Before tonight's Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre, when the American League East leaders host last year's National League pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, the team will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the SkyDome.
Jays legends Jimmy Key and Ernie Whitt, members of playoff and World Series-winning teams of the past, will be on hand for the festivities to look back at what was the beginning of the Jays' halcyon years.
The return of these former stars comes at an apt time. For fans of the Blue Jays, it's starting to feel a lot like those glory days again. Heading into Friday's game, the Jays sit at 37-24 with a five-and-a-half-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The last team the Blue Jays held such a lead atop the division was in 1985, the year of their first-ever AL East triumph.
It's easy to see why there's excitement surrounding this Jays team, but before everybody goes and books their flights to San Francisco for the World Series in October, let's step back and take a good look at these Toronto Blue Jays.
Is it time to stop saying "Well, it's early" and officially deem them contenders? Is the 2014 version of the Jays just the 2013 one that was expected all along, but a year late on arrival? Or will reality catch up with a team that is currently playing above its station?
Friday night marks Game 62, and an even 100 games remain in the regular season. While it's not exactly the halfway mark, it's as good a time as any to reflect on the interesting dichotomy of the Jays' season, thus far.
Obviously, there have been plenty of key performances from the top of the roster on down. Mark Buehrle leads the league in wins with 10 and has a paltry 2.10 ERA. Edwin Encarnacion launched 16 jacks in May and made every at-bat a must-see event. Jose Bautista is in the midst of an MVP-calibre season. Melky Cabrera has bounced back from offseason surgery and looks headed to another All-Star Game. Jose Reyes once again looks like the catalyst he was for the New York Mets. Picked up from the Milwaukee Brewers' scrap heap, Juan Francisco is one of the five Jays with double-digit home run totals. There is a lot to like right now.
But before the Jays were sweeping the likes of the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics and tearing the cover off the baseball with reckless abandon and going 17-4 over its last 21 games, this team was once a very average 20-20. Its bullpen is still second-last in the bigs with a 4.62 ERA, having surrendered a league-worst 97 earned runs. Now second in the AL with 19 home runs, Encarnacion couldn't buy a hit in April and had just two homers. Reyes, Adam Lind and Casey Janssen missed significant time. Brandon Morrow and Colby Rasmus are down again.
There were red flags all over this team not that long ago, but those have been seemingly swept aside in a tidal wave of power-hitting and timely pitching. Has this changed your expectations for the rest of the year?
With April and early May indicating that the team was headed for another year of mediocrity, the fact that the Jays are division-leaders with the third-best record in baseball in June is quite frankly shocking.
But wasn't this the Toronto Blue Jays team that was promised last season after a winter of major trades and free agent acquisitions? Maybe this run that the Jays are on isn't the aberration. Perhaps, last season and the beginning of this year was the outlier.
Regardless of why it's happening and how long it will last, the Blue Jays are currently playing meaningful baseball and it's a welcome change for fans starving for a winner.
So with 100 games left in 2014, just who are these Toronto Blue Jays and what happens from here on out?
As always, it's Your Call!