Although they aren’t quite yet at the level of dominance that Tom Henke and Duane Ward were at back in the early 90’s, Roberto Osuna and Joe Smith are on their way to becoming every bit as solid a 1-2 punch out of the Blue Jays bullpen.
The strangest thing about these four pitchers is just how similar their styles are…with Smith and Ward throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, and Osuna and Henke possessing that great power fastball thrown with pinpoint precision. The similarities are bringing back fond memories of the Golden Age of the Blue Jays bullpen.
Back in the early 90’s, whenever the Blue Jays got to the 8th or even the 7th inning (because it wasn’t uncommon for Ward to throw two innings), you knew the victory was almost guaranteed with Ward and Henke pitching the final 2-3 innings of a close ball game. How similar that feeling is these days to have Smith and Osuna shutting the opposition down as regularly as they do in the final innings.
After 1993, when Henke and Ward were no longer with the Blue Jays, until 2014, Toronto had some decent closers, but what they often lacked was a strong shutdown duo of relievers who could come in and toss 2-3 innings to wrap-up a game.
With such a strong closer like Osuna, so many other pieces in the bullpen have had a way of falling into place. With Osuna taking care of the difficult task of closing out the 9th, it then allows for a talented reliever like Smith to assume the role as the 8th inning guy and really thrive in that role. When Henke left Toronto for Texas after the 1992 season, it forced Ward into the closers role. And although Ward was a wonderful closer after Henke’s departure, by losing the Terminator, it weakened the bullpen’s depth considerably as Toronto no longer had two almost untouchable relievers to lean on in the 8th and 9th innings.
It’s a good feeling knowing that when you have two solid relievers like Osuna and Smith, you can breathe a little easier come the later innings of a tight game. Between 1994 and 2014, when Toronto was in that 20+ year post-season drought, there were far too many years when you had little to no confidence in the bullpen’s ability to hold a lead. Henke and Ward were as dominant as any duo of relievers the Blue Jays ever had, and Osuna and Smith aren’t that far off.