Yeah, I know, it's only a two-game set, but the Red Sox haven't been swept at home this year. Yet. Also "at stake" is the season series between the teams, tied 9-9 going into the finale. Just like last night's exciting (if sloppy) contest, this one's about pride for the Jays, but has playoff implications for Boston, now a game back of their AL West rivals in the wild-card standings.
The pitching matchup certainly favours the good guys. Roy Halladay, 10-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 16 road starts, seeks his 18th win. One slight concern is that Doc's facing the Red Sox for the sixth time this year, so they are very familiar with him. He's 2-0, 4.26 in those five starts, including a complete game 5-2 victory in Fenway last month. Based on their 2003 numbers, he must be extra careful with Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Trot Nixon, but he's done a nice job shutting down the righthanded heart of the order.
John Burkett, one of those guys I love to hate, has made three starts vs. the Jays this year, lasting a total of just 11 innings. He's 0-2 with a 14.73 ERA -- almost everybody's hit him, especially Greg Myers, Chris Woodward, Vernon Wells, Eric Hinske and Carlos Delgado. All are in the lineup. Mike Bordick and Josh Phelps are on the bench, along with Tom Wilson, Dave Berg and the still-hobbled Bobby Kielty. Anything can happen in that ballpark, and no lead is safe with these bullpens, so the only prediction I'll make is that it should be fun to watch.
The Toronto Sun's website has a CP article by Shi Davidi on sabermetric approaches to building teams
(it's on Canoe, so get it soon before it disappears) inspired by the recent Oakland-Toronto series.
The article contains a vintage J.P. Ricciardi quote, this one about a young Mike Bordick (who Ricciardi signed for the A's back in 774 B.C.)
We were in the Blue Jays private box, between the radio booth and press row, awaiting the start of a ball game, the rubber match of the Mariners series. J.P. Ricciardi had promised Batter's Box a sit-down to answer some of the questions posed by our contributors and readers. With his wife and two young sons in town, and busy with many other responsibilities, he had run out of time for the second straight day, but J.P. is a man who honours commitments. I joked about him "ducking the hard-hitting interview" and assumed we would reschedule again, so the last-minute invitation to join him was completely unexpected. It was a dream come true for this fan to watch the first nine outs of a 7-2 Toronto win while chatting with the architect of my favourite team.
Most Batter's Box regulars already know his bio: born September 26, 1959 in Worchester, Mass., played baseball and basketball in high school, college ball in Florida. After two seasons in the minors, Ricciardi became a coach at age 23 in the Yankees system, before joining the Oakland organization in 1986 as a minor-league instructor and New England area scout. At 32, he was promoted to East Coast Scouting Supervisor; two years later he became National Crosschecker. In 1996, he became Special Assistant to then-GM Sandy Alderson. Under Billy Beane, his title was changed to Director of Player Personnel. J.P. was hired by the Blue Jays on November 14, 2001 and has four years remaining on the contract extension he signed after rejecting overtures from the Red Sox. He's already improved the talent on the big-league club and throughout the farm system while simultaneously trimming millions of dollars from the payroll. There's no doubt that he's one of the brightest front-office minds in the game, with an energetic, charismatic personality.
A few odds and ends from Jaysworld. Bobby Kielty pulled a hamstring
in last night's loss to Oakland, and is offically listed as day-to-day. Expect to see a Catalanotto-Wells-Johnson outfield for the next little while; if Kielty is DL'ed, we might see Jayson Werth or, less likely, Gabe Gross up with the big club. As rumoured, the Blue Jays are expected to unveil a(nother) new logo
early next week; although this
would be a great choice, I'm skeptical that it will get the final nod. And finally, Richard Griffin gets blasted
for his column on SABR this past weekend.
So far in August, the Blue Jays have hurt Seattle and helped Oakland. Now they go into Boston for a mini-series. The Red Sox, who swept four straight from the M's to create a three-way tie in the AL wild-card race, are aware that they must cope with Roy Halladay tomorrow, so they need a win tonight to sustain that momentum.
It's RH Tim Wakefield (1-1, 4.68 in four 2003 starts against the Jays this year) facing LH Mark Hendrickson (1-0, 4.09 in four previous starts vs. Boston). Lurch held the BoSox to two earned runs in six innings in his only Fenway appearance back in April, and has been pitching well lately, with two wins over the Mariners in his last three starts. Toronto beat Wakefield in Fenway July 18, but ten days earlier, he shut the Jays down at SkyDome. The knuckleballer has three straight no-decisions.
My usual source for pregame lineups has yet to post the box score, so for a change, I'll first-guess. Bordick, Catalanotto, Myers and Delgado have had the most historical success against Wakefield; perhaps Cat should lead off, with Bordick second. If Cash is behind the plate, let Myers DH, as Phelps sometimes has trouble with soft-tossers. Reed Johnson is 0-for-8 vs. Wakefield, but with Kielty hurt, Sparky needs to be in the lineup. I'd bat him ninth tonight.
So our beloved Blue Jays went out on a six-day road trip to California and Florida (!), returned home for a weekend series, headed back out to the West Coast for seven games without the benefit of an off-day, and returned home for seven games before hitting the road, again without an off-day. Oh, and the last 14 games of this difficult schedule were against two of the best clubs in baseball, each locked in airtight two-tiered playoff races. The Fightin' Jays battled, and emerged with a 6-8 record against Oakland and Seattle after last night's comeback attempt fell just short.
Now things begin to get hard.
Fortunately, it's just a two-game set against a Red Sox lineup that is downright scary. Never mind their stats, which are excellent; Boston's top-to-bottom batting order, particularly against righties, frightens me more as an opposing fan than anything I've seen since the '95 Cleveland squad that (not coincidentally) also featured the menacing bat of Manny Ramirez. Lurch and Doc have their work cut out for them tonight and tomorrow night.
I hesitate to post this article above Coach's excellent interview with J.P., but time marches on here at the Box...
On to the Advance Scout!
This humorous 1976 CBC news story
details the uncertainty over the award of the Blue Jays expansion franchise. Gerald Ford had attempted to step in and force MLB to put a team in Washington first.
The best part of the video is Paul Godfrey (partway through the two-minute clip) apparently wearing some sort of Phil Donahue costume.
Your humble correspondent has been scarce lately (out-of-town convention, no home computer, blackouts) and will be scarcer still this week (moving), so here's a quick update on the minors from this past weekend. The minor-league season ends on Labour Day, so look for an end-of-year review of the farm system later next month, as well as more bonus material come October. But for now, check out some amazing performances on the farm the last few days.
Word is that Cory Lidle has cleared waivers, and could still be moved as the final deadline nears. In a way, he's auditioning tonight against his former -- and possibly future -- team. What about trading him for shortstop Michael Rouse (303/393/408 for AA Midland)? There would be a certain symmetry to that deal, but I'd prefer a pitcher like Shane Komine. Old pals Beane and Ricciardi might even swap tonight's starters, depending on which minor-leaguers are thrown in.
Tanyon Sturtze (0-2, 6.52 with 14 BB and 15 K since the break) is still a Blue Jay, for reasons I cannot fathom. Dan Reichert was optioned to make room for Lidle, the latest Jay to downplay an injury to the detriment of his team. After pitching poorly for several weeks with a strained groin, Cory's 4-inning AAA rehab stint was encouraging. If he's pain-free and has good command this evening, expect a bidding war for his services, with the Cardinals and Astros other possible suitors.
"Show a little faith, there's magic in the night..."
Toronto shortstop J.P. Ricciardi steps to the plate, as Bruce Springsteen’s "Thunder Road" echoes through the imaginary SkyDome.
The Jays’ GM willingly answered everything I asked on behalf of Batter’s Box contributors and readers, even hypothetical and personal questions, like what his theme music would be if he was a big-league player.
"Riding out tonight to case the promised land..."
Don't miss the entire interview here tomorrow morning. I'm sure you will enjoy it.
Congratulations to Snellville and Jurgen, whose Gashouse Gorillas and Baird Brain are going to receive first-round byes in the championship playoffs, which begin next week.
Billies Bashers took over third place by edging Masssuckage 6-5, and Nation Builders moved into fourth with an 8-4 win over the Moscow Rats. Really, they just watched as my Toronto Walrus continued to collapse, getting humiliated 11-1 by Red Mosquitos. The near-whitewash vaulted Spicol into seventh place, 3.5 games behind Mebion Glyndwr, who maintained sixth with an 8-3 victory over Baird Brain.
The Thunderbirds, hottest BBFL team in the second half, whipped the league leaders 9-3, but time is running out for them to make the top six, where I'm sure they would be more competitive than my stumbling squad. Jicks Rays beat the Springfield Isotopes 8-3 to keep their championship-round hopes alive, while the Sub-Urban Shockers crushed AGF 10-1 and the Chatsworth Halos whipped the Eastern Shore Birds 9-3, solidifying their places in at least the consolation bracket. Jonny German's K-Town team mashed Reykjavik Fish Candy 9-2 to take a 3.5 game lead in the race for the final playoff spot.
With the loss of Mark Mulder, the importance of Tim Hudson to the A's playoff hopes can't be overstated. The Oakland management, players and fans will be watching carefully this afternoon as the star right-hander returns from an eight day layoff. Hudson was dominating the Jays with a two-hitter in the seventh inning last Saturday when a Dave Berg line drive hit him in the right hand, near the wrist. He was forced to leave the game, and though X-rays showed no fracture, he was held out of his next scheduled start against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox. If he's 100%, it could be a long day for Toronto hitters. If he's not -- Jays fans know all too well that players often fib about their pain thresholds -- it will have a huge impact on the AL pennant race.
Kelvim Escobar missed the A's on the west coast swing, so this will be their first look at him this season. He faced the Mariners in his last two starts, and they weren't fooled the second time, especially Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez. Maybe it was the venue -- on the road, Kelvim is 6-1 with a 2.24 ERA; at the SkyDome he's 3-6, 5.64 with an opponent's average of .309, 88 points higher than he allows everywhere else.
There's likely to be some gnashing of teeth over the Jays' lineup, which features Dave Berg in right field and leading off. He's 3-for-9 with a homer off Hudson. Frank Catalanotto, whose back has been tender recently, returns in left. Kevin Cash is behind the plate, with Greg Myers at DH. On the crowded bench are Kielty, Johnson, Woodward, Wilson and Phelps. Of note: Carlos Delgado is 8-for-22 against Hudson, with five walks, a 1.455 OPS and four homers.
Bobby Bonds passed away yesterday. MLB.com has a fine tribute
to his memory.
A five-time member of the 30-30 club, three-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Bobby finished his 14-year career with 322 homers and 461 steals. He would have been the first player to achieve 40-40 if not for a home run erased in a rain shortened 1973 game, finishing with 39 HR and 43 SB that season. And of course, he's part of the most prolific father-son combination in baseball history.
Our sympathy to the Bonds family and to all the other friends he leaves behind. Bobby will be missed.
Normally I don't waste my time with an RG column, but I did peruse his latest "work
Sir Richard's latest attack is all over the place - frequently, it is difficult to see how one paragraph relates to the next. Worse, RG displays a superficial understanding of SABR, sabermetrics (which he doesn't mention by name) and Bill James.
The .500 Jays try for a fourth straight win at home, which last occurred against the Pirates and Cubs in June. Halama-Walker doesn't deserve the same kind of buildup as Zito-Halladay, but it's going to draw a bigger crowd; the Molitor bobblehead giveaway guarantees that. As expected, Brian Bowles was sent down to make room for Walker, who hasn't pitched since June 3 and hasn't pitched well since April. I like Pete, and admire his tenacity. I hope he is finally healthy and has some success, but I'd rather he was in the bullpen and Towers stayed in the rotation. The relievers may decide this one, as neither starter can be expected to go more than five innings.
Remember when the Jays didn't match up well against southpaws? Now it's an embarrassment of riches. Mike Bordick is 8-for-17 off Halama, but Chris Woodward is 1-for-2, with a homer. Good call by Tosca to give O-Dog the day off and play Bordick at second. RF Bobby Kielty is just 1-for-6 (a 3-run homer) off the 6'5" lefty, but he's walked three times (an interesting 167/444/667) and he's 313/431/646 from the right side for the season. Carlos Delgado has a 417/529/750 line in 12 AB, and Vernon Wells doubled his only time up. DH Josh Phelps (remember him?) has never faced Halama, so he deserves a chance. With Hinske (0-for-2) at third, there's no room in the lineup for Dave Berg and his 308/368/577 split against lefties this year.