Looking at the 1983-1993 teams we can see they had the tremendous talent. Where would all the teams have finished had a wild card existed?
In Part 1 recall, I started with this basic rule: Since there were only two divisions back then, I assumed there to be two division winners and three wildcards as opposed to the three division winners and two wildcard spots that we have today.
During this period, the American League East consisted of seven teams. The Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Brewers and Indians. If you think the American League East is tough today, in 1983 the 6th place team in the East would’ve finished 3rd in the West. The top five teams in the East had 87 wins or more. Boston finished 6th with 78. Over in the American League West, the 2nd place team Kansas City had just 79 wins. But enough of all that. We know the American League East is tough. So, how did the Jays do?
In 1983, the Jays appear in the playoffs for the first time. The ’83 Jays finished the season with 89 wins, good for 4th place in the East and nine games removed from the division title. Baltimore took the crown with 98 wins. Detroit was second with 92, with New York one game back. Over in the West, the Chicago White Sox topped their division. The three wildcards in order of records were the Tigers, Yankees, and Jays. That Jays would go on to meet (and beat) the Yankees in one game playoff. Dave Stieb would carry a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth and lose it with a bloop single with two away. Jays win 2-0.
1984. Jays captured their first division crown. In 1984, the Jays finished second in their division with 89 wins behind the Detroit Tigers. Shift Detroit over to the hypothetical American League West, and the Jays have their first pennant. The Tigers that year were a force. They finished with 104 wins and won the World Series.
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1985. Jays Win The pennant. I’ll never forget the moment George Bell fell to his knees to catch the flyball in left field. The dreaded Yankees were nipping at the heels and finished only two games back. It took 99 games to win the East that year. Excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. Up 3-1 against the Kansas City Royals and a trip to the World Series on the line, the Jays lost the next three games and were sent home. Kansas City was crowned the World Series champions that year, a trophy that should’ve been ours. In a few years, I’ll probably get over it.
1986 – Jays let up down the stretch. In 1986, the Jays finished with a record of 86-76. With 95 wins, Boston took the division. When the magic number was 1 with 10 games to go the Jays started playing their youth more aggressively and resting the starters. As a result, the Jays, predictably, went 3-7 down the stretch, a record that surely would have been different had they still been in contention. Conversely, Texas, the team that took the hypothetical 3rd wild card that year, remained in the hunt much longer. They went 7-3 down the stretch, played their starters regularly yet only finished one game up on the 86 winning Jays. If there was a second wildcard spot available, the Jays would’ve won it. The Jays had an expected record of 89 and 73 and a run differential of +76. Texas on the other hand had an expected win total of 84 and they played their hearts out to the end.
1987 Heartbreak. Jays still win the pennant. That year the Jays just missed the postseason finishing second behind the Tigers. Shift the Tigers over to the hypothetical American League Central, and the Jays take the crown of the East. That year had a chance to be something really special for the Jays. They would win 96 games, and then tragedy happened. The Jays would finish the year with an epic collapse, losing the last seven games of the season. Ernie Witt broke his ribs, Tony Fernandez broke his elbow, and the Tigers swept the last four games of the year at home to pass the Jays and take the division by one game. But for those injuries, the Jays might have had their first and only 100 game winning season.
In Part 3 tomorrow, we examine the great Jays Team of 1988-1993.