Thompson: Donaldson real hero of season for Braves

Associated PressAtlanta Braves’ Josh Donaldson greets fans before the team’s baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Donaldson played for the Blue Jays for several seasons.

Why are the Atlanta Braves on the cusp of a second straight National League East Division championship? It's a simple question with many possible answers. None are wrong. 

Take Ronald Acuna Jr. for example. He has avoided the sophomore slump, is on the brink of a 40-40 season and has become the superstar we all expected him to be. 

Freddie Freeman is the perennial all-star, leader in the clubhouse and continues to be one of the best hitters and best first baseman in baseball. 

Ozzie Albies is the perfect complement to Acuna atop the batting order and to Freeman on the right side of the infield at second base.

Then at pitching, Mike Soroka has been as good as advertised now that he's fully healthy. Tuesday night's performance not withstanding, Max Fried has been outstanding all year, leading the team with 16 wins.

The in-season additions of starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel and relievers Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon, who help solidify a shaky bullpen, gave the Braves veteran leadership at a position they needed it most.

But I contend the real hero of this year so far has been third baseman Josh Donaldson. He has provided a strong presence in the cleanup spot in the batting order behind Freeman, something the Braves sorely lacked in last year's postseason run.

Heading into Tuesday night, Donaldson's stat line included a .262 batting average, 37 home runs and 88 RBI and a .932 OPS. 

Also, he has played excellent at the hot corner. He snags nearly everything that's hit his way and fires a strike to Freeman at first base. Probably the best glove at third base since Chipper Jones.

Donaldson also plays with an attitude and intensity that the Braves don't always exhibit. This will be key when the postseason rolls around. The team needs someone who's not afraid to light a fire with their play and vocal leadership. Donaldson is that type of player.

His performance also makes for an interesting decision for the Braves this winter. Do they re-sign him, when he will undoubtedly command top dollar, or do they go with their young stud Austin Riley? Riley may have stardom in his future but my vote is for Donaldson.

The “Bringer of Rain” has made magic all season. Whether he gets a chance to do it next year will be up to Braves management. I'm guessing and hoping they'll at least consider it.

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