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"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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
If you saw Josh Towers the other night, especially in the adrenalin-charged ninth inning, it's hard to believe he isn't going to stay in the rotation. But with Pete Walker and Cory Lidle ready to return, someone has to be odd man out, says Spencer Fordin on the Official Site:

The Jays are just taking their time in naming Tuesday's starter, waiting to see how things shake out over the weekend. With an off-day next Thursday, the Jays can afford to mull every option. For now, Towers is on hand as a contingency plan, a handy fallback option if Walker or Lidle gets knocked around. Tosca said that was a natural role for Towers, but that he still projects as a starter over the long haul.

"I think he's probably a little more suited to be a starter or a long man," he said. "His strength is his control. His changeup is improving, and that's going to be a big pitch for him."


I prefer Walker in the 'pen and would give Towers a regular turn for the rest of the year. Presumably, Brian Bowles will be returned to AAA to make room for Pete on Saturday (new papa Cliff Politte will be back from St. Louis, with at least his arm well rested) but the bigger question is, who gets shipped out when Lidle is activated? If it's Towers, I'll be upset; my two cents is on Reichert. Perhaps someone will develop a timely injury, like Josh Phelps' earlier back spasms.

The much-anticipated meeting five days ago of last year's Cy Young winner Barry Zito and this year's contender Roy Halladay was extremely disappointing to the Jays and their fans. Tonight can only be better. Doc was rocked for ten hits and seven runs (five earned) in just three innings last week, and his lifetime record against Oakland (2-4, 6.98 in seven starts) isn't great. Zito has been much more effective in his career against Toronto (4-1, 3.07 in seven starts) and went a solid seven innings on Sunday to earn the win at home.

The series is vitally important to the A's, who cling to a one-game lead in the wild card race and are within three of the division lead. The Jays are trying to build on two fine efforts that decided the Mariners series. So far in this brutal 14-game stretch against the best in the West, they are a very respectable 5-5. A win tonight gets them back to .500 for the season, and the vast majority of the remaining schedule is against Tampa, Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit.

Eric Hinske (0-for-6 vs. Zito) gets the night off, with Dave Berg starting at third. O-Dawg's in at second despite his poor platoon split, with Woody at short; Mike Bordick generally hits lefties well but is just 2-for-12 off Zito. Kevin Cash gets to catch the ace for the first time, but it's going to be a challenge to improve on his .118 average against this tough lefty.

Arizona Fall League rosters have been announced. Every fall, each major-league team sends six minor-leaguers to Arizona to continue their development. The players chosen aren't always the organization's top prospects, but each one of them has a reason for being selected. Here's a quick look at the six Blue Jays who'll be on the roster of the Peoria Javelinas.
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Now that blackouts and viruses are behind me, the Advance Scout returns. The Oakland A's hit town for a rare wraparound four-game series that features a bonus Monday night affair after Sunday's matinee. Obviously, the visitors have a lot to play for, as they lead Boston by a scant game for the wild card and trail Seattle by only three in the West -- thanks to the solid efforts of Messrs. Towers and Hendrickson, of course.

The Athletics aren't firing on all cylinders right now, as they usually are in August and September. Several hitters are slumping, and others are only recently beginning to rouse themselves from their season-long underachievement. Plus, the strength of the club -- the rotation -- is on the limp, with Tim Hudson hopeful of pitching Sunday and Mark Mulder likely out for his next two starts.

But the White Elephants' bullpen has been simply fantastic of late, as they've preserved leads, picked up injured or faltering starters, and held the fort so as to facilitate several recent late-inning rallies. The Jays will have to jump on Halama and Lilly early, and hope that Hudson's not quite well while the Cy Young incumbent is merely Decent Barry tonight, as opposed to Stellar Barry.

Of course, all of us here at Batter's Box are looking forward to the input of resident A's expert John Gizzi, who politely declined the opportunity to be this weekend's Scout because of a pressing social obligation -- I don't remember if it was Amnesty International or the Make-A-Wish Foundation; Gitz will have to fill us in with specifics.

Meanwhile, although the Jays and A's currently share a strong relationship and a common theory of management, it wasn't too long ago that the clubs were postseason rivals, with the Jays breaking the cycle of Oakland's playoff dominance once and for all in '92. With that in mind, I thought I'd remind Mr. Gizzi of a sign I saw at Game 2 of the ALCS at SkyDome, which applies with equal force today: "Oakland Fans Are Athletic Supporters."

On to the Advance Scout!

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JP Ricciardi continues to reshape the Blue Jays organization, and if it seems like it's taking a long time, well, it's a big organization. Yesterday, he not only fired Bob Nelson, but he also fired his title, abolishing the position of Director of Minor League Operations. In turn, JP promoted two young men (and I mean young) to replace Nelson: Charlie Wilson, 30, (Manager, Minor-League Operations) and Andrew Tinnish, 27 (Co-ordinator, Scouting). With Jon Lalonde and Keith Law already playing key roles, the Jays front office may be the first in baseball where you'll hear Choose '80s CDs playing in the reception area.
I hate left-handed soft-tossers. I've hated 'em ever since Frank Tanana pitched for Detroit and I hate 'em every time one of them shuts down a high-powered Blue Jays offence, which is often. Nothing against Jamie Moyer (10-5, 4.75 lifetime against Toronto) personally, since I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, but I'd much prefer if he tripped going out to the mound and missed this start altogether. He'll be opposed by a lefty who throws softer than you'd think, Mark Hendrickson, starting for a Blue Jays squad that was playing sloppy, uninspired .333 ball over their 45 games previous to last night's win. A victory tonight would give Toronto the rubber match of this home series against a Mariners team that shows every sign of being World-Series-ready.
Last Friday I attended my second game of the 2003 season -- the Mariners vs. the Red Sox in Safeco -- as I alluded to on an earlier game thread. The game itself was compelling enough -- a 9-4 Seattle win featuring an Ichiro grand slam, a mammoth solo homer by Manny Ramirez, and some questionable umpiring -- but equally exciting were the following events.
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A BB regular and avid follower of the Jays' farm system has stepped in as a volunteer pinch-hitter with this update. Thanks, Gerry.

By Gerry McDonald

The minor league season ends on Labour Day. That makes for 13 days left in the season. Some teams are just playing out the string, some are home and dry, and others are in a fight. As this is the first minor league update in a while, I will look at the last few days in my comments.
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I feel like escaping from the drudgery of work today, so I'm going to open a thread for some general chit-chat.

I'll lead off with this... isn't it terrific that there are so many good pennant races around MLB right now? The AL West is close, the AL Wild Card is a good race too, there's a great three-team dogfight in the AL Central, and the combined NL Central and NL Wild Card race has *seven* pretty good teams clawing at each other for two spots.