Lineup: The Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays, looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 1993, the season by which they bested the Philadelphia Phillies for their second straight World Series title, were once, as recently as July 31, seven games behind the Yankees for first place in the American League East, but given their acquisitions at the trade deadline, from starting pitcher David Price to superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Ben Revere, reliever Latroy Hawkins, and relieverMark Lowe, Toronto is looming as the American League’s most dangerous team, thanks largely to their stacked and deep lineup, whose accolades have amounted to a +114 run differential, the best in the majors, this, despite having a mediocre starting rotation.
The Blue Jays, having now shaved 2.5 games off New York’s division lead as of Thursday night, have a lineup that is baseball’s best. No other team in the majors comes close to what the Blue Jays have accomplished thus far in 2015. Manager John Gibbons’s club is first in the American League in runs (578), doubles (209), walks (367), on-base percentage (.332), slugging percentage (.445), OPS (.777), total bases (1635), and second in home runs (146), third in batting average (.263) and hits (968), accruing the fourth fewest strikeouts (756) in the league.
For the price of once highly touted infielder Brett Lawrie and three minor leaguers, right-hander Kendall Graveman, left-hander Sean Nolin and minor league shortstop Franklin Barreto, general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics, who is in the midst of a MVP-caliber campaign. An All-Star in 2015, the 29 year old Donaldson currently leads the AL in runs scored (77), RBI (80), and extra base hits (58), and is third in Wins Above Replacement (5.7, second amongst all position players), fifth in OPS (.924), sixth in hits (124), second in total bases (240), third in doubles (29), fourth in home runs (29), and third in runs created (86). Should the Blue Jays overtake the Yankees for the AL East behind Donaldson’s bat, the former Athletic will make a serious run at the AL MVP award, regardless of how Mike Trout of the Angels plays the rest of the way.
Catcher Russell Martin, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, is enjoying a relative renaissance in Toronto, slugging 15 homers and managing 49 RBI. Left fielder Chris Colabello, the team leader in batting average (.315), complements sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (combined, the pair has mustered 40 homers and 135 RBI, along with an OPS of .833), centerfielder Kevin Pillar (second on the Jays in WAR, 3.1, and hits, 106, with 15 stolen bases), second baseman Devon Travis (hitting .304 and slugging .498, third best in the lineup, despite landing on the 15-day DL), a first baseman reclamation project in Justin Smoak, and newly acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who was hitting .300 (with a .818 OPS) with Colorado. Only one player, Pillar, is deemed below average according to OPS+ (a figure, taking into account on-base and slugging percentages, that adjusts for ballpark figures–a player with a 100 OPS+ is a league-average player), but given other advanced sabremetrics (especially WAR), the young centerfielder is most certainly not expendable. Furthermore, Anthopoulos added centerfielder Ben Revere, acquired from the Phillies, for his speed (24 steals) atop the order to supplement, if not spell, Pillar.
Should Toronto eke into the playoffs, no staff wants to face this dangerous, fear-inducing, and dynamic lineup.