By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Aug. 24) — It is official. At no point in their 39–season history have the Toronto Blue Jays so thoroughly dismantled an opponent over the course of three games. It happened this weekend in Anaheim against a one–time contender that now plays Little League defense. The Blue Jays sliced up the Los Angeles Angels for 36 runs — most ever for the club in a three–game series. The scores: 9–2, 15–3 and 12–5.
Smacking out 48 hits also established a club mark — bettering the 46 compiled against the Brewers at old County Stadium in Milwaukee, Sep. 27–29, 1985. One week later, the Jays were involved in their first–ever playoff series: the American League Championship against Kansas City.
It was total annihilation by the visitors on the weekend in SoCal.
Which leads to the continuing question: Is this the best Toronto ball club of all time? Technically, it can only tie for that plaudit by winning the World Series and matching the 1992 and 1993 editions. From 1–9 in the batting order, however, the 2015 team stands alone — that from an observer who was at the Blue Jays first–ever game in April 1977; who covered the championship teams for an all–sports radio station, and has watched the club since Day 1. I’m normally conservative when suggesting “all–time” status in professional sport. But, these Blue Jays are unlike anything I’ve seen and I doubt I’m alone in that assessment.
THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS ARE LIKE A PIECE OF FINE ART RIGHT NOW.
Even as the club wallowed at the .500 mark for the first four months of the season, it possessed an uncanny ability to stockpile runs. With pitching depth acquired at the trade deadline, the attack is now lethal. As veteran Toronto Sun baseball writer Ken Fidlin put it from Anaheim, the Blue Jays “opened a can of whup–ass” against the Angels and never let up. Toronto is now 19–4 since July 29 and back atop the American League East Division by one–half game over the New York Yankees, who lost three of four at home to the Cleveland Indians over the weekend.
The only Blue Jays parallel I can recall is watching the Cincinnati Reds when I was a kid. The so–called “Big Red Machine” of 1970 to 1976 under Sparky Anderson could similarly pound the ball — with such lively bats as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster and Ken Griffey. The championship Blue Jays of 1993 could hit for average like none other, with first–baseman John Olerud (.363), designated hitter Paul Molitor (.332) and second–baseman Roberto Alomar (.326) finishing one–two–three in American League batting. Joe Carter provided power with 33 home runs; 121 RBI and the walk–off blast to left field against Philadelphia that won the World Series. But, even that club wasn’t as deadly as the current one, with Troy Tulowitzki (though struggling at the plate), Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion providing an unequaled top four in the batting order.
THE BLUE JAYS ARE POUNDING THE BASEBALL AT THE MOMENT LIKE NO TEAM THAT I CAN REMEMBER SINCE JOHNNY BENCH AND THE MID–1970?s CINCINNATI REDS.
There are, however, a couple of reddish flags.
R.A. Dickey has started poorly in his past two outings. He was bailed out of each — a five–run outburst at Philadelphia in the sixth inning on Tuesday erasing a 5–3 Toronto deficit and Sunday’s eruption at Anaheim making up for a 5–1 first–inning hole. Mark Buehrle, the Jays’ most dependable starter from the outset this season, also got hammered at Citizens Bank Park, giving up a three–spot in the first inning Wednesday. That time, the visitors could not rebound — losing 7–4 to the Phillies.
It is, of course, imperative that the Blue Jays’ two oldest starting pitchers do not wear down in the season’s stretch. David Price is as sure a bet as anything in the Majors right now but he can only start once every five days. Marco Estrada has been terrific in the second half — often with phenomenal run support. And, Drew Hutchison has been terrible away from Rogers Centre. The Jays aren’t going to continue averaging 12 runs per game as they did this weekend. They need their grandfatherly arms — Dickey, 40, and Buehrle, 36 — to bounce back.
DONALDSON vs. GILMOUR: While watching the Blue Jays destroy the Angels on TV this weekend, my son, Shane, asked me if Josh Donaldson is the best Toronto professional athlete since Doug Gilmourof the Leafs (post–1994). Shane was born in December 1996. The answer is subjective and there are only a few candidates: Donaldson, Gilmour, Doug Flutie (Argos), Vince Carter (Raptors) and Carlos Delgado (Jays)… with honorable mentions to Curtis Joseph and Mats Sundin (Leafs).
In my view — and while it is nearly impossible to draw a comparison between sports — Donaldson’s performance for the Blue Jays most closely resembles what Gilmour did for the Leafs during his first full season in Toronto, 1992–93. Donaldson may be the best player in baseball right now and Gilmour evolved into the best two–way forward in the National Hockey League in ’92–93. His 95 assists and 127 points are Maple Leaf records that have not–since been approached; he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s premier defensive forward and finished runner–up to Mario Lemieux for the Hart Trophy as League MVP.
YES, JOSH DONALDSON IS DOING GOOD DOUGIE IMITATION.
There are also team parallels.
As with the Blue Jays this season, the ’92–93 Maple Leafs didn’t get rolling until the second half of the schedule… and not until a key acquisition. When general manager Cliff Fletcher traded for hot–shooting Dave Andreychuk from Buffalo in early–February — and coachPat Burns placed Andreychuk on Gilmour’s right flank — the Leafs began to pile up victories and carried their momentum all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals, whereupon Wayne Gretzkyspoiled the fun.
Neither the ’92–93 Leafs nor the 2015 Blue Jays were projected to contend for anything significant. Leafs went farther than any club since the 1967 Stanley Cup winner and the current Jays are looking particularly formidable. So, yes, I’d have to say Josh Donaldson is pulling a very decent Doug Gilmour. But, the playoffs will tell the true story.
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