St Louis Cardinals v Oakland Athletics

This was a tough week to pick a single Play of the Week. There were a litany of dramatic games and huge play, all serving to make the upcoming All-Star break even crueler. I almost certainly would have picked Carlos Gomez‘s game-winning catch off Joey Votto on Monday, but I already talked about the joy and amazement of watching Gomez in this column.

I could have chosen any number of plays from Tim Lincecum‘s no-hitter on Saturday — probably this, from Hunter Pence, or maybe this one, from Pablo Sandoval, but Drew already covered that game here.

Instead, I’d like to highlight how one of the league’s best players over the past year or so capped off his first half:

Donaldson also hit a two-run game-tying home run in the seventh inning to eliminate what had been a Brandon Workman shutout — and a no-hitter through six innings. The win pushed the Athletics to 56-39, and they will enter the break with a two-game lead in the American League West — one game more than the biggest division lead Oakland ever held last season.

I doubted this team heading into the season, mostly because it was a lineup that appeared to lack impact talent beyond Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s had six other above-average hitters with more than 100 plate appearances last season, and two of them — Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter — are elsewhere this season. ZiPS didn’t project a single Athletics hitter to post an OPS above .800 — even Cespedes was at .790.

Cespedes hasn’t even been good this season — he’s hitting .225/.293/.420 — and that has made Josh Donaldson‘s rise to stardom even more important. His exclusion from the All-Star Game is criminal. Donaldson has been by far the best hitter on the Athletics and one of the best in the league. His Sunday heroics raised his line to .310/.379/.522, good for a 149 wRC+ in Oakland’s cavernous Coliseum.

It’s easy to dismiss a player like Donaldson who fails to make a flashy first impression. He lacked a positional home, as he bounced between catcher and third base. He was an unheralded piece when the Athletics picked him up in the Rich Harden trade with Chicago back in 2008. He didn’t hit a lick in the first half last year either — in 100 plate appearances, he hit .153/.160/.235 for an even 1 wRC+.

But Donaldson was a first round pick in 2007, and that talent never disappeared. He didn’t hit what you’d expect from a college product in his first year for the Athletics at Double-A Midland — he slugged just .415 — but he consistently showed excellent discipline. Now, the power has shown up as well.

Donaldson hit .290/.356/.489 in the second half last year. Throw that in with his first half results this year, and he has a .303/.371/.511 line with 24 home runs over his past 140 games. His 145 wRC+ ties him with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre for seventh in the league.

Donaldson should have been an All-Star. He knows it, and Jim Leyland knows it. The third base crop in the American League is as impressive as it has been in recent memory now, with Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado, Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre all competing for either two or three All-Star slots. These things are going to happen.

Donaldson will just have to settle for winning games and leading his team to first place, I guess.