TORONTO – Soon after the Blue Jays traded for Josh Donaldson, he predicted Toronto’s lineup could do some special things.
“I’d venture to say that there’s probably not going to be another lineup as potent as this in Major League Baseball,” he said last November.
Turns out it’s not even close. The Blue Jays have out-scored the next-closest team by 105 runs, largely due to the contributions of Donaldson. The 29-year-old third baseman homered for the 40th time Friday, adding to a season that may well earn him the American League MVP title.
“He’s just a good baseball player,” manager John Gibbons said. “At this point, after seeing him all year, nothing really surprises me.”
Donaldson leads the American League with 8.2 wins above replacement because he’s a complete player who adds value with baserunning and defence. But his power numbers drive his production: 40 doubles and a .579 slugging percentage to go along with the gaudy home run total.
“I’m not up there necessarily trying to hit a homer,” Donaldson said. “I’m trying to hit a ball in the gap and if I can get a ball elevated, I know I can hit homers, so it’s going to happen.”
This year it’s happened a lot. Not only does he rank among the league leaders in just about every power category, he has set career highs in everything from doubles and home runs to RBI (121) and total bases (342). Those numbers are a major reason the Blue Jays now lead the AL East by 4.0 games with a magic number of one.
Even so, every hitter slumps, and Donaldson has scuffled at times in recent days — he struck out three times on Sunday, for example. Gibbons acknowledges he’s been banged up, so the Blue Jays used him as their designated hitter Friday to reduce the wear and tear on a player who has now played in 151 of his team’s 153 games.
But just when you think the fatigue might be setting in, Donaldson seems to come through with a big game. With three hits Wednesday and a home run Friday, his OPS sits at .950.
“I haven’t had the success in the past week that I’ve wanted or that I’ve been doing this year, but I feel like it’s coming around,” Donaldson said.
Thankfully for the Blue Jays, they’ve had plenty of offence on days their third baseman’s bat stays quiet. Before acquiring Donaldson, the Blue Jays had two elite right-handed power bats in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The trio has now combined for 112 home runs, powering Toronto’s MLB-leading offence.
“Those guys, they’ve all had huge, huge years. That’s why we’ve scored so many runs,” Gibbons said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Even beyond those three, the likes of Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Colabello have contributed to a well-balanced effort.
Donaldson’s season ranks among the best in franchise history. He became just the ninth Blue Jay ever to reach the 40-homer plateau Friday, joining the likes of Bautista and Encarnacion (he nearly added a second home run, launching one deep into the 500 level at Rogers Centre, but just foul). He’s just the third Blue Jay to hit 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same season, joining Shawn Green (1999) and Carlos Delgado (2000).
“He’s had a huge year,” Gibbons said. “An MVP-type year.”
Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the American League: the most productive hitter on the most prolific offence in baseball isn’t content with 40 homers.
“How much does it mean to me? I don’t really know,” Donaldson said. “It’s cool to have that, but I’m not finished yet.”