TORONTO -- There have been three defining eras for the Blue Jays, spanning the great teams of the mid- and late-1980s, the World Series years in the early ‘90s and, more recently, the club’s return to October after two-plus decades.
The championships stand above the rest, of course, but let’s take a look back through the five best regular seasons in Blue Jays history, with a taste of each era:
1) 1985 (99-62)
The Blue Jays had their shot at the first 100-win season in club history, but they lost 8-0 to the Tigers on the final day of the regular season. This was an exceptionally talented roster, led by that classic outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield, while a 23-year-old Tony Fernandez was just beginning to make a name for himself on the infield.
Dave Stieb was at his very best in 1985, posting a 2.48 ERA over 265 innings, and the depth behind him made this one of the strongest rotations the Blue Jays have put together. Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Key and Jim Clancy had strong years, while Tom Henke pitched to a 2.03 ERA on the back end, making this a well-rounded team.
The Blue Jays took the Royals to Game 7 in the American League Championship Series that postseason and fell just short, making this one of the most heartbreaking seasons for Blue Jays fans. Up 3-1 in the series after four games, the Blue Jays dropped three straight, losing Game 7 6-2 with Stieb on the mound.
2) 1992 (96-66)
The first World Series in Blue Jays history was won by a club with a much different look than those 1987 Blue Jays, but the talent was just as strong. By ’92, Devon White had taken over in center, while Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, who’d been acquired in a blockbuster deal from the Padres, helped to power the lineup. Add in a 23-year-old John Olerud, a 40-year-old Dave Winfield and some great complementary pieces put together by GM Pat Gillick, and this roster had World Series written all over it.
The 1992 Blue Jays clinched the title in Game 6 against Atlanta in extra innings. In the top half of the 11th inning, Winfield ripped a double down the left-field line to score Alomar and Carter, putting the Blue Jays up by two. Carter’s famous home run the next year will always overshadow this, but Winfield’s double was one of the biggest moments in the history of the organization.
3) 1987 (96-66)
Just like the 1985 club, this ’87 Blue Jays team had the talent to win it all. The two clubs share some heartbreak, too.
On Sept. 26, 1985, the Blue Jays were 96-59, coming off seven consecutive wins ands a pair of back-to-back walk-off wins over the Tigers. They were up 3 1/2 games on the Tigers in the American League East and cruising to the playoffs, where they’d have their shot at redemptions after falling short in ’85. Then, it all fell apart.
The Blue Jays went 0-7 down the stretch, including an 0-4 mark against the Tigers that let Detroit leapfrog Toronto in the standings. It’s amazing that the third-winningest season in the history of the organization ended on the outside looking in at the postseason, but ’87 will always be remembered for what could have been.
4) 1993 (95-67)
The Blue Jays loaded up again in 1993, bringing in veterans Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart, then reacquiring shortstop Fernandez in June. Coming off an almost identical record, the Blue Jays played an equally thrilling postseason that ended with Carter delivering the biggest moment in Blue Jays history.
Olerud was the offensive star that season, taking a major step forward at age 24 to chase the elusive .400 average into August. Olerud fell short, hitting .363 with a 1.072 OPS, but he was one of the game’s toughest outs at the time, with star talent on either side of him. Duane Ward was brilliant as the closer, too, after Tom Henke left for the Rangers. Ward posted a 2.13 ERA with 45 saves that season, locking down nearly every lead he was handed.
5) 2015 (93-69)
The 2015 Blue Jays brought forward a new era of baseball in Toronto, led by José Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnación and one of the best lineups in baseball. This also moved the Blue Jays to the forefront of the baseball world when they pushed all-in at the Trade Deadline.
On July 28, the Blue Jays lost 3-2 to the Phillies to fall below .500 at 50-51. They were good, but not great. That’s when the Blue Jays pulled off a blockbuster, acquiring star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies. Two days later, the Blue Jays brought in David Price from the Tigers and, along with a couple of smaller trades, the club chugged full steam toward the postseason. Toronto fell short of the World Series that year, but the importance of that season cannot be understated after the organization had spent so many years as an afterthought in the American League East.