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The 1987 Toronto Blue Jays finished with 96 wins.

George Bell hit 47 homers in an MVP season, Tom Henke led the American League in saves, and Jimmy Key posted the lowest ERA in the league. Overflowing with individual performance and posting a high win total, those ’87 Blue Jays missed the playoffs.

Sound familiar?

The parallels between the 2021 bluebirds and the 1987 crew are clear—the young infield core, the homer-happy lineup, the dominant rotation, and the missed October. But, the links stop with six games to play.

The '87 Jays entered the final week of the season up 3.5 games, losing seven in a row to squander a postseason appearance. Crushing, no doubt, but at least a decipherable, agonizing collapse. A clear place for blame. This year’s Jays don’t have that luxury.

In 2021, Toronto missed the postseason by a single contest. There was no monumental collapse. No big, bad, terrible, not-so-good week that strung an anchor to the 2021 team and dragged them out of the postseason picture. 

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They were there to the end and missed by an inch, so every miscue and mistake is the collapse. Every bullpen blowup, mismanaged moment, unlucky bounce, or thrown-away routine grounder. Even every fortuitous break for the Red Sox or Yankees could hold the blame for Toronto’s 2021 shortcoming. You can revisit every excruciating loss, but the fact remains, individually, they could be overcome. Despite all the losses, the team finished one win away—only the collective of missed opportunities and mistakes holding them back. Erase even one loss: Game 163.

As in 1987, falling short defines the season. But then, and now, what follows defines the legacy. The 2021 Blue Jays could forever be a year of missed chances, a team that Marcus Semien claimed became the best in baseball a game too late. Or, it can be the prequel.

Kelly Gruber, Duane Ward, Manny Lee, Key, and Henke are not Blue Jays who lost seven games in a row to blow the division in '87. They’re World Series Champions. Those Jays went on to win the division four of the next six years. They racked up their rings and redefined ’87 as a footnote—a necessary misstep. 

Those teams required drastic change—insert Roberto Alomar, Dave Winfield, Devon White, John Olerud—but that era of Blue Jays baseball built on the failure of 1987. This era can too.

The 2021 stench of a missed opportunity may linger, and the one-win away could become increasingly painful with future losses. With the impending free agency of MVP candidate Marcus Semien, Cy Young favorite Robbie Ray, and the emergent Steven Matz, there's room for decline. We may never see another Vlad Guerrero Jr. season like 2021, and this rotation may never be set up better for a deep playoff run. 2021 could be as good as it gets.

But, it probably isn't. The core is in place: Guerrero, Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, George Springer, ample budget room, and motivation to use it. There are clear holes, assets to address them, and a timeline to capitalize on.

For now, 2021 is framed with defeat. But this Blue Jays team can redefine its legacy, building on their own 1987.