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It's Jon Garland vs. Kelvim Escobar tonight in the finale of this two-game "series." Howie Clark is leading off and playing left field, Bobby Kielty hits sixth and mans right field, while shortstop Mike Bordick finishes the lineup off, sending Chris Woodward to the bench, where, hopefully, he'll watch some videos of Ozzie Smith. Heck, Ozzie and Harriet might help.
Rob Neyer chats with JP Ricciardi in his latest column. It's good stuff, with some funny parts -- the photo of Ricciardi and Tosca looks like they're doing a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta -- and one funny-yet-alarming part.

Funny: Derek Jeter might not have the greatest first step, but he can roll out of bed in January and hit line drives wherever he likes. This column isn't about Derek Jeter (though the Good Lord knows the world could use another column about Derek Jeter).

Funny: When you talk to a general manager in July, you have to ask if he's got any trades in the works. Ricciardi didn't miss a beat: "Keith Law for Paul DePodesta." (That's an inside joke, for the benefit of both me and Law, who was within earshot.)

Alarming: Finally, I asked Ricciardi a question, variations of which I've been asking a lot of people in recent weeks ... "With more and more teams following -- or trying to follow -- the Oakland A's model, where will you find your edge in five or six years?"

Ricciardi smiled. "In five or six years I'll be gone, coaching high school basketball somewhere, so I won't give a s---."


He's just kidding ... right?
If you're not familiar with the ongoing discussion about the "first annual" award to be presented by Da Box, the Joaquin Andujar YouNeverKnow Award competition was announced here on Groundhog Day.

The purpose of the award is to recognize, within certain defined parameters, the best offseason free agent acquisition, where "best" also means "most surprising."

The leader heading into the final 18 holes of play this season? No surprise -- it's former Jay Esteban Loaiza. But the field is still wide open as we head down the homestretch. (That's both a golf and a horseracing metaphor so far ... can anyone work in some sort of bowling or billiards terminology?)

Let's review.
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Coach was kind enough to let me archive my Rich Harden post for ESPN.com, so here it is. Denizens of Da Box can ignore this. ESPN.com readers may plow forward at their discretion.
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While talks no doubt continue that could determine the fate of current Jays' #2 starter Kelvim Escobar, the undisputed ace of the staff takes the mound at Skydome tonight trying for his franchise-record 15th straight winning decision. Opposing him tonight will be the always-pesky Chicago White Sox and their 1990s All-Star Game lineup (Robbie Alomar, Frank Thomas, Carl Everett, Sandy Alomar Jr., etc.) and their rejuvenated starter, lefty Mark Buehrle, who's been pitching lights-out lately. Against the southpaw, Carlos Tosca has Reed Johnson and Bobby Kielty batting one-two (Kielty's at first base again as Carlos Delgado rests his knees in the DH slot), Jayson Werth getting a rare start in right field, and Mike Bordick at second base. Keep your eyes peeled for Breaking News during the game....
It's my great pleasure to introduce a regular pinch-hitter in this space, someone already familiar to regular BB readers: John Neary. John has been doing minor-league updates at Batter's Box off and on the last little while, as well as providing excellent insight on threads related to prospects and draftees; he'll be providing minor-league updates more regularly from this point onwards. Take it away, John!
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Look out -- here comes the Hose.

Chicago has won five straight and seven of eight, as they have surged past Minnesota as Kansas City's primary challenger (at the moment, anyway). Roberto Alomar has been solid in black pinstripes, but it's been the power surge from the middle of the order -- Thomas, Ordonez, Lee and even Paul Konerko -- that's gotten the White Sox back on track. Chicago has been counteracting its poor defensive play with a reliable bullpen that has pitched particularly well recently.

The Jays duck Esteban Loaiza, who has shown no signs of a post-All-Star hangover. But Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland have both been tough on the Jays this season, and they're both coming off of respectable outings. Nobody really knows who the Jays will trot out on Thursday, given the mercurial nature of trade winds. What we do know is that Doc goes for 15, one day later than anticipated, tonight. Lots of reasons to follow this mini-series, including Frank Thomas going for #400; he's one away.

On to the Advance Scout!
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With the trade deadline approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to pick one central place where we can discuss all the trades (and yes, trade rumours) that happen. This should be a good place to visit to get any breaking news, etc.
Richard Griffin raves about the newest Blue Jay in the Star this morning. He also tries out "Beane-heads" as a new epithet for the enlightened, and drops a silly rumour:

If Kielty can do the job at major-league levels, then Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi can begin dreaming of an off-season in which he successfully clears Delgado and his $19 million (U.S.) off the roster. The Jays would do it, even if they were forced to eat a portion of the final year.

Somebody's dreaming, all right. Delgado's no-trade clause is a significant obstacle, and since his salary fits in next year's budget, why give up his production? Carlos will almost certainly be gone in 2005, unless he decides to take a substantial discount (in money and years) to stay in Toronto. But nobody is pushing him out the door.
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The major league leader in victories seeks his 15th tonight, as the Jays try to extend their Yankee Stadium win streak. Roy Halladay can equal Roger Clemens' team record for consecutive decisions without a loss, and the way he's been pitching, you have to like his chances. Doc handled the Yanks on short rest in his last start before the break, then tossed a brilliant complete game against the Red Sox in his latest. Another strong performance tonight will make the Cy Young whispers that much louder.

With Andy Pettitte on the hill, I was expecting a few lineup changes, but there's no sign of Jayson Werth or Mike Bordick, as Carlos Tosca sticks with the guys who were hot last night. That means three lefties (Cat, Delgado and Hinske) and two switch-hitters, one of whom (Hudson) isn't very good from the right side. The other (Kielty) has a .724 OPS vs. RH, but it's 1.045 against southpaws. Tom Wilson is another whose splits (.705 to .964) are extreme, and Reed Johnson's (.738 and 1.135) are ridiculous so far. Hitting lefties used to be a Toronto weakness, but not any more.

If the Jays stay as relaxed and confident as they were last night, this should be just as much fun to watch. Unfortunately, I won't see it. We're having cable problems at home again, so there's no Internet access and I'll be listening to the radio.


Hereís one of the many little-known difficulties of being a baseball fan in Newfoundland: evening ballgames donít start till 8:30 pm, and can reliably be counted on to not finish till well after 11:00. Combine that with numerous family events during my week-long trip to The Rock, and this is why I havenít laid eyes on a game in several days. It used to be worse, actually: when matches started at 7:30 ET instead of 7:00, it was 9:00 in Newfoundland. And west coast ballgames didnít get underway till midnight. We Jays fans had a lot of crosses to bear growing upon the east coast.
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Ouch! It hurts to fall from what I thought was a pretty secure second place and wake up this morning in third. Baird Brain enjoyed a brilliant 11-0 week against Chatsworth, while my team got thumped 10-2 by the Thunderbirds. Every week, I confidently assume that my hitters will keep me in the match, and hope that my pitchers will take a category or two, but no strategy is immune to disasters in Head-to-Head play.

Carlos Delgado, obviously tired from carrying the Jays and the Walrus on his back all season, sported a nifty 143/294/214 line for the abbreviated week. Milton Bradley chipped in with 133/235/333 and Bernie Williams was so bad (071/235/143) I traded him. When Marlon Byrd and Scott Spiezio are your hitting "stars," you're in trouble. Three of my starters didn't even pitch, and the ones who did were awful. Enough of this whining -- Jurgen wants to see the standings.
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The Terrible Twenty in April and the first ten games of the Dirty Dozen have exposed the young, improving Jays as a team that isn't ready -- yet -- to defeat the Beasts of the East. There are no more illusions of contending this year, which may be a good thing. The pressure's off; the Jays can stop trying too hard and just play ball.

Tonight, a pitcher I like a lot (Mark Hendrickson) faces one I loathe (Jeff Weaver, Chronic Underachiever). I was surprised and disappointed eight days ago, when Weaver pitched his best game in a long, long time to handcuff the Jays at the Dome. Tonight, it's possible he'll let the home crowd get into his head -- Lord knows, there's not much else in there -- or maybe, the more relaxed Toronto hitters will have a better approach. Lurch has to accept that he's not going to pitch a perfect game. Six innings of minimizing the damage would be a successful outing against an awesome lineup that's in a very good groove.

Carlos Tosca doesn't want Bobby Kielty to get too comfortable. The newest Jay is at first base tonight, with Delgado the DH. I really like the switch-hitter in the 5-hole betwen Carlos and Eric Hinske; it means Kielty might get to tee off again on a lefty reliever (see Fossum, Casey). Interesting that Tom Wilson is the catcher; with a lefty going tomorrow, I was sure it would be Myers again tonight. Crash was 2-for-4 yesterday, but he may be hurting.
Which Jays club will show up for the Yankee series this weekend? The reeling Jays that got bombed by the Bombers in April here, or the doubles-happy lineup that swept New York away in May?

It's just a two-game whistle-stop for the Jays this time before the Jays return home. It's somewhat melancholy to consider, but even a two-game sweep will render our not-quite-ready-for-prime-time club just 5-7 in the pivotal 12-game stretch against Boston and New York.

The Yankees are playing excellent ball, particularly offensively. Mark Hendrickson shakes off the rust and tries to take advantage of Death Valley in left-centre tonight; I'll be there. Doc goes for his Fantastic Fifteenth against Andy Pettitte tomorrow night.

On to the Advance Scout!
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I've been thinking lately (always a dangerous practice, I know), and was wondering:
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