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In a town where too many baseball columnists find it easier to bash the GM than to understand what he's accomplished, it's refreshing to read an unbiased article. Larry Millson of the Globe and Mail calls the Jays "a team experiencing growing pains as they try to regain contending status" in a balanced review of a .500 club. Says J.P., who knows the market better than most:

"We're never going to get pitching unless we develop and draft our own. That's the biggest void in our organization."

He's right, as usual. The previous regime would have thrown three year deals at Omar Daal and Ismael Valdes, perpetuating the mediocrity. Ricciardi acquired one-year rentals with no strings attached, which he will do again this winter. Perhaps the stopgaps will work out better than Lidle, Sturtze, Creek and Tam; if so, the illusion of contending could last even longer in '04, but it's still a transition year. Two great drafts have created a deep talent pool of minor-league arms, though it will be 2005 before any of them has a real impact on a big-league pennant race. By then, the system will be self-replenishing; in the meantime, fans have to be patient.
There are few players whose 2003 development is being watched more closely by management than Corey Thurman. The 2002 Rule 5 pick from Kansas City pitched effectively enough last season, mostly in low-pressure relief outings, then spent most of the current season polishing his craft as a starter in Syracuse. In his first start following his most recent (and hopefully final) callup, last time in Anaheim, was a solid effort to defeat the nosediving World Champions; tonight, though, his work is cut out for him. Into Skydome come the Texas Rangers, a team that treats the Jays' home field like its own personal BP cage.
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The Rangers come into town swinging some heavy lumber, aided considerably by a top four in their batting order as dangerous as any in the American League. It's audition time for the Rangers, both in the bullpen and in the outfield, as John Hart continues to replenish Texas' farm system. One position that won't see an audition this season, though, is designated hitter; Rafael Palmeiro vetoed another trade last night and will likely not be swayed before the end of the month.

Texas comes in with nine rookies on their roster, including an All-Star third baseman, a fleet-footed centrefielder who was a stone-handed minor-league middle infielder as recently as six weeks ago, and a starting pitcher who quotes Major League. It'll be an interesting test for Corey Thurman tonight, who's himself auditioning for a starting job for next season.

Lots of good stuff this week. Enjoy the series!

On to the Advance Scout!
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The bats were booming in the minors last night, as this post-Farm Report review of the Jays' top prospects reveals, but there were also some marvellous pitching performances, in what may be the first time this season every farm team came away victorious (including two doubleheader sweeps).
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Rich Harden is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in four big-league starts. A's teammate Mark Mulder says, "he's got way better stuff... than what I have," and opponents are similarly impressed:

"He's got multiple strikeout pitches, that's a sign of a true horse," (A.J.) Hinch says. "He doesn't need a whole heck of a lot of help if he pitches like he did tonight."

It's amazing that a 21-year-old from Vancouver Island, hardly a hotbed of competitive baseball, has come this far, this fast. Harden won't remain unbeaten forever, but he has the talent and the confidence to be a star. Jeremy Sandler of the National Post profiles the rookie sensation.
A few days late (thanks to a crashed hard drive and a Long Weekend out of town) and more than a few words long (5,500, at my last count), here's the July edition of the Blue Jays' Farm Report. In almost all cases, I've used the stats from August 1 for consistency, although in some places I've used August 5 numbers when a guy has just been called up or has made tremendous strides. I'm rushing this one into production slightly, so keen-eyed readers' comments, corrections and updates will be welcomed. Enjoy.
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Being a boor is earning Robert Szasz publicity, and the D-Rays seem to condone it, if not encourage it, so Eric Hinske can expect more of the same this afternoon. If I had the misfortune of sitting near this jerk, it would be so distracting, I might accidentally spill a few jumbo soft drinks in his general direction. An attention-seeker this pathetic knows where the TV microphones are, so he can disrupt the game for viewers, too.
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Joe "Hardy" Kennedy, whose agent must be named Applegate, has never lost to Toronto. The young man is suffering from a sore back and a crisis of confidence -- four hits, three walks and five earned runs in just one inning last time out, along with hints that this is his last chance to avoid demotion -- so it will be interesting to see how he can continue his miraculous success facing a team that always finds a way to make him look good. Kennedy is 3-8, 6.48 this year with an opponent's average of .321; without his 2-0, 3.86, .221 in two previous starts against the Jays, those numbers are truly horrible. The exorcism of this demon is long overdue.
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The good folks at Baseball Primer are saddling up their mid-season Primey Nominations right now. Batter's Box has already received a few nominations as Best Weblog, for which we're profoundly grateful; in only our ninth month of existence, it's good to know we're making an impact. If you haven't cast your vote, please do, and not necessarily or just for Da Box: the Primeys recognize excellence in online baseball writing, reporting and analysis generally, and are well worth supporting.
We've got an Eastern League "batting champion" on the New Haven Ravens (and he ain't Alexis Rios), a "Triple Crown" batsman in Auburn, and a Jamie Vermilyea sighting in Dunedin. What more could one ask for in a minor-league update?

[The scare quotes are there to obviate the need to remind me how useless the notions of "batting champions" and "triple crowns" are.]
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We've come to expect the unlikely when the Jays play the Rays, who have won the last three series between the teams. Twice this year, it's been arch-nemesis Joe Kennedy (6-0, 3.56 vs. Toronto in his career; 12-27 and over 5.00 against everyone else) continuing his strange mastery, which I swear will end tomorrow.

Back in April, tonight's starter Mark Hendrickson was cruising along with a shutout through seven, only to lose 4-3 on a succession of bloops and seeing-eye flares in the eighth. Five days ago at SkyDome, Lurch was hit harder -- including a broken bat off his leg -- while the Jays blasted about a dozen frozen ropes right at the Tampa outfielders; the final was 7-6, completing the most frustrating sweep imaginable.
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If you ask me, it's an art. On ESPN.com, Buster Olney examines lateral movement on pitches, citing Roy Halladay as a prime practitioner:

He has so much movement on his pitches that he simply aims the ball down the middle, and then allows the natural movement of his refined pitches to take the ball to the edges of the strike zone.

When Doc's fastball is straight, as it was in Anaheim, he's just another good pitcher. I expect that he's made the necessary adjustments, and the D-Rays will find it difficult to make solid contact tomorrow.
Many thanks to BB reader Amal for this link. It's a 50 minute interview with Bill James, from "The Connection" on NPR last Friday. Also joining host Michael Goldfarb for part of the fascinating conversation is Dan Okrent, an accomplished author and editor-at-large for Time, Inc., who will always be more famous for inventing Rotisserie baseball.
Only four weeks remain to determine the playoff seedings. Lopsided wins were the order of Week 18, and they changed the standings dramatically. Nation Builders clobbered masssuckage 11-1 to move into fifth place, while Mebion Glyndwr thumped Reykjavik Fish Candy by the same score to leap from 11th into sixth.

Red Mosquitos, comfortably in the championship picture a week ago, are now seventh, four games back of the resurgent Welshmen. The pesky bugs were eaten alive 11-1 by the Thunderbirds, who vaulted from 17th into 10th, and are just six games away from completing a truly miraculous charge into the championship round. I warned you, Spicol. Justin B.'s club is on a 30-6 tear against first-division rivals the last three weeks -- I was another of his victims -- and that pitching staff of Halladay, Vazquez, Santana and Harden is the envy of the league.
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I don't think the Blue Jays are in the mood to lose another series to the building Devil Rays. Toronto has won only 2 games in 9 contests against Tampa Bay in 2003.All but one of the nine has been decided by either 1 or 2 runs.

Tonight's starter, Cory Lidle, owns one of the two victories. He needs to trust his stuff and work all the corners of the plate - these Rays will fish for more than the occasional borderline pitch. Zambrano, like many Rays' pitchers, sports an unimpressive K/W ratio (76/67). He has taken advantage of his defence to the tune of a .236 batting average on balls in play against (AL average approx. .290).