Phillies Opposition Roadblock: Josh Donaldson

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May 31, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) during batting practice before a game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
May 31, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) during batting practice before a game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays face off in a four game, home and home series this week, with each team hosting a pair starting north of the border.

After a disappointing Sunday afternoon in D.C., we have to use that good ole’ baseball mentality: We’ll get ’em tomorrow.

Seems like that mentality is becoming more and more useful for the 2016 Phillies team.  A team that only a couple of weeks ago was sending little vibes of hope through our spines to our brains.  They had us believing.

Reality is here, my friends.  And, as I alluded to a couple of weeks back, reality is ok.  Nothing wrong with a rebuilding team losing games.  And the dose of reality may get a bit heavier throughout the course of this week.  One of the preseason favorites to reach baseball’s elusive championship series awaits with their powerful bats at their sides.

The Phillies begin a four game (home-and-home) series with the Toronto Blue Jays tonight north of the border.  The Blue Jays are not necessarily blowing the roof off the American League East, but it is still early.  And as we experienced with the Detroit Tigers at the beginning of this recent swoon, powerful bats can turn up at any point in time.

As I sat and looked at who would be our Phillies roadblock for this series, I did not have the easy choice I expected.  I base my decisions on someone who is having a solid year and has the production per at-bat value that makes sense.  In other words, a guy with 200+ at bats will carry more stock than a guy with less than 150.

The Blue Jays are not short on firepower.  The middle of their order, at least based on name value, is terrifying.  Troy Tulowitzki is a name all readers will likely recognize.

What people may not realize is 2016 has not been kind to Tulo, as he comes into this four game set hitting .204/.289/.383 on the season.  Tyler Goeddel, yes the Phillies platoon left fielder, is having a comparable start (.244/.290/.382). And, as usual, the Jays’ shortstop is once again injured.

Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are scary as well, as both of them creep toward free agency.  They have combined for 27 homeruns and 94 RBIs in the first two and half months.  While the punch they pack is Tyson-like, the Jays’ 3rd baseman is the guy we will focus on for this series.

Josh Donaldson has become a superstar in this sport over the last three seasons.  He was actually drafted by the Chicago Cubs after his sophomore season at Auburn.

Think about that for a moment, people.  Donaldson was in the Cubs organization.  Imagine if he were still there instead of being included in a deal for Rich Harden in 2008.

He spent five seasons in Oakland where he was eventually switched to 3rd base from the demands previously placed on him as a catcher. He then became a key component to some of their more recent success.

In 2013, Donaldson had arguably his best professional season.  He became a known baseball commodity during the season because he launched 24 homeruns and knocked in 98 runs.  He also hit .300 for the first and only time in his career.

Donaldson also became an All-Star in 2014 for the first time in his professional career when all his numbers were eerily similar to the previous year sans his .255 batting average.

But as Billy Beane has been known to do, he sold high.  Problem is, Donaldson was only going to soar even higher.

He really exploded after being moved from Oakland to Toronto before the start of last season.  Donaldson blasted 41 homers and knocked in 123 runs to go along to the tune of a slash line most players dream of having (.297/.371/.568).

The 30-year old filled his entire trophy case at the end of last season.  He won the Hank Aaron Award, the Silver Slugger Award, and the AL Most Valuable Player Award after leading the league in runs scored and RBI.

So how do Jerad Eickhoff, Zack Eflin, Jeremy Hellickson, and Aaron Nola navigate through a four game series in which Donaldson will almost surely play every day?  Very carefully…

The Phillies will more than likely use the strategy of an infield shift.  Donaldson has only hit seven ground balls to the right side this season, two of which were technically back up the middle, but I granted him some grace.  Being an MVP will get you that every once in a while.

The danger in shifting him is that you should try to stay in on his hands, but he is so far on top of the plate, it is difficult.  The Phillies can’t make mistakes out over the plate.  Donaldson treats those pitches as chances to hit balls into the next stratosphere.

Once you have the chance to see him swing, you will quickly understand that Donaldson does not get cheated.  He will swing out of his shoes every pitch, which makes him a strikeout candidate if you get him guessing fastball in the wrong place.

The splits don’t tell the true story of Donaldson’s season, or even career for that matter.  His numbers are slanted in the direction of left-handed pitching, but he is still more than effective facing righties.

This year, he is hitting a very respectable .242/.345/.506 in a ton more at-bats against right-handed pitching.  He has 11 of his 14 homeruns in those 178 at bats.  The slash looks better against southpaws (.293/.425/.594), but he only has 58 at bats in those situations.

So to be fair, there is no real matchup against a former MVP.  You just pitch to his weakness (in on his hands) and hope that A) you don’t hit him, because we know the Jays don’t enjoy getting plunked, and B) you don’t miss your spot over the plate because, well, he will hit it to the moon.

This week, I say good luck to the boys in red.  It could be a long week if they don’t control the big Toronto boomsticks, and that of Donaldson in particular.

Next: PHILLIES-BLUE JAYS SERIES PREVIEW

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