The American League East race feels like it's over

TORONTO -- One of Yogi Berra's most famous sayings is, "It ain't over 'til it's over." So maybe we should refrain just yet from calling the Toronto Blue Jays the American League East champs.

But it sure feels as though the division race is over, save for the final math.

On the day the New York Yankees mourned their legendary catcher, the Blue Jays beat them yet again Wednesday, this time behind a masterful performance by Marcus Stroman, pushing the Yankees 3.5 games behind the Jays with 11 games for the Yankees to play.

"It is difficult," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It is not mathematically impossible, but it is difficult."

Let's say the Yankees ripped off a 9-2 run to end the season. They then would need the Jays, who are idle Thursday, to go 5-5 just to tie. The way the Jays have played in the second half of the season, that is rather hard to fathom.

The simple truth is Toronto is a far superior team than the Yankees. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous and manager John Gibbons played the trade deadline, and nearly every game since, impeccably. They knew that after the calendar turned to August, they played the Yankees 13 times.

So even when they were eight games back of the Yankees as far back as July 28, Antopolous and Gibbons plotted, believing if they upgraded with David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and Ben Revere and then awaited Stroman's return from a knee injury, they could make a run at the Yankees.

Incredibly, they have gained 11.5 games on the Yankees in less than two months. With Wednesday's win over the Yankees, the Jays went 9-4 in the final 13 played between the two teams and won the season series 13-6. They just grabbed the division right out of the Yankees' hands.

"That's the difference in the standings," Girardi said.

The difference in the teams is glaring when they are on the same field. The Jays' lineup is just lethal, while the Yankees' is sputtering a bit at the finish, relying too much on Alex Rodriguez and not getting enough production at the top from Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

The Yankees received a nice comeback performance Wednesday from Ivan Nova, but it wasn't enough. When Girardi took Nova out after 110 pitches and two outs in the sixth, the Yankees and Jays were scoreless.

With Chasen Shreve struggling and Andrew Miller unavailable to close, Girardi's bullpen is suddenly short. So he turned to two rookies, James Pazos and Caleb Cotham, to close out the inning for Nova, whom Girardi didn't want to extend another batter.

"He is a guy who is coming off Tommy John [surgery]," Girardi said.

Pazos and Cotham gave up back-to-back singles to Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar to give Stroman the only run he would need. In the seventh, Russell Martin put the game, and most likely the division, out of reach with a three-run homer off of Andrew Bailey as Girardi saved Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances for opportunities that never appeared.

"I was going to use Willie in the eighth and Dellin in the ninth," Girardi said. "That was our plan."

The plan coming into Toronto this week was to, at the least, win two of three to leave just a game back in the loss column and a chance to make some noise. Instead the Yankees now must consider where to slot in Masahiro Tanaka's next start so he is ready and rested for the wild-card game on Oct. 6, which based on the standings right now would be in the Bronx against the Houston Astros.

"We didn't do ourselves any favors," Rodriguez said of winning the division. "We wanted to win two of three."

They did not. The better team won the series. The better team is on the brink of winning the division. It feels like it is over.