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Time's running out in the playoff races. There were no changes in the standings last week among the top six teams, but fifth place Nation Builders solidified their position (by routing my hapless Walrus 7-3) and Mebion Glyndwr extended their tenuous 1.5 game hold on the final championship-round slot to 4.5 games with an 8-4 win over the Springfield Isotopes.
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The Rockies, determined to prove they are a terrible road team, lost their fourth straight to the Mets this afternoon, managing just two baserunners. Colorado pitcher Chin-Hui Tsao (previously hitless in his brief career) broke up Steve Trachsel's perfect game with a two-out double in the sixth. In the ninth, Greg Norton reached on a Jason Phillips error. Trachsel threw 103 pitches, 70 for strikes. Remarkably, the notoriously slow worker completed nine innings in less than two and a half hours.

This breaking news, with no impact on the Blue Jays or any pennant races, does give me an excuse to remind you that time is running out if you want to Ask J.P. a question in the exclusive Batter's Box interview. Depending on his schedule, I'm hoping to sit down with him on Wednesday and post his answers by the weekend. Thanks to everyone who has participated.
Jack Curry of the New York Times examines bunting. (Registration is required). There are some interesting quotes from players and general managers, including our own.

"The biggest thing for me is I don't like giving up outs," Ricciardi said. "When you're in the American League, one run usually doesn't decide a game. You need to keep tacking on. And I'll be honest with you, who the heck can bunt today? We work on it and they still can't bunt. We don't want to be the ones wasting time on it."

The Blue Jays will probably set a record for fewest sacrifice bunts. The number is 16, by the 2000 Yankees and the 1998 Tigers.

"It's our goal to be under 10," Ricciardi said.

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The series finale (and rubber match) could be the best of the three games, with Cy Young contender Roy Halladay taking on last year's winner Barry Zito. Doc was unlucky not to win his 17th in Seattle; the Jays left a lot of men on base early, and there were some weird bounces later on. His record is just 2-3, 6.31 in six career starts against Oakland, so there are no guarantees as he tries for his third complete game in a row.

Zito is just 2-6 in his last 13 starts; his ERA remains a respectable 3.20 for the season, but his walks are way up and his strikeouts way down over that span. You could argue that he's never been more vulnerable, or that he's overdue for a dominant outing.

The only surprise in Carlos Tosca's lineup is Orlando Hudson at 2B; Dave Berg hits lefties much better than the O-Dawg. Mike Bordick's in the 2-hole, with Eric Hinske batting sixth. Forgotten men Kielty (RF) and Phelps (1B; Delgado's the DH) provide a lot of potential power from the seventh and eighth spots in the order.
In the Saturday Star, Richard Griffin suggests the Jays need a bench coach:

Because he spent 17 years in the minor leagues, where the manager is all things to all people, Tosca may have believed he could do it on his own at this level. He may believe that because he doesn't actually have much offensive managing to do anyway, who needs another voice. But he's wrong.

It's highly unusual for a manager not to have a bench coach. Gil Patterson is usually at the skipper's side, but a pitching coach's duties are challenging enough. It's not a bad idea to have one more experienced baseball mind in the dugout, from a strategic standpoint and for the sake of appearances. If the status quo continues into 2004, the current complaints about Tosca will soon become calls for his head.
This afternoon, a .500 team with rookie Mark Hendrickson on the hill takes on a playoff contender led by Tim Hudson. It would be an even bigger upset than last night if the Jays can pull it off.

Hudson was spectacular in a duel against Pedro Martinez in his latest, shutting out the Red Sox on two hits. The league is hitting .176 off him since the break. Although he's 6-1, 2.64 in nine career starts against Toronto, he's had trouble with Carlos Delgado (8-for-20 with 4 HR) who is the DH today, with Dave Berg (3-for-6 with a homer off Hudson) getting the surprise start at first base. Josh Phelps and Bobby Kielty are still fastened securely to the bench. Frank Catalanotto (300/400/500 in his last 10 games) is seeing the ball much better and returns to the 2-hole, with Eric Hinske (280/351/560 for August) now hitting fifth.

The Jays have begun a very tough road trip 3-2, which could have been 4-1 if they had supported Doc with a timely hit or two in Seattle. The bullpen is beginning to stabilize, with Cliff Politte, who was sharp again last night, setting up the closing platoon of Lopez and Miller. If Lurch can duplicate his most recent fine showing, when he held the M's to two runs in 6.2 IP, this could be an exciting, low-scoring affair.
The power's on here in the Upper West Annex, at least temporarily. It was kind of peaceful to sit on the front porch last night, see the stars (normally not visible from downtown) and listen to the Jays game on the radio.

After two starts in which his fastball either missed the strike zone completely or left the yard, Corey Thurman has been sent back to Syracuse. I don't think it's a mechanical problem, as much as a crisis of confidence -- when you're afraid of getting hit, you start nibbling. I'm not giving up on his considerable potential, but Thurman needs to learn that he can get big-leaguers out with the same stuff that works in AAA, if he doesn't attempt to throw harder, or more precisely, than he can. Josh Towers, in a very similar position, continues his audition tonight in Oakland; if he avoids "trying too hard," he's capable of keeping the A's hitters off-balance.

With an off day on Monday, the Jays won't need a fifth starter until next Saturday, by which time Pete Walker might be ready. Brian Bowles has been called up for extra bullpen depth. The 6'5" righty has a 1.05 ERA in Syracuse, but his BB/K ratio (15/23 in 25 previous AL innings; 19/30 in AAA this year) is always a concern. Brian is another who must forget that the opposing hitters are better in the majors. If he trusts his stuff and doesn't try to be perfect, he has a chance to stick around. Even if they need to send him down when Walker's activated, I expect Bowles will be recalled when the rosters expand in a couple of weeks. He's going to be 27 on Monday, and there are some talented younger arms in the system, so it's now-or-never time.
The latest "rolling blackout" is over. I just switched from listening to radio in the dark to enjoying the familiar hum of all the appliances, including my PC. I'll be here until the next time they turn off the juice.

It sounded like Rich Harden was a little too pumped in the first couple of innings; I'm sure he knows this is his Canadian national TV debut, at least for those of us with electricity. Every series means a great deal to the playoff-contending A's, while the Blue Jays are feeling no pressure, just trying to finish the season on a positive note.
Due to power troubles -- or, more specifically, lack of power troubles -- many of our East coast ZLCers are no doubt unable to watch tonight's tilt with the Mariners. For those of us on the West coast, we have no such issues. This did not stop the Seattle local news bozos from issuing the standard "Could this happen to the Pacific Northwest? Tune in at 11:00 to find out." But I digress.

On the other hand, maybe it's not such a bad thing Toronto is dark: last night's game was not pretty. This lovely summer evening in Seattle it's Kelvim Escobar vs. Gil Meche -- and the Blue Jays have knocked Meche from the game, with Rafael Soriano taking over in the fifth. If this is your first glimpse of Soriano, enjoy; his stuff is electric.
It's still the subject of some controversy, but most everyone agrees that Bill James's Win Shares are a bold new addition to statistical measurement of a baseball player's worth to his team. The good folks at Baseball Graphs are keeping a daily watch on 2003 Win Shares, which some purists will tell you is wrong-headed because WIn Shares are only supposed to be based on a full season. Nonetheless, it's interestiong to see the player whose name tops the American League WS charts with 24 -- and the player who's tied with him. IMO, these are your two front-runners for AL MVP this season.
Richard Griffin shows his Jekyll and Hide side in his latest article. Until the last two paragraphs he has an interersting piece on Ichiro and the way he has expended the Mariner's recognition and popularity with the local Asian community and in Japan. Being Griffin of course he can't help ruin it with a silly ending statement - " If the Jays don't make a run at [new Asian phenomenon Kazuo Matsui] this winter they are showing they are content with mediocrity and a safe bottom line." Take away the hyperbole though and there is an intriguing idea.

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Edgardo Alfonzo on playing second base while Ray Durham is on the shelf:

"The manager knows I played there before and he says I have to do it. I'm not going to say I feel very good. I just feel all right. I don't really feel comfortable there. I played third base the last few years. But if I have to do it for the team, I have to do it."
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Okay, I don't know how I managed to double-post the minor-league baseball thread, nor can I seem to get rid of it. So, since I can't find anything to replace it, it's open-mike day again! First topic to catch hold rules the roost.
How often is Charleston the scene of the biggest game of the night in Toronto's minor leagues? About as often as Roy Halladay loses. But the much-maligned Alley-Cats received one of the best pitching performances of the entire year from an unlikely source, complementing a night of solid pitching for the Jays' farm teams.
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We haven't mentioned it specifically, but it's time we drew attention to our brand new logo. We've been thinking for awhile that Batter's Box needed a strong image, not just to make the site look better but to help establish our presence in the growing field of online baseball sources (not to mention the possibility of caps and T-shirts. Seriously. If you'd be interested in one, make an entry below and we'll see if there's enough critical mass).

Anyway, special thanks go to the designer and artist who brought us our new logo: Tony Delitala of Mississauga, Ontario, and Stephen MacEachern of Toronto. These two very talented individuals bring their skills to my magazine every issue (readers of National see Steve's work in Doug Mah's back-page column, and Tony's work throughout the publication), and they gave us their time and talents entirely free of charge. In turn, I'd like to recommend their work to anyone who needs excellent graphic design or illustrations; write me for contact info and recommendations. Sincere gratitude from all of us at Da Box!