How exactly does a team claw its way back into contention after being absent from the conversation for weeks, if not months? Two words: Josh Donaldson.
Yes, baseball is a team sport, but Donaldson is almost single-handedly keeping the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes alive. He’s doing his damnedest to ensure the Jays don’t fade away in 2017.
Thursday afternoon’s contest against the Rays was the latest display of Donaldson’s incredible ability to change the game at a moment’s notice. During his short tenure as a Blue Jay, JD has always been regarded as a “clutch” player as he continues to come up big at the most crucial moments.
Donaldson now has nine first inning home runs (which is the most in the American League) and 13 of Donaldson’s home runs this season have either tied the game or given the Blue Jays the lead. It really does feel like the Donaldson of old is back, which is tremendous news for the Jays.
In the last 16 games, Donaldson has 10 home runs, and an obscene wRC+ of 287. This sleeping giant has awoken and the timing could not be better for Donaldson and the Blue Jays.
As the American League Wild Card is a jumbled mess, the Blue Jays suddenly find themselves in the thick of things. Whereas just a few weeks ago, fans were already looking towards the team’s 2018 playoff odds, not this year’s chances.
If you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable the Blue Jays are where they are right now. At 59-62, not only do the Blue Jays find themselves tied with the Orioles and Rays within the division, the AL Wild Card picture just became even murkier than it was before.
There are no illusions about this; it’s going to make a miracle for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs this year. Yes, they’re only three games out of a playoff spot, but they still have to leapfrog four teams in the standings to get there.
In order to vault themselves into a Wild Card, not only do the Blue Jays need to continue to play at their current clip, they also need the teams ahead of them to fall off the map, much like the Tampa Bay Rays have done within the last few weeks.
This type of win 2-of-3/win 3-of-4 stretch is precisely what the Blue Jays need to make up any sort of ground, and they’ve definitely done that by going 18-15 in the second half and 13-7 in their last 20 games.
— MLB (@MLB) August 17, 2017
If Donaldson and the Blue Jays put forth a solid effort in Chicago this weekend, come Monday morning, the Jays could find themselves even further into the thick of things and complicate the AL Wild Card dynamic that much more.
But it’s funny how a team that was essentially written off as little as two weeks ago has suddenly stormed back and thrust themselves back into the conversation.
A large part of that has to do with Donaldson himself. Without a healthy Bringer of Rain, the Blue Jays have no chance to make up the kind of ground they have. Bless Justin Smoak for all he’s done this year, but be couldn’t carry this team on his back all by himself.
The Blue Jays need their 2015 AL MVP to return to his MVP-esque self if they want any chance whatsoever of gaining ground in the standings.
This four-week stretch by Donaldson has really got me thinking; where would the Blue Jays be if not for Donaldson? Not just in 2015 and 2016, but this year as well. The Blue Jays have no business being three games out of a playoff spot, but thanks in large part to Donaldson’s play, the team doesn’t have to throw in the towel just yet.
Looking ahead to what this Blue Jays roster may look like without Donaldson in the future, I’m afraid things look pretty bleak. His play as of late may have provided the impetus for the front office to start working on a contract extension for Donaldson.
Thanks in large part to the Bringer of Rain, the Blue Jays are relevant again. With 41 games left to play and Donaldson playing like a man possessed, this is where the Blue Jays can erase the memory of a disappointing first half and finish strong.
And if they finish strong enough, maybe the Blue Jays will have more than 41 games left to play this year.