Simply, the 2008 Blue Jays pitching staff blew away the competition. Led by peak Roy Halladay, they finished first in baseball in ERA by a mile – not only was their 3.49 ERA nearly twenty points ahead of the second place Dodgers (3.68), but the distance between the Jays in first and the Rays in third (3.82) was the same as the distance between third and 13th.
The starting rotation was dominant, riding Halladay, AJ Burnett, and the surprising duo of Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch to the best rotation ERA in the league. Meanwhile, the bullpen comfortably led the league in reliever ERA, despite featuring post-Tommy-John BJ Ryan and a ragtag bunch of castoffs like Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, and Brian ‘Wolverine’ Tallet.
While the 2008 Blue Jays were never really in playoff contention, for how far they outpaced the field, their pitching staff was without a doubt one of the best in franchise history.
Note: the Jays’ 2007 pitching staff finished with the third lowest ERA in baseball, and could certainly be included in this list of contenders. However, the 2007 staff was almost identical to 2008 … just not as good. Consequently, it has been cut from consideration.
1985 was the first time the Blue Jays were a great team, and the first time they rolled out a truly top-quality pitching staff, finishing fourth in the league in ERA (3.29) on their way to a (still) franchise record 99 wins.
While the staff was filled with quality journeymen having solid years, their elite success was largely down to three names which are synonymous with the franchise – ace Dave Stieb, who led the American League in ERA, 24-year-old Jimmy Key, who was an All Star in his first full season, and a formerly erratic reliever whom the Jays stole before the season as a free agent compensation pick and turned into a dominant late-game arm known as “The Terminator,” Tom Henke.
When you have three franchise icons in absolutely peak form, you’ve probably got one of the best pitching staffs in franchise history.
Forever known as the team before the team(s), the 1991 Blue Jays laid the foundation for titles in ’92 and ’93, particularly with the pitching staff, which finished fourth in the league in ERA (3.50).
The rotation was led by a Jimmy Key in one of his best years, and a Jheri-curled rookie phenom by the name of Juan Guzmán, alongside future championship pieces Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells.
Even better, 1991 was the first time the Jays would unleash the Henke-Ward-Timlin death star at the back end of their bullpen, who together put up a 2.84 ERA and 58 saves in an astonishing 266 innings pitched.
While the Jays would lose to the Twins in the ALCS, their 1991 pitching staff was easily one of the best, and most important, in franchise history.
Despite finishing third in the league in ERA (3.74), the 1987 Jays pitching staff almost didn’t make this list of contenders, because, well, we all remember what happened that year.
Heading into the final week of the season, the Jays held a 3.5 game lead over the Tigers in the AL East, before they promptly lost seven in a row, including a three-game sweep at Tiger Stadium on the last weekend of the season, to finish behind Detroit and out of the playoffs.
Some would say that anyone with a hand in a meltdown like that should not be on a list of the ‘best’ anything.
However, if you can get past the collapse, there is no denying that the Jays’ 1987 pitching staff was stacked, with a rotation featuring AL ERA leader Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, and former Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan, and a back end locked down by Henke and the nothing-ball throwing Mark Eichhorn.
Let’s just not talk about how the season ended …