With a good September, the Toronto Blue Jays could repeat as American League East champions.

With a good September, Josh Donaldson could repeat, too.

The Blue Jays moved back into first place with Friday night’s 15-8 rout of the Minnesota Twins, as their rivals in Baltimore and Boston both lost. Donaldson may not have moved into first place in the MVP race with his 30th home run, but he could be setting up for the kind of month that would put him there.

He’s already got a better case than you might think.

His traditional numbers aren’t as flashy as the ones that won him the MVP last year. He almost certainly won’t get to the 41 home runs and 123 RBI he had in 2015 (he’s at 30 and 85 with 34 games remaining).

But Donaldson’s .958 OPS is actually higher than the .939 he won with last year.

As for his value, check this out: Twenty-five of Donaldson’s 30 home runs have come in Blue Jay wins, as have 70 of his 85 RBI. He’s a .343 hitter when they win and a .216 hitter when they don’t.

Obviously, most hitters do better when their teams win. If Donaldson hit better in a few of those games the Blue Jays lost, at all those times when their entire offense stalled, they’d have a much bigger division lead.

The point still holds. When Donaldson hits, the Blue Jays tend to win. If he hits in September the way he hit in June (1.193 OPS) and July (1.019), you like the Blue Jays’ chances in the East.

In those two months, when Donaldson was red-hot, the Blue Jays ranked second and fourth in the major leagues in runs, at more than five a game. This month, which until this week hasn’t been one of Donaldson’s best, the Jays were averaging barely four runs a game (27th in the majors), before Friday night’s explosion.

Jose Bautista missed two weeks with soreness in his left knee, before returning Thursday. Kevin Pillar was out with a thumb injury, before coming back Tuesday.

Their returns should help the Blue Jays lineup, but the most significant return this week could be that of Donaldson’s home run swing. He had homered just once in 16 games before Thursday and drove in only five runs in that span, as he played with a jammed thumb.

He connected off Jered Weaver on Thursday and connected again off Twins starter Pat Dean in the second inning Friday. After never hitting 30 in a season before coming to Toronto, Donaldson has done it two straight years for the Blue Jays.

As of now, he probably isn’t the 2016 MVP. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, once again leading the league in WAR (8.0, the way Baseball-Reference.com calculates it), will get some votes. Mookie Betts, who has helped carry the Red Sox into the AL East race, is getting some support.

Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros has a big lead in the batting race. David Ortiz of the Red Sox leads in OPS (1.042). Donaldson’s teammate, Edwin Encarnacion, leads with 102 RBI.

With just over a month to go, it’s a race still to be won—sort of like the AL East.

As I wrote Thursday, the division race is a tough one to call. The Blue Jays aren’t the exciting newcomers, and they didn’t make the big midseason deals like the ones last year for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki.

Still, they’re in first place, with just over five weeks to play.

Donaldson isn’t the flashy MVP choice this year, either. He set a Blue Jays record with three walk-off home runs in 2015; he hasn’t hit any of them this year.

His walk total is up, perhaps because pitchers are showing the defending MVP more respect. His RBI total is down, perhaps because there haven’t been as many opportunities.

“They’re trying to take the bat out of my hand more often this year,” Donaldson told Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star.

They don’t want to let Donaldson beat them, and it’s easy to understand why.

But doesn’t that just show how valuable he can be?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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