It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas… for Blue Jay fans, that is. Of course, the best Christmas gift for a ball fan would be a World Series to savor and while there’s still a long ways to go, there’s reason for optimism. With today’s win, Toronto become the first team in over 60 years to have two 11-game winning streaks in a single season. The last one to do so, the 1954 Indians, won the AL before losing the World Series. The Blue Jays will hold on to first place no matter what the Yankees do tonight against Cleveland and it’s the latest date on the calendar the Jays have been atop the division since 1993. Get the wrapping paper ready.
One might think this season is a lot like 1992, the first year Toronto won a World Championship. There are similarities. The crew of ’92 was coming off a decent season and went into spring with two big new acquisitions, the previous year’s World Series hero, Jack Morris and the big bat of Dave Winfield. Both were brought in as free agents with hopes that they’d not only produce but instill a winning attitude among the younger players.
This year’s Jays, coming off a decent but disappointing year, were also supplemented by two big acquisitions, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Again, both were brought in in hopes of seeing them not only produce on field but inspire with their attitudes and track record of winning.
As we know, Morris went on to be Toronto’s first-ever 20-game winner in ’92 and Winfield fired up the crowd and drove in over 100 runs, upping the game of the team’s noteworthy power hitter (Joe Carter) as well. Carter’s 34 HR, 119 RBI that season were the catalyst for the team’s offense and were also the second-best in each category for his career. Compare that to this year and how Donaldson is having an MVP-type campaign and is helping Jose Bautista remain among the league’s best in HR and RBI despite the frequent absence of Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup.
Significantly as well, the same as this year, Jays didn’t stand pat mid-season in 1992. At the trade deadline, they reacquired durable reliever Mark Eichorn to boost the mediocre middle-relief. More importantly, Aug. 27 they looked ahead to the playoffs and boosted their rotation by getting an established front-line starter, David Cone. It’s worth noting that after that trade, they sailed along at a 24-11 pace.
This year of course, they were much more active at the July trade deadline but also supplemented their dismal middle-relief with LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But they also added a star infielder and got their front-line starter a month earlier. Since the two big trades, they’ve been cruising along, losing only once and gaining some 7 games on New York in the standings.
There are of course, significant differences between the two years. The ’92 team had lacklustre middle-relievers (Bob MacDonald for instance, and future Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen who sported a 5.36 ERA out of the ‘pen) much like this year’s edition. However, the ’92 bullpen was anchored by the best 1-2 tandem in the league in Henke and Ward. The latter was the “Set-up” guy and still saved 12 with a sub-2 ERA in 79 games. That’s a little more than we’re getting out of Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil this year.
No worries though, this season’s regular lineup is better though. The Jays , 1992-style, were good hitting but hardly world-beaters. it was a team, after all, with Manny Lee and a slumping Kelly Gruber (.229, 11 homers) playing everyday and a centerfielder kept more for his outstanding D than his hitting (and as much as I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, in that Kevin Pillar is much like Devon White.) They didn’t have the horsepower to rack up double-digit tallies almost any night at will.
While this year’s team has had the two 11-game win streaks, the ’92s “only” managed a streak of 8 wins in a row. Both teams dominated at home; this year’s .650 winning pct at Rogers’ Centre is almost identical to the 53-28 final record of the 1992. The difference though is on the road, where the championship team managed to be just over .500; this year’s version currently sits at 25-31 on the road. More than anything else, if the 2015 Jays are to compete, they’ll have to be significantly better on their final 25 away games than they were up to now.
Not to be negative though; the ’92s topped second-place Milwaukee (there’s a trip for younger readers- yep, the Brewers were AL East rivals at one time) by 4 games. They’d have had an easier time of it had they played better against Milwaukee, but they actually went just 5-8 head-to-head. Contrast that to this year’s games against second-place New York in which Toronto is 7-2 including five wins in six games in the Bronx. Taking 7 of the remaining 10 games against the Pinstripes should all but guarantee the division win.
In retrospect, the 1992 Blue Jays weren’t all that much like this year’s. But they were the same in the things that mattered: a winning attitude, management that filled holes mid-season and a couple of hundred RBI men in the middle of the lineup. most of all, an ability to electrify and excite the whole city. Most of all, just like the 1992 Blue Jays, this year’s are turning Toronto into a baseball city again. From the covers of the Toronto Star to excited tweets from TV talking head George Stroumbolulous to crowds of 46 000 turning out on a Thursday afternoon to watch them take on Oakland, the team is the toast of the town. If this year’s can duplicate the ’92 season 19-9 rrecord after August, they will be playing post-season ball and David Price, Josh Donaldson and “Joey Bats” are going to own the city in a way no athletes have since Alomar, Carter and Winfield.