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The much-anticipated meeting five days ago of last year's Cy Young winner Barry Zito and this year's contender Roy Halladay was extremely disappointing to the Jays and their fans. Tonight can only be better. Doc was rocked for ten hits and seven runs (five earned) in just three innings last week, and his lifetime record against Oakland (2-4, 6.98 in seven starts) isn't great. Zito has been much more effective in his career against Toronto (4-1, 3.07 in seven starts) and went a solid seven innings on Sunday to earn the win at home.

The series is vitally important to the A's, who cling to a one-game lead in the wild card race and are within three of the division lead. The Jays are trying to build on two fine efforts that decided the Mariners series. So far in this brutal 14-game stretch against the best in the West, they are a very respectable 5-5. A win tonight gets them back to .500 for the season, and the vast majority of the remaining schedule is against Tampa, Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit.

Eric Hinske (0-for-6 vs. Zito) gets the night off, with Dave Berg starting at third. O-Dawg's in at second despite his poor platoon split, with Woody at short; Mike Bordick generally hits lefties well but is just 2-for-12 off Zito. Kevin Cash gets to catch the ace for the first time, but it's going to be a challenge to improve on his .118 average against this tough lefty.

Arizona Fall League rosters have been announced. Every fall, each major-league team sends six minor-leaguers to Arizona to continue their development. The players chosen aren't always the organization's top prospects, but each one of them has a reason for being selected. Here's a quick look at the six Blue Jays who'll be on the roster of the Peoria Javelinas.
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Now that blackouts and viruses are behind me, the Advance Scout returns. The Oakland A's hit town for a rare wraparound four-game series that features a bonus Monday night affair after Sunday's matinee. Obviously, the visitors have a lot to play for, as they lead Boston by a scant game for the wild card and trail Seattle by only three in the West -- thanks to the solid efforts of Messrs. Towers and Hendrickson, of course.

The Athletics aren't firing on all cylinders right now, as they usually are in August and September. Several hitters are slumping, and others are only recently beginning to rouse themselves from their season-long underachievement. Plus, the strength of the club -- the rotation -- is on the limp, with Tim Hudson hopeful of pitching Sunday and Mark Mulder likely out for his next two starts.

But the White Elephants' bullpen has been simply fantastic of late, as they've preserved leads, picked up injured or faltering starters, and held the fort so as to facilitate several recent late-inning rallies. The Jays will have to jump on Halama and Lilly early, and hope that Hudson's not quite well while the Cy Young incumbent is merely Decent Barry tonight, as opposed to Stellar Barry.

Of course, all of us here at Batter's Box are looking forward to the input of resident A's expert John Gizzi, who politely declined the opportunity to be this weekend's Scout because of a pressing social obligation -- I don't remember if it was Amnesty International or the Make-A-Wish Foundation; Gitz will have to fill us in with specifics.

Meanwhile, although the Jays and A's currently share a strong relationship and a common theory of management, it wasn't too long ago that the clubs were postseason rivals, with the Jays breaking the cycle of Oakland's playoff dominance once and for all in '92. With that in mind, I thought I'd remind Mr. Gizzi of a sign I saw at Game 2 of the ALCS at SkyDome, which applies with equal force today: "Oakland Fans Are Athletic Supporters."

On to the Advance Scout!

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JP Ricciardi continues to reshape the Blue Jays organization, and if it seems like it's taking a long time, well, it's a big organization. Yesterday, he not only fired Bob Nelson, but he also fired his title, abolishing the position of Director of Minor League Operations. In turn, JP promoted two young men (and I mean young) to replace Nelson: Charlie Wilson, 30, (Manager, Minor-League Operations) and Andrew Tinnish, 27 (Co-ordinator, Scouting). With Jon Lalonde and Keith Law already playing key roles, the Jays front office may be the first in baseball where you'll hear Choose '80s CDs playing in the reception area.
I hate left-handed soft-tossers. I've hated 'em ever since Frank Tanana pitched for Detroit and I hate 'em every time one of them shuts down a high-powered Blue Jays offence, which is often. Nothing against Jamie Moyer (10-5, 4.75 lifetime against Toronto) personally, since I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, but I'd much prefer if he tripped going out to the mound and missed this start altogether. He'll be opposed by a lefty who throws softer than you'd think, Mark Hendrickson, starting for a Blue Jays squad that was playing sloppy, uninspired .333 ball over their 45 games previous to last night's win. A victory tonight would give Toronto the rubber match of this home series against a Mariners team that shows every sign of being World-Series-ready.
Last Friday I attended my second game of the 2003 season -- the Mariners vs. the Red Sox in Safeco -- as I alluded to on an earlier game thread. The game itself was compelling enough -- a 9-4 Seattle win featuring an Ichiro grand slam, a mammoth solo homer by Manny Ramirez, and some questionable umpiring -- but equally exciting were the following events.
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A BB regular and avid follower of the Jays' farm system has stepped in as a volunteer pinch-hitter with this update. Thanks, Gerry.

By Gerry McDonald

The minor league season ends on Labour Day. That makes for 13 days left in the season. Some teams are just playing out the string, some are home and dry, and others are in a fight. As this is the first minor league update in a while, I will look at the last few days in my comments.
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I feel like escaping from the drudgery of work today, so I'm going to open a thread for some general chit-chat.

I'll lead off with this... isn't it terrific that there are so many good pennant races around MLB right now? The AL West is close, the AL Wild Card is a good race too, there's a great three-team dogfight in the AL Central, and the combined NL Central and NL Wild Card race has *seven* pretty good teams clawing at each other for two spots.
According to Richard Griffin in the Star today, "The odds of Escobar actually signing before the season ends are as slim as Keon Clark. The odds of Escobar signing with the Jays after the season ends are even slimmer."

Griffin projects Kelvim, at 27, to have 59 wins (and 58 saves) after this season, then makes some interesting comparisons:

Matt Morris, with 61 wins at age 29, earns $10.5 million. Bartolo Colon, with 85 wins at age 30, was given $8.25 million. Freddy Garcia, 60 wins at age 27, is making $6.9 million. Kevin Millwood, with 75 wins at age 29, is earning $9.9 million. Eric Milton, with 56 wins at age 28, is making $6 million. But none of them had bullpen time to cut into their W-totals.

This does support the idea that he's become too valuable on the open market for the Jays to do anything but offer him arbitration -- which he insists he won't accept -- and settle for the draft picks.
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Ichiro? Boone? Delgado? A case could be made for any of the three to win the AL MVP, though there are, of course, other players in the mix. The surprising Gil Meche toes the rubber for the Mariners tonight, while the not-so-surprising Josh Towers goes for your Toronto Blue Jays. Mike Cameron rejoins the lineup and will tour CF for Seattle, and, for the Jays, Mike Bordick will hit sixth and play SS, Kevin Cash catches and hits ninth, and Greg Myers is the DH, hitting fifth. Where's Josh Phelps, you ask? On the bench, yet again. Bobby Kielty will hit eighth and play RF.

Now, I know batting order is largely irrelevant in the American League, but you'd like to think Kielty deserves to hit higher than Bordick, the former's struggles against right-handed pitchers notwithstanding. I'll be around from time-to-time to check out the game. Enjoy.

There are some great freebies at Baseball Prospectus, including the Postseason Odds Report, updated yesterday. Of particular interest is the AL wild-card race, in which Nate Silver's computations assign a 57.9% chance to the Red Sox and just 31.6% to the A's. To put Carlos Tosca's stubborn optimism into proper perspective, the Blue Jays "hopes" are down to 0.3% -- in other words, it's time to play Kevin Cash and Josh Phelps.

I'll bet the Diamondbacks (four games out with 39 to play) would argue with the notion that they have only a 6.9% chance of becoming the NL wild-card team. So would the Dodgers, who are one game farther back in the standings, with a mere 2.1% likelihood of playing in October. The Expos, despite being four games over .500, are impossible longshots (0.2%) according to these numbers. In both leagues, the Central Division remains up for grabs among three teams, but strength of schedule and third-order winning percentage favours the Cubbies (by a surprisingly large margin) and the Twins.
With his agent in town to negotiate a contract extension, Kelvim Escobar has an incentive to continue pitching well. His maddening inconsistency seems a thing of the past, as he's 4-0 with a 1.68 ERA in his last six starts, allowing more than two runs just once in that stretch. Since June 3, apart from a disastrous outing on three days' rest against the Yankees and the Jeff Conine beanball incident, when he lost concentration (and the game) in one bad inning, Kelvim's been superb. If you ignore those two blips, his ERA is 2.14 in his last 12 starts.

The Mariners couldn't solve Escobar last Thursday, when he scattered eight hits and a couple of walks over seven innings, striking out seven. He can expect some run support against Ryan Franklin, who was knocked out in the fourth inning last Wednesday after blowing a 5-0 lead. In his career against Toronto (that start and five relief appearances, totalling 14 IP) Franklin boasts a 13.50 ERA and has held the Jays to a .403 average. Josh Phelps and Bobby Kielty are both in the lineup; Catalanotto usually plays against righties, but at least for tonight, he's on the bench with Woodward, Wilson, Berg and Cash.

We apologize on behalf of the Advance Scout, a victim of technical difficulties. This is the most favourable pitching matchup of the series for Toronto; it's Meche vs. Towers tomorrow and Thursday is finesse lefty night, with Moyer and Hendrickson. Some of us are already looking forward to Doc's revenge against the A's on Friday and the scheduled Canadian debut of Rich Harden.
Time's running out in the playoff races. There were no changes in the standings last week among the top six teams, but fifth place Nation Builders solidified their position (by routing my hapless Walrus 7-3) and Mebion Glyndwr extended their tenuous 1.5 game hold on the final championship-round slot to 4.5 games with an 8-4 win over the Springfield Isotopes.
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The Rockies, determined to prove they are a terrible road team, lost their fourth straight to the Mets this afternoon, managing just two baserunners. Colorado pitcher Chin-Hui Tsao (previously hitless in his brief career) broke up Steve Trachsel's perfect game with a two-out double in the sixth. In the ninth, Greg Norton reached on a Jason Phillips error. Trachsel threw 103 pitches, 70 for strikes. Remarkably, the notoriously slow worker completed nine innings in less than two and a half hours.

This breaking news, with no impact on the Blue Jays or any pennant races, does give me an excuse to remind you that time is running out if you want to Ask J.P. a question in the exclusive Batter's Box interview. Depending on his schedule, I'm hoping to sit down with him on Wednesday and post his answers by the weekend. Thanks to everyone who has participated.
Jack Curry of the New York Times examines bunting. (Registration is required). There are some interesting quotes from players and general managers, including our own.

"The biggest thing for me is I don't like giving up outs," Ricciardi said. "When you're in the American League, one run usually doesn't decide a game. You need to keep tacking on. And I'll be honest with you, who the heck can bunt today? We work on it and they still can't bunt. We don't want to be the ones wasting time on it."

The Blue Jays will probably set a record for fewest sacrifice bunts. The number is 16, by the 2000 Yankees and the 1998 Tigers.

"It's our goal to be under 10," Ricciardi said.

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