Donaldson leads powerful Blue Jays into ALDS
TORONTO (AP) After he acquired Josh Donaldson last winter, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was concerned that his new third baseman might try to swing for the fences too much in his new hitter-friendly home. He’d seen the slugger’s average dip by nearly 50 points in 2014, even as his home runs total ticked up.
Turns out Anthopoulos had nothing to worry about. In a season that’s sure to attract attention from AL MVP voters, Donaldson gave the Blue Jays both abundant power and ample on-base ability.
”We knew he had power,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday as the AL East champion Blue Jays readied for Thursday’s AL Division Series opener against Texas with a light workout.
”I was more curious about could he get the average back up and not get caught up in coming to the Rogers Centre and trying to hit home runs. That was what was so great about his year is he got his average back up again, he was a complete hitter, and he still didn’t lose anything in the power department,” he said.
Donaldson’s 41 home runs were both a team-high and career-high. He easily outpaced his previous best of 29, set when he played half his games in Oakland’s spacious ballpark. He also hit .297, tops among Toronto’s everyday players.
Donaldson led the league with 123 RBIs, scored a majors-best 122 runs and also hit 41 doubles.
”You look at the year he’s had, he’s got a chance to win that MVP,” appreciative manager John Gibbons said.
Donaldson, who got clearance from Gibbons to skip Tuesday’s workout, opened the season batting for Toronto but moved up into the second spot after just eight games. He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs his first night there, cementing his place in the upper third of Toronto’s unconventional lineup of sluggers, with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion right behind him.
”Your two-hole guy used to be a guy who could bunt, control the bat, move the runners, do all the little things,” Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby said. ”The game is kind of changing and evolving. The guys you put up top are going to come around and bat more, they’re going to have more opportunity to do things.”
Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion combined for 120 homers, the most by any trio of players in Toronto history. Their booming bats powered an attack that led baseball with 891 runs, 230 homers, 852 RBIs and 570 walks.
”I’m extremely happy that I don’t have to face them because I get to watch them hit every day and it’s a scary lineup,” right-hander Marco Estrada said. ”There’s been a few games where we’re down by eight runs, I’m looking around and guys are like, `It’s all right, we’ve got them, we’ve got them.’ Next thing you know, we’re up 10-8. It’s been incredible watching these guys. There’s no giving up in them. They don’t quit and it’s awesome.”
The Blue Jays were the only team in the majors to break the 800-run mark this season. They outscored the Yankees, baseball’s second-most prolific offense, by 127 runs. That’s the seventh-biggest gap in history, according to STATS.
”We’ve scored a lot of runs,” Gibbons said. ”It’s really what this team is.”
The Blue Jays expect their high-octane offense to keep pumping out runs in the playoffs, but they’re ready to diversify, too. Gibbons said speedy outfielders Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey will both be on his postseason roster, if only to provide pinch-running options in late-game situations.
”We did talk about having a little bit more speed because we have some guys that might be a little slow,” Anthopoulos said.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who played in two of the final three regular season games after sitting out nearly three weeks with a broken left shoulder blade, said he’s feeling good and ready for his first taste of the playoffs since 2009, when his Colorado Rockies won the NL wild card but lost the division series to Philadelphia in four games.
”I’m not pain-free, there’s some soreness in there,” Tulowitzki said of his shoulder. ”That’s to be expected, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play.”
Gibbons said Tulowitzki, who batted leadoff in his first several weeks with Toronto, will likely return to the fifth spot when the division series begins on Thursday afternoon.
”He looked pretty good in those two games,” Gibbons said. ”His timing was better than I thought it was going to be. He looked like he didn’t miss a whole lot.”
With left-hander David Price already confirmed as Game 1 starter, the Blue Jays said Tuesday that right-hander Marcus Stroman will get Game 2, with Estrada slated to start Game 3 and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in line for Game 4, if necessary.