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One of the things I enjoy most about baseball is that it can be played well by a variety of different people, and in a variety of different ways. Every baseball player has his own set of strengths and weaknesses, and his own approach to getting the job done. Also, some players develop a unique on-field relationship with the fans who pay to watch them.
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You've seen him on TV, heard him on the radio, and watched him transform the Toronto Blue Jays into one of the most exciting young ballclubs in the American League. Now, here's your chance to ask him about the team.

That's right -- Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi will give an exclusive interview to Batter's Box next week. And we're only going to ask him the questions that you -- our readers and contributors -- suggest. Post your question in this thread, and we'll automatically include it for consideration when we're choosing the final slate of queries for the interview. Make sure you attach your name to your post -- when we publish the interview transcript, we'll be giving credit to every reader who suggests a selected question.
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I admit it's a pet peeve. I'm not just whining about the obvious (and gutless) terrible calls at critical times that have cost the Jays games in St. Louis, Boston and Tampa this year; the quality of umpiring in the majors is atrocious.

In a Houston Chronicle column, John P. Lopez blames MLB, and Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker agrees:

"...Major League Baseball has not made a commitment to a recruiting program and a development program for the umpires. Consequently, we continue to have umpires promoted to the major-league level that in many instances aren't qualified and aren't prepared."

MLB's "solution" -- the controversial QuesTec system -- may actually be responsible for increasing the umps' collective incompetence and arrogance. Hunsicker says it "...leads to heightened emotion and potential conflicts between managers and umpires, players and umpires." The recent incident in Houston with an overmatched subsititute ump is referred to as the "Kent-Williams mix-up." Hey, don't blame me!
To attach any importance to this game for the Blue Jays in the standings, you have to be concerned with things like staying above .500, or holding off those pesky Orioles for third place in the division. However, it's always a big event when Roy Halladay starts, and if there's as much entertainment tonight as there was last night, I suggest you stay awake.

Doc could become the first 17-game winner in the majors, and an .850 win percentage, while it may not prove his superiority to Loiaza, Mulder and Hudson, would keep his Cy Young candidacy very much alive in the minds of the voters, not to mention the hearts of Jays fans. He's 2-2 against Seattle in his career with a 3.25 ERA; even better (1-1, 2.16) at Safeco, where the Mariners have hit .191 against him. Five days ago, he got stronger as the game progressed, going the distance against the D-Rays.

Freddy Garcia isn't having much fun this year, with that 9-12 record and 5.45 ERA, and is just 4-3, 5.68 in his career against the Blue Jays, who have hit him at a .285 clip over the years. He's 0-4, with a ridiculous 11.39 ERA, since the break, and the whole league has hit him like Ted Williams (.388) during that stretch. His latest wasn't quite that bad, as he lost 3-0 to Cleveland, giving up six hits in 6.1 innings. He and the Mariners will be feeling more pressure than the Jays, who have nothing to lose.
The Star reports that Naming rights for the Skydome are up for sale again.

In 1999 the price was apparently $5 million (US) now it is $3.9 million (currency not specified - lets guess at US again). This still seems wildly excessive given that Air Canada 'only' pay $2 million (CAD) for rights to the ACC and that " the general populous will likely continue to call it the SkyDome".

Maybe Sportsco haven't heard about the dot.bomb phenomenon and think there's still some VC money burning holes in some pockets.
Peter Gammons is back with an interesting piece on all the young pitchers making an impact throughout baseball. This is in line with an opinion I first floated a couple of years ago, that the pendulum is swinging back from its 1998 extreme and that pitching is in ascendance again. Try to find an article about corked baseballs anywhere in 2005.

Anyway, for our purposes, there are two points in the article worth mentioning. The first is Gammons' belief, I think accurate, that between the surplus of cheap young hurlers and the plethora of free-agent busts last year (not to mention fiscal conservatism generally), the upcoming free-agent pitching market will be depressed and top talent can be acquired less expensively than before. That's good news for Toronto, for '05 if not for next year. And here's the second:

"I think everywhere you go throughout baseball, the two organizations you hear people talking about are the Indians and Blue Jays," one assistant GM said. "It's talent, but it's also pitching. They've both got a lot of really good arms on the way."
As mentioned in the Advance Scout thread, Mark Hendrickson will have a large rooting section in Seattle, but he's the underdog in a pitching matchup with Joel Piniero. Lurch was pretty good last time out, and Piniero stumbled against Cleveland after an 8-0, 1.91 stretch, so there's a glimmer of hope.

The Jays need a win tonight to return to .500, and get off to a good start in a stretch of 14 straight games against the best in the West. Kevin Cash, who caught Hendrickson in AAA several times, is in the lineup; the Mariners like to run, so we might see the cannon fired. Greg Myers is the DH, as Carlos Tosca wants to load up with lefty bats against the tough righty.
The young fellows over at Sports Blotter have a good discussion of the AL Cy Young race today, but more importantly if you scroll down to "Quick Hits" for August 10, Sean has a report on yesterday's New Haven game versus the New Britain Rock Cats.

Apparently at least one scout really likes Dave Gassner, and both Rios and Quiroz are doing "excellent jobs looking at pitches and prolonging at bats". Now THAT is what I like to hear.

Incidentally, one transaction that escaped my notice is that New Haven have brought in former Jay Anthony Sanders. Welcome back to the organization!
Taking a stranglehold on second with an 8-4 win over the Sub-Urban Shockers, Baird Brain moved within 8.5 games of first place Gashouse Gorillas, who lost 9-2 to the Eastern Shore Birds. My Toronto Walrus is now six games farther back in third, after falling 8-4 to the Moscow Rats, and fourth place Billies Bashers missed an opportunity to close the gap between us, dropping a 7-4 decision to the K-Town Mashers.

With just three weeks left to determine playoff seedings, it's wide open. Nation Builders beat Geoffs Grumpy Group 6-5 to remain in fifth place, now by a more comfortable 3.5 games. Still holding on to the sixth (and last) spot in the championship bracket despite a 7-4 loss to the Chatsworth Halos, Mebion Glyndwr has a 1.5 game lead on the charging Birds, followed by five more teams grouped within three games. Expect some close photo-finishes. No less than TEN teams are within eight games of playing for the T-shirt, yet three of them won't even make the consolation playoffs.
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Well into August, the Jays finally see their expansion cousins for the first time. What to expect: Quality starts, great defence and a good bullpen that becomes great in the back end. In Rafael Soriano and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, the M's have the equivalents of a young Duane Ward and an overhanded Dan Quisenberry -- both in terms of statistics and usage versatility.

What not to expect: Offensive explosions, especially from the bottom of the order. There are some glaring holes in the Mariner lineup, and Jeff Nelson's views on the inability (or unwillingness) of management to fill them have become well-documented.

It's a tough draw for the slumpers in the Jays' lineup, but I like Garcia vs. Halladay tomorrow night. Mark Hendrickson pitches for the first time in front of friends and family tonight, and we at the Box wish him well.

I should also mention that here at Batter's Box, we have our very own jewel of the Pacific Northwest...and he's named John Gizzi. Hopefully he can add to this series' Scout with some local insight.

On to the Advance Scout!
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No, it's not a contractual clause, it's the latest Jays roster move. Scott Service has been released, and Kevin Cash has been called up to take his place. Carlos Tosca:

I expect to catch him at least two or three times a week, let him get his feet wet. There are some guys here that he's caught -- Hendrickson, Thurman, Towers. We're getting ready to play a ballclub that has a great deal of speed. Kevin's going to be part of our future, and basically we want to take a look at him.

The future is beginning to begin now.
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A guy with a 29.25 ERA against the Jays faces an emergency AAA callup. Two explosive lineups are licking their chops, and both bullpens could see plenty of action.

Josh Towers gets another chance in a big-league rotation; he must be grateful, after a brief and disappointing bullpen callup at the end of May. In 2001, the soft-tossing righty won six of his first seven decisions and AL rookie of the month honours in June. I don't know what happened in 2002, but he's been respectable for Syracuse this year (3.32 ERA in 132.2 IP, 20 BB. 76 K) and threw a complete game shutout in his latest, with J.P. Ricciardi in attendance.

The biggest step for a pitcher is psychological. If Josh sticks to the same game plan, doesn't try to throw everything too hard and isn't afraid to throw strikes, he'll have a chance to keep his team in the game. It won't require a a shutout; so far, the Jays have owned Colby Lewis, who didn't survive the third inning in back-to-back early May starts. Bobby Kielty gets another day off, so both Sparky and Cat are starting; Wilson's in for Myers.
Nice catch, Shane. In Tuscon's Arizona Daily Star , Chris Jackson profiles overnight success Jamie Vermilyea:

"I think, in all fairness, we never really know what we're going to get," said Blue Jays player development director Dick Scott.

Vermilyea says he learned to pitch down in the zone at his home field in college, altitude 5,000 feet. Scott likes that he throws five pitches for strikes. It's all good.
Can't believe we missed this, but many thanks to the shy, eagle-eyed lurker who passed it along. It's a reprint from Sympatico's "workopolis.com" of a piece by John Allemang of the Globe and Mail.

"You can't be a rigid thinker," says Gord Ash, who now works in the Milwaukee Brewers front office. "You have to be open to possibilities, you can't lock yourself in. These people who talk about thinking outside the box, you know what? They've just created another box. Look at the Toronto all-stars this year, Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado, none of whom went to college.

"Read Moneyball," adds the departed Mr. Ash darkly. "There's a lot of self-promotion and ego going on."

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This week's ESPN The Magazine is chock full of Jays coverage. Carlos Delgado gets plenty of ink for both his on-field accomplishments and off-field views. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay gets a feature-length article discussing the Jays' stunning success in rebuilding his motion -- and in getting him back on track to be the ace he's uniquely capable of being.
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