On paper - at least you would think - the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays was better than last year's version. I know I still think player for player this year's team is better. But on July 5 a year ago, John Farrell's Blue Jays were 42-41, sitting four games back of the Angels and the first Wild Card spot and only two-and-a-half behind the Angels and the second Wild Card position.
The 2012 squad had scored 417 runs and given up just 393 for a plus-24 runs differential. But of course we all know it went completely downhill after that as the Jays went 31-48 the rest of the way.
The interesting thing about last year's races in the American League is that Detroit and Oakland both had identical 41-42 records on July 5, yet both ignited shortly after that and went on to win the Central and West divisions, respectively.
The 2013 Jays under John Gibbons as mentioned are three games under .500 heading into game action on July 5. They have only scored 390 runs, 27 fewer than a year ago and have given up 400, seven more than last season. Certainly losing the left half of their infield, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, has factored in and having just two starting pitchers in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle who have avoided the disabled list plays a part but the Yankees have suffered even more injuries and are still holding their own at 46-39, five games up on Toronto.
If the Blue Jays stay roughly where they are, don't look for any salvation at the non-waiver trade deadline. It would make no sense to give up any more of the future for a quick fix. The more likely scenario would be to see a couple of veterans dealt off to contenders. Casey Janssen has done an incredible job as the closer. But with the depth of the pen, and the development of Brett Cecil into a standout set-up man, you wonder if Janssen might not indeed by dangled in front of a top contender in need of a closer, such as Detroit or Boston, or even the Dodgers, who have crept back into the race in the NL West. L.A. dealt for the Cubs' Carlos Marmol earlier this week so they have to be desperate.
Arizona's lead in the NL West has shrunk to three games over Colorado and three-and-a-half on L.A. That's in large part because of a bizarre run by their starting rotation. The D-Backs didn't get a single victory from a start from June 5 through Wednesday of this week when Randall Delgado pitched seven strong innings in a 5-3 win over the Mets. The next day, the 4th of July, they needed 15 innings to beat the Mets 5-4 and again the starter did not get the victory. So a new streak begins.
This story didn't get much mention this week, and that surprised me. One of the great home run sluggers of all-time, Jim Thome, joined the front office of the Chicago White Sox as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn.
Thome never officially retired and in fact wanted to play, at least as a DH this season at age 42 if anyone had called. If Thome never plays another game, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and winds up his career with 612 homers, No. 7 on the all-time list.
There will always be two home runs hit by Thome, that I witnessed in person, that I will never forget. The first was a titanic blast off Pat Hentgen at Rogers Centre (SkyDome then) that went into Windows Restaurant in dead centre.
The other came last season when he was with the Phillies. Thome was playing first base that day because Ryan Howard was hurting. It was June 18 and Brett Cecil was making his first start of the season for the Jays after getting called back up from triple-A Las Vegas.
Thome hit a solo shot early in the game, ripping one to right field as I recall for his 608th career dinger. It also made him just the fourth player to hit 100 homers for three different teams - joining Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson and Darrell Evans. I remember at the time thinking maybe this will be the last homer he ever hits. But it wasn't. He slugged four more by the time he wound up last season with Baltimore.
Definitely, Thome's most memorable homer last season came a few days after that shot in Toronto. He hit a walk-off pinch-hit homer, the first of his career to give the Phillies a 7-6 win over Tampa Bay. It was his 609th dinger and tied him with Sammy Sosa on the all-time list. It also provided his manager and good friend Charlie Manuel with his 900th career victory.
There was a little side bar story to this as well. Jonathan Papelbon blew a save in that game. Just before Thome was due to bat, Papelbon told him he would give him $5000 right then and there if Thome hit a home run to win the game. Thome delivered and Papelbon cut him the cheque right after the game.
As mentioned, that was Jim Thome's 13th walk-off homer. That is the all-time Major League record, one more than Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson who all had 12.
Not only a great player, but a great man, and it's great to see him stay in the game.