Huge trades triggered Toronto's 2015 surge

Huge trades triggered Toronto's 2015 surge

TORONTO -- The 2015 season will be remembered as the year that meaningful baseball finally returned north of the border and Blue Jays fever exploded across the country.

Toronto sold out all but one of its home games over the final three months of the season, experienced record-shattering ratings on television and became the talk of the nation. If there was any lingering doubt about how Canada would embrace a winner, it was erased in a sea of blue.

The Blue Jays won the American League East and reached the postseason for the first time since 1993. A new generation of fans got to experience October baseball and, along the way, made memories that will last a lifetime.

Here's a look back at the top five moments from Toronto's run to the AL Championship Series:

5. Estrada emerges
Nobody expected it at the time, but one of the biggest developments of Toronto's season happened in May when Marco Estrada moved into the starting rotation. Expectations were low, but Estrada settled in quickly and became one of the most reliable starters in the league. He took a pair of no-hitters into the eighth inning and his .203 opponents' batting average was the lowest in the AL. Without Estrada, who knows where the Blue Jays would have finished.

4. The MVP
Not a day goes by that people don't wonder what Oakland general manager Billy Beane was thinking when he traded Josh Donaldson to Toronto for Brett Lawrie and a package of prospects. Donaldson was stunned, but he responded in the best way possible by coming through with a career year and one of the all-time great performances in Blue Jays franchise history. Donaldson joined George Bell as the only two Blue Jays players to win the AL MVP. He also picked up a Players' Choice Award for Most Outstanding Player and a Hank Aaron Award for the league's top offensive player. Not bad for a debut.

3. The non-waiver Trade Deadline
Alex Anthopoulos no longer runs the Blue Jays, but there's no question that his high-risk, high-reward game of chess will be missed by the fan base. Anthopoulos never shied away from making big moves, but he took it to an entirely new level in July by pulling off a series of stunning deals for Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Mark Lowe, Ben Revere and LaTroy Hawkins. The Blue Jays were 50-51 on July 28, but went 43-18 the rest of the way to overcome an eight-game deficit and take the AL East.

2. The drought is over
The moment Blue Jays fans had been waiting more than two decades for finally arrived on Sept. 30, when Toronto clinched the division with a 15-2 victory over Baltimore. Hawkins, who retired at the end of the year, got the honor of closing out the game, and he did so by striking out Ryan Flaherty. The victory came in the first game of a doubleheader, so the Blue Jays had to wait several hours to celebrate, but in the end it was more than worth it.

1. The bat flip
Without a doubt, the defining moment of the Blue Jays' 2015 season was the bat flip heard 'round the world in Game 5 of the AL Division Series. Jose Bautista's three-run shot in the seventh capped a four-run inning and sent the Blue Jays to the ALCS in style. It wasn't quite Joe Carter's walk-off homer to win the 1993 World Series, but it also wasn't far off, and this shot will go down as one of the biggest moments in Canadian sports history.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.