AL East-Clinching Blue Jays Hit the Postseason as an Undisputed MLB Juggernaut

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2015

Toronto Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion, center, celebrates with teammate Justin Smoak after Smoak batted him in on a home run in the ninth inning in the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Toronto won 15-2 to clinch the American League East. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The last time the Toronto Blue Jays tasted the postseason, Bill Clinton was a first-year resident in the White House. The Wesley Snipes-Sylvester Stallone vehicle Demolition Man was No. 1 at the box office. And Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)" was climbing the charts.

The point is it was a long time ago. Twenty-two years, to be exact, all the way back in 1993. (Feeling old?) Now, more than two decades later, the Jays have another date with playoff destiny—and a chance to make another memorable run.

That 1993 squad, of course, won the World Series, the franchise's second in as many seasons. And while the 2015 edition is 11 huge wins away from that lofty goal, it's got the talent to get there.

It's been 22 years since Toronto fans enjoyed a postseason run.
It's been 22 years since Toronto fans enjoyed a postseason run.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

After securing a playoff spot on Sept. 25 via a scheduling quirk, Toronto nailed down the American League East crown in emphatic fashion on Wednesday, pounding the Baltimore Orioles, 15-2.

It was a fitting exclamation point for the Jays, who have bashed baseballs with extreme prejudice all season.

Toronto is MLB's highest-scoring club and paces the next closest team, the New York Yankees, by more than 100 runs. The Blue Jays also lead the pack in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs, total bases and, well, you get the picture. 

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There is, simply put, zero debate when it comes to the best-hitting team in baseball.

Third baseman and AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, acquired from the Oakland A's over the winter, leads the offensive charge, but he's got plenty of backup. Jose Bautista has continued his thumping ways and joins Donaldson to form the AL's only 40-homer tandem.

Edwin Encarnacion is close behind with 37 big flies. At the top of the lineup, Ben Revere has hit .313 with a .352 OBP since coming over in a deadline trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. Kevin Pillar, a defensive whiz in center field, is hitting .275 with 25 stolen bases. All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, another deadline acquisition, is expected back before the postseason.

And on it goes. There are few, if any, holes in this Jays lineup, no place for opposing pitchers to pause and catch their breath.

MVP candidate Josh Donaldson headlines a ridiculously potent Toronto offense.
MVP candidate Josh Donaldson headlines a ridiculously potent Toronto offense.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Speaking of pitching, the Jays lead with stud southpaw David Price, yet another trade pickup. But the incredible re-emergence of young right-hander Marcus Stroman has further transformed Toronto's rotation.

In four starts since returning from a devastating ACL injury suffered in spring training, the 24-year-old Stroman is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA. Add Marco Estrada, and the Blue Jays have what ESPN's David Schoenfield correctly called "the best trio of starters in the AL." And they're handled by Russell Martin, a seasoned field general behind the dish who made trips to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates

The Blue Jays bullpen is also much improved and now sports the fifth-best ERA in the Junior Circuit. Rookie closer Roberto Osuna, who won't reach the legal drinking age until February and is pitching his first season above Single-A, will be tested in the playoff crucible. But overall, this is a unit capable of holding the leads the offense is sure to provide.

The American League is filled with flawed contenders. The Kansas City Royals have question marks in their rotation and, with the loss of closer Greg Holland, in their once-vaunted bullpen. The aging New York Yankees are held together with glue and a prayer. And the gaggle of hopefuls in the AL West appear intent on cannibalizing each other.

The Blue Jays, by contrast, are something approaching a squad without weakness and a legitimate juggernaut, as ESPN's Buster Olney outlined:

They still have to prove it in the playoffs, of course, where supposedly unbeatable teams frequently fizzle. Perhaps the pressure of a franchise and fanbase that have waited so long for meaningful autumn baseball and another crack at the Commissioner's Trophy will prove too much.

Speaking of pressure: The Blue Jays' window might not stay open for long. Price will be a free agent after the season and is sure to incite a bidding war among deep-pocketed suitors that could push him out of Toronto's range. And several key offensive contributors, including Encarnacion and Bautista, are well into their 30s. 

It's win-now time north of the border, in other words. Fortunately for the Jays faithful, this club is constructed to do exactly that.

"This team we have, I can't put it into words, but we're a motivated, hungry group and we're not settling," Stroman told reporters after throwing eight innings of one-run ball in the clincher on Wednesday. "We've definitely got our eyes set on bigger and better things."

It's been a long time coming, Toronto. Buckle up and enjoy your flight. 

All statistics current as of Sept. 30 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.