despite a -52 run differential, the team is 23-8 in one-run games (MLB’s best record), and they’re 36-31 against teams above .500.
Conversely, the Blue Jays have a +86 run differential, they’re 6-11 in one-run games and they’re 27-37 against teams with a winning record.
Factoring in their run differential, the Blue Jays’ expected win record is 57-38. Meanwhile, the Mariners’ expected win record is 44-56. In theory, the Jays should have the Mariners’ 54-46 record, and the Mariners should have the Blue Jays’ 49-46 record.
|Team||W||PCT||RUN DIFF||EXPW-L||EXPWP||EXPWP -PCT||RANK|
Data via ESPN (As of July 26, 2021)
Taking away the difference between their expected and actual records, the Blue Jays are the biggest under-performers in baseball this season, and the Mariners are the biggest over-performers in baseball.
Win expectancy or Pythagorean win-loss record doesn’t paint the entire picture of a season, but the cream ultimately rises to the top. Talented teams win divisions and make playoffs, and sometimes lady luck propels teams like the Mariners into the playoff picture.
It’s a crucial week for both franchises, as the Mariners find themselves within 1.5 games of the Oakland Athletics for the second Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays are a full four games out of a playoff spot, with Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline looming.
Suddenly, Seattle could shift into another gear and become a buyer at the deadline rather than a seller. Recently they’ve been linked to Kansas City Royals outfielder Whit Merrifield.
The Blue Jays and Mariners could gun after the same type of players heading into Friday, which makes this week an important juncture on the field and in the front office for both franchises.
In the meantime, maybe the Mariners just ride this incredible wave to see if it squashes their 19-year playoff drought. The Blue Jays know what it’s like to miss the postseason for an extended period, as they ended a 22-year playoff drought in 2015.