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An early game thread, as I'm not sure how many of our authors are around on this long weekend, and my family is going to an Internet-free party. Regardless of the outcome of today's potential Pearson Cup-winning matchup, it's been a magnificent first half for the home team. Rookie RH Claudio Vargas, with a stingy 2.73 ERA and coming off a brilliant 3-hit shutout of the Pirates, takes on Doug Davis, who always makes me nervous. The Jays' bats (and their bullpen) will have to be good. It's a 4:05 start on TSN; I'll check in here late tonight to see what I missed.
In the Saturday Star, there's a front page picture of the Blue Jays, 25 head shots. Is it celebrating the club's remarkable turnaround, two years ahead of schedule? Introducing the players to a city that's just waking up to the reality of being in a pennant race? Nope, it's drawing attention to Geoff Baker's feature, headlined "Whitest team in the majors," which occupies a lot of the sports section.

Baker consults an "expert" who points out the large Japanese turnout in Toronto to see Ichiro. Talent has nothing to do with it, I guess; perhaps Hideki Irabu would be a similar draw. Then there's this gem:

Complicating the entire issue of race is the fact the Jays aren't really seeking the best players available, many of whom happen to be non-white. Budget-conscious Toronto instead is looking for value.

Yeah, we all hate value. OK, so J.P. should spend more money, and start considering the "issue" of race, which happens to be irrelevant to his job of building a winner. Why? Isn't what he's accomplished in 18 months good enough?
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It's too bad there's no MVC award for coaches. What kind of year is Blue Jays hitting coach Mike Barnett having? Nearing the halfway point of the 2003 season, his club leads the major leagues in batting average, hits, runs, RBI, on-base percentage, total bases and slugging percentage. Carlos Delgado's amazing season has helped, but everyone in the lineup is contributing.

The common denominator is "Barney," who refuses to take any credit for the results of his diligent efforts. "You can't do what we're doing without good players," he explained in a recent dugout conversation, after guiding his charges through batting practice. "We've got guys who are very talented, very intelligent, and they all have a fantastic work ethic."
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It's a rematch of last Sunday, when both Roy Halladay and Livan Hernandez worked on three days' rest. Livan pitched well enough at home, limiting the Jays to four runs, but Doc was brilliant -- four hits, no walks, no earned runs. Winning eleven consecutive starts requires skill and luck. One of these days, Doc will not have his best stuff (remember the Sunday matinee against the Red Sox?) and may not get that kind of run support. Tonight, expect another dominant performance, as Halladay becomes the first pitcher in six years to win 12 in a row.

Once again, Josh Phelps sits so that Reed Johnson can play, which does improve the defence and saves wear-and-tear on Cat's back. Dave Berg (4-for-10 vs. Hernandez) gets the start at 2B, giving O-Dog a night off. How good is this Toronto lineup? The first six in the order are hitting .310 or better.
On the Official Site today, Spencer Fordin's column about the Jays players and coaches making their All-Star selections quotes J.P. on the releases of Rob Ryan and Mike Moriarty:

"It just got to a point where we had some other kids we wanted to play. The other kids are in the situation of passing them," he said. "We gave those guys Spring Training. We gave those guys 10 weeks. We just thought it just wasn't going to happen here for them. This will enable them to get on with their careers."

Carlos Tosca isn't keen on the changes to the Midsummer Classic; managing to win was never a consideration before. "Are you going to take Barry Bonds out of that game? Are you going to take Albert Pujols out?" The skipper also explains that Roy Halladay will start the last game before the break and may not be available to Mike Scioscia.


It's no more pressure than usual, as Mark Hendrickson's always pitching for his job, but tonight the team needs him to be a stopper. Boston and New York have already won, and it would be disappointing to lose three in a row. The Orioles haven't seen him this year; Lurch beat them twice in five days last September. He doesn't have to be perfect, just keep it close for six innings, seven at the most.

I don't expect Rodrigo Lopez to shut out the Jays. He's been OK in two starts since returning from the DL, but is nowhere near last year's form. Eric Hinske's return could be an emotional lift; they're back at full strength. Unless you think full strength includes Phelps -- Josh sits again, with Johnson in right and Cat at DH.
As most fans of the game will know, there are 108 stitches in a baseball. Unless, of course, it's a crappy Chinese-made baseball like the one I just bought, which has 97 for some reason.
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Given the "Last Word" in today's Sun, Bob Elliott quotes J.P.:

"Unless we totally fall off the face of the earth between now and the end of the month, of course, then we'll be buyers," Ricciardi said. "We'd like another starter. The problem is finding someone that's available.

Paul Godfrey cautions that the 12-game stretch beginning July 8 against Boston and New York may still affect the club's decisions, but praised his GM for assembling a cohesive group with "a lot of players maturing at the same time." I think Ted Rogers will find a million or two to back this longshot.
The timing is perfect. On the same evening that our site reaches the 100,000 hit milestone, Jordan, Craig and I (along with other friends) will be watching our first game together. It's a decent pitching matchup, there should be a noisy $2 Wednesday crowd, and we will be in a very good mood. Thank you, everyone, for making this season so much fun.

Things happen, like they did last night. I still expect the Jays to beat the O's three out of four, going on to win about 13 of 19 in the season series. How Tosca uses his evolving bullpen remains the biggest roster question; sounds like J.P. wants to give Acevedo a chance. I'm a big Reed Johnson fan, but I hope Josh Phelps hasn't become a platoon DH. Enjoy the game.

Not today, sorry folks. Leonard Koppett died yesterday, so I didn't feel much like working on the screed I was trying to write because I have my nose in one of his books now.

He was a master of his craft. Please, if you haven't, check out his masterpiece. Regardless, I encourage you to read some of his recent columns.

Not much action in the minors last night --- New Haven and Dunedin were rained out again, while Charleston didn't play -- but there are some scores to report, along with odds and ends of news. To start with, the Futures Game Rosters have been released, and two Jays prospects will be on the World squad, New Haven's Alexis Rios and Guillermo Quiroz. Those two guys are part of what some prospect-watchers are calling the best team in the entire minor leagues.

Elsewhere, the John-Ford Griffin trade was finally completed when Toronto sent Dunedin first baseman Jason Perry to Oakland. You may recall Perry ripping apart the Pioneer League last summer (a 1.300 OPS) before jumping to the FSL, where he started slow but was coming around nicely: his stats at deal time were .304/.356/.422 in 135 AB (11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR) and a 10/32 BB/K rate. The Jays' farm system is not long on hitting prospects, but I'd rather they surrender a fairly replaceable quantity like a first baseman than one of their young arms. Perry is interesting, but offer me the choice between him and Griffin, and I'll take Griffin every time. As PTBNLs go, this is a good trade for the Jays.
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Blue Jays fans, at least those who read Batter's Box, think a lot about their favourite team's pitching. We are very interested in the minor-league prospects, waiting for the day Jason Arnold, Dustin McGowan or one of the other kids arrives to make a difference in the big leagues. That kind of anticipation brings back memories for Toronto pitching coach Gil Patterson, who wasn't just a prospect, he was a full-fledged "phenom" -- at age 21, the Philadelphia-born righty was in the New York Yankees rotation, where he was expected to stay for many years. Gil had amazing stuff and enough confidence to guarantee George Steinbrenner 300 wins, but it was not to be.

Patterson's career was short, but brilliant. At 19, in his pro debut after attending Miami Dade South Junior College, he threw six complete games in 13 starts for Oneonta in the New York-Penn League. As a 20-year-old, he dominated both the Eastern and International Leagues, spinning another 12 complete games -- one a no-hitter -- with a combined record of 18-4, including 2-0 in the playoffs. Promoted to the majors in 1977, the rookie made a strong early impression on Carl Yastrzemski, who called him the best young pitcher he'd seen in the AL for a long time. Already in pain and far from his best, Gil made only six big-league starts. Eight operations and a quarter-century later, he looks back on his abbreviated playing career with mixed feelings.
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The Jays will have Frank Catalanotto at DH tonight and Reed Johnson in RF; Josh Phelps sits against righty Rick Helling. I don't know if something's wrong with Josh, but it's a surprise. Woodward gets a night off; Bordick's at short and Howie Clark starts at third.

It's Kelvim Escobar's game to win, and he shouldn't change a thing from his last few starts. He can expect plenty of support, and after being removed early last time, will be given a chance to finish. Helling survived five innings at home against the Jays with four earned runs, Vernon Wells taking him deep twice. He could be in trouble early tonight.
With about a week left before All-Star balloting closes, Carlos Delgado leads all AL first basemen by a comfortable margin -- pleasantly surprising, to me at least. Barring late online ballot-stuffing by fickle Yankee fans in favour of Jason Giambi, Delgado will be the Jays' lone positional starter -- Vernon Wells is half a million votes out of first place in the outfield, and no other Jay is even on the horizon. Wells could well be added to the roster by Mike Scoiscia, and Roy Halladay is a lock to make the squad, possibly even to start -- but that will probably be all for Toronto at the Suddenly, This Time It Counts Game.

All-Star voting brings out the best kind of baseball arguments -- do you vote for your favourite player, or for the guy you think is actually best? Do you vote for a player based on his past performance, or on the half-season he's having now, or on a combination? Should the fans have the vote? (The best argument against that is in the NL, which if voting concluded today would have Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal and Javy Lopez all starting the game.)

Personally, I think that the All-Star team should represent the best current players in the league at each position -- the guy you'd take first overall in a free-for-all one-season draft. And as my All-Star picks, just submitted online, will attest, that's exactly how I voted this year. Sort of.
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Good column in the Star today about the Jays bullpen. Yes, it's by Richard Griffin, who admits that "even the fiercest critics" are realizing what the ZLC has known all along about the renaissance of baseball around here.

Tosca's standing by Cliff Politte as his closer, citing Dusty Baker's faith in Robb Nen a while back. Carlos is the man who has to manage all those personalities, and he supports his guy. Ricciardi mentions Juan Acevedo's saves in 2002 and earlier this year, and suggests the word "closer" may be obsolete:

"We have to go with the best way that we can win games. Because we don't have that flat-out closer-type guy."

J.P. also said "once we get him rolling," which suggests Juan's been working closely with Gil Patterson and Bruce Walton on some changes. Sounds like an opportunity to at least share the high-leverage work in a bullpen without a nominal closer. Whatever makes Politte better, I'm all for it.