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It was a special day for two of the Jays' minor leaguers yesterday, and I'm not referring to the good starts by Evan Thomas and Neomar Flores.
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We may be nearing the "dog days" in real baseball, but in the Batter's Box Fantasy League, there are just five weeks remaining in the regular season, so this is crunch time. An amazing twelve teams are within two games of finishing sixth or better to qualify for a spot in the championship playoff round, and no less than 17 of 20 are still in the postseason picture.

The runaway leader Gashouse Gorillas remain on cruise control, having whipped Mebion Glyndwr 8-3 last week to open up a 16.5 game lead. There's a dead-heat for second between my Toronto Walrus (8-4 winners over masssuckage) and Baird Brain (7-5 winners over Springfield Isotopes) but Billie's Bashers are very much in the hunt for the other first-round bye after trouncing Jicks Rays 9-2. Red Mosquitos jumped from seventh into fifth place with a 7-3 defeat of K-Town Mashers. Then it gets really close.
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My nominee for Sports Headline of the Year, from the Montreal Gazette. It's a short item about Gary Carter, the first player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame in an Expos cap (despite his fervent wishes otherwise). If you're a Canadian baseball fan of a certain age, it's impossible to be neutral about Carter: he was either a charismatic superstar or an overexposed blowhard. In reality, he was kinda both. But what can't be argued is that he belongs in the same breath as Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench when it comes to talking Best Catchers of 1950-2000. Ivan Rodriguez and Ted Simmons are the only other two guys who can get into that discussion.

A bittersweet day for Les Expos -- Carter perfectly symbolized the highly publicized yet always heartbreakingly under-achieving Spos of the 1980s, and it seems only too appropriate that he tried to sneak into the Hall as a Met. Gary, I admired you greatly when I was a kid, and I still think you were a hell of a ballplayer. But I'd rather not have to hear from you again for the foreseeable future.
"Cy" Halladay, unbeaten in his last nineteen starts, gets another chance to match the Rocket's club record. Once again, he returns on short rest -- Carlos Tosca has said it's the last time this season, but the adjustment was necessary to get Doc set up for his regular turn in the upcoming series against Anaheim, Seattle and Boston.

Rodrigo Lopez is 0-3, 7.50 vs. Toronto in his brief career, though he went seven strong innings at Camden Yards three weeks ago, striking out eight Jays. Reed Johnson's back in the lineup, with Eric Hinske remaining in the 2-hole. Frank Catalanotto and Josh Phelps are both sitting, as Carlos Delgado is the DH and Tom Wilson plays first base. Mike Bordick remains the shortstop -- he's hit in six straight games, and makes the routine plays. Maybe if they stop running the canoe commercial we're all so sick of, Woody's luck will change.

I won't be hanging out here today; we're off to the Dome, then the Blues Fest to see Robert Cray, Richard Thompson and John Hiatt. Enjoy the game.
Time for another Box Weekend Update -- caution, the substance contained in this edition is highly addictive.

Most denizens of Da Box, ZLC and otherwise, have at least a passing familiarity with the greatness that is The most complete and useful, uh,well, baseball reference tool on the Web, it's constantly experimenting with adding new features -- every player in history sorted by birthday, for instance, and a complete list of every player in history who played just one game. Before you go check -- yes, Moonlight Graham is on the list.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, matches the addictive "frivolity" -- hey, that's their word -- of The Baseball Oracle.

The basic function of The Oracle is to connect any two players ever through a chain of common teammates. Think of it as "Six Degrees of Eddie Bacon." The inspiration for this baseball version undoubtedly springs from the original Hollywood Oracle hosted by the Department of Computer Science at the University of Virginia.

Here's how it works ...
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That "all-but-done" Lilly-and-Blanton-for-Escobar deal seems to have dropped below the radar, proving once again that whatever Peter Gammons says, you can probably count on the opposite. It's always fun to speculate on rumours, so long as one keeps in mind that rumours themselves are nothing but speculation. Speaking of which, here's another one, direct from Boston: Kelvim Escobar for Casey Fossum. This would make some sense, since Fossum has long been a favourite of the sabermetrically inclined, but I'm dubious at least in part because, according to the same article, the Blue Jays really wanted Trot Nixon. Since corner outfielders are now about as useful to the Blue Jays as mediocre 30-something relievers, I have to wonder about that.

Anyway, FWIW, last year Fossum went 5-4, 3.46 for Boston, with this line: 106 IP, 113 H, 30 BB, 101 K. What's not to like? The fact that he actually gave up 56 runs, of which only 41 were earned, and allowed 12 HRs. That, and his 4-4, 5.65, 65 IP, 66 H, 27 BB, 55 K, 8 HR line this season.
Pat Hentgen will probably get a warm greeting from SkyDome fans who remember his Cy Young season in 1996, one of seven consecutive years with at least 10 wins for Toronto. The current Blue Jays may not be as welcoming. Since his Tommy John surgery in 2001, Hentgen is more of a finesse guy than a hard thrower, and he'll need pinpoint control to keep these hitters off balance.

It's almost the same lineup as last night -- Cat and Hinske at the top, Kielty in RF moving up a notch (he's between Delgado and Wilson) and Phelps at DH, batting seventh. Reed "Sparkplug" Johnson is on the bench, along with Chris "E-6" Woodward.

Mark Hendrickson had a nightmare start the last time the Orioles visited, but bounced back to beat them in Baltimore, and is coming off seven shutout innings against the Yankees, his best game of the year. Anything resembling that effort should be enough to keep his team in the game.
Runs were at an absolute premium last night, except in Pulaski, where the P-Jays scored more times than all the other Blue Jay minor-league squads combined. Happily, there were some excellent pitching performances to counterbalance the offensive droughts.
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This is a list of the top 40 MLB pitchers calculated by DIPS runs below replacement. I use the "Quick DIPS" ERA (the only one I can calculate using Doug Steele's stats which don't include IBB) but it's good enough. These are NOT park-adjusted, and are based on July 23 numbers. I'm going to try to post park-adjusted numbers later, in this thread. Replacement level is a 5.50 DIPS ERA, about equivalent to 5.8 runs allowed per game.

For entertainment purposes only. Not to be taken internally.
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The Greatest Player In History(TM) did it again last night. Throws out the go-ahead run at the plate to end the top of the ninth, hits a sayonara home run on the next pitch.

Anyone got any favourite Barry memories? Let's try not to bring up his personality this time, it's more fun talking about the player than the man.
I think Jays fans might be stuck with Cory Lidle. It's hard to imagine J.P. Ricciardi can get anything worthwhile in return, the way he's been pitching lately. A snazzy 10.80 ERA in July (and an opponents' average of .390 for the month) will hardly inspire some rival GM to pin his pennant hopes on a trade. Even worse are Lidle's numbers this year against the Orioles. In two starts, he's lasted a total of eight innings, allowing 18 hits -- that's a .419 clip -- and 13 earned runs (14.63 ERA). He should intentionally walk Jeff Conine every time up to minimize the damage; in 16 career AB, Conine has 11 hits, including 3 HR, and an OPS of 2.000! Melvin Mora and Tony Batista have also owned Lidle, so this may not be pretty. Or, with scouts in the stands, he may suddenly find his missing command and confidence. Not very likely, but we can hope.

The Jays have done all right over the years against Jason Johnson, who beat them for the first time ever on July 3, to improve to 1-7, 7.09 for his career against Toronto. The righty's been pretty good in his last two starts, however. Maybe Carlos Delgado can recapture his home run stroke, absent for 16 games. He's gone deep twice before off Johnson, and has a .447 OBP against him. Josh Phelps returns to action against a pitcher he's hit well (2 HR in 11 AB). Jayson Werth was sent back down to make room for the DH, and Dan Reichert was also farmed out, with Cliff Politte rejoining the club. Frank Catalanotto leads off in Carlos Tosca's latest innovative lineup, with Eric Hinske batting second. Reed Johnson and Chris Woodward get the night off. Bobby Kielty's in RF, batting sixth between Myers and Phelps.

A Baltimore win would put the O's just a game and a half behind the Jays in the standings, and these teams don't seem to like each other, so it should be an interesting series.
Although the Jays' minor-league affiliates went 3-3 yesterday, there weren't a great deal of strong performances by good prospects. Cam Reimers and John Wesley are doing their best to deserve our attention; is their best good enough?
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The Orioles can't really be considered a laughingstock this weekend, as they've been getting very good starting pitching (Rodrigo Lopez excepted) and have been swinging hot bats. Like Chicago, the O's come to Toronto playing their best ball of the season; unlike Chicago, the O's share a division with excellent clubs that will relegate them to selling mode this week.

Baltimore is a club with some important decisions to make. They have a nucleus of young players that might make them an interesting team in the next few years, and they're not in any pressing need to cut payroll. But the O's minor-league system is talent-thin, and this remains a flawed club at the big-league level.

Does Baltimore sell extensively and re-stock their AA cupboard? Do they hold pat with their non-Jurassic players and plan on adding a few parts in the offseason with an eye on competing? Or do they make an old-fashioned baseball trade, shipping out a surplus infielder and acquiring a needed left fielder, shortstop or catcher? Certainly, the O's should dump the Surhoffs, Grooms and Seguis of the world on desperate contenders. But how high is, say, Melvin Mora's trade value right now? Options abound.

And while Sir Sidney Ponson is unlikely to command the eight figures he's seeking as a 26-year-old free agent, he's absolutely certain to decline the Orioles' offer of $5M a season. Do the Orioles quicken the heretofore glacial pace of contract negotiations, if for no other reason than to figure out whether to trade him now?

This series should be interesting, both on the field and off.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Maybe someone should pull the thorn out of his paw. Brandon Lyon, damaged goods.
Another update from John Neary, with some good news about some highly touted prospects at Triple-A Syracuse. The pitching lines aren't quite as good lower in the minors, though. Thanks, John!
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