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There are plenty of differences between the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays and their fondly-remembered 2015 counterparts, but the comparison is inevitable.
While the next 16 games could change the tale of this year’s Blue Jays drastically, for now they share a number of story beats with the 2015 club.
Both squads approached the trade deadline with an intimidating group of position players, a strong rotation, a wobbly bullpen, and an impressive run differential — indicating their record didn’t reflect their talent. Both made significant moves around the deadline (although the 2015 team undoubtedly went farther). Both caught fire and looked like one of the most dangerous clubs in the majors late in the season.
Not only do the current Blue Jays clear the bar of “one of the most dangerous teams in the majors” at the moment, they are indisputably the hottest. With a series-clinching 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, they hit their off-day on a 16-3 run — a stretch that exactly matches the best 19-game section the 2015 team managed, which came immediately after the acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki.
So, which team has the best hot streak in recent Blue Jays history? Let’s dive in.
Both of these hot streak’s origin stories are rooted in the teams demonstrating their quality with excellent run differentials, which makes that a good place to start.
The raw run differential favours the current Blue Jays, but these numbers show the hot streaks had very different flavours. Although the 2015 team is thought of as an impressive collection of sluggers, its best stretch was driven by outstanding pitching. In their 16-3 run they allowed two or fewer runs 11 times and put up superior stats across the board—albeit with peripherals that suggest they got a little lucky too.
On the hitting side, there’s no contest as the 2021 Blue Jays have absolutely demolished the baseball while their 2015 counterparts were solid, but not otherworldly.
Put it all together and it’s hard to argue that the stretch we’re witnessing now isn’t more impressive by objective measures. There’s more to the story when comparing these streaks, though.
Best individual hitter performance
This year, the tear Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is on has been a sight to behold due to both the quality of his production and the element of surprise. For much of the season the Cuban outfielder has been an anchor on the team both offensively and defensively. Through two months of the season he was hitting .249/.267/.367 — a performance good for -0.4 WAR. In recent weeks he’s been the team’s most productive offensive contributor, hitting .377/.473/.738 and ascending to clutch demigod status thanks to a .688 average with runners in scoring position and an MLB-high 26 RBI.
Josh Donaldson’s numbers are even better than Gurriel Jr.'s as he hit .347/.442/792 with nine home runs, and the context gives them more importance. He wasn’t a surprising top dog in an offence that was going supernova, he was a guy driving his team. This stretch was essential to Donaldson’s MVP case as he helped carry an offence that had stragglers like Ben Revere, Justin Smoak, Russell Martin, and Kevin Pillar in the midst of slumps. Edwin Encarnacion was hot at the time, but even Jose Bautista was hitting below his season standards, and Troy Tulowitzki managed just league-average production. Take Donaldson out of the Blue Jays lineup and those 19 games would’ve gone very differently.
Best individual pitcher performance
Realistically speaking, the answer here is probably Robbie Ray, who’s been nothing short of automatic for the team of late, and continues to build on his Cy Young case. In four starts during the Blue Jays’ hot streak, he pitched 25 innings of 2.16 ERA ball and struck out an astounding 41 hitters.
That said, there’s a fun comparison to make between the two big in-season additions: David Price and José Berríos. Each was essential to their team’s hot streak, and both produced similar numbers:
While Berríos’s overall contribution to the Blue Jays this year likely equals what Price did in 2015 due to his mid-August struggles, he’s matching the ace southpaw while this team is making it’s run.
Now that that tangent is over we can give the subjective and hyper-specific prize to the man in the tight pants.
This is a bit of an apples-to-oranges situation. For the 2021 club, the clear highlight is Gurriel Jr.’s grand slam to lead an improbable comeback over the Oakland Athletics that put the Blue Jays in a position to sweep — and in turn overtake — the A’s.
It would be hard to pinpoint an on-field moment from 2015’s 16-3 run matching that slam, although Tulowitzki’s home run, and three-hit game, in his debut stands out. For 2015, the most memorable moments were the Tulowitzki and Price trades themselves and the surprising realization that the Blue Jays were willing to go all-in on a .500 team to pursue an improbable playoff run, with the help of the kind of brand-name superstars that had often been hard to come by for the franchise.
How the Blue Jays’ current hot streak is perceived will be affected by both whether it continues, and the playoff fate of this team. If they don’t make the playoffs at all, comparing them to the 2015 club may wind up feeling silly. If they surpass that team’s playoff success, they’ll be remembered as a singular entity.
For this moment, though, the comparison feels apt, and it seems fair to say that the heater we’re seeing right now is even better than the best regular-season stretch 2015 had to offer.
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