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Everyone -- even your aunt in Thunder Bay -- knows by now that the Jays are playing not the Cubs but the Sosa-less Cubs this weekend. Still, this weekend should be a heck of a challenge for the Jays, whose insanely great offence has struggled only against this season's elite starters...two of whom will be on the mound tonight and tomorrow afternoon. And unlike a couple of AL East rivals I could mention, excellent starting is usually followed by a lights-out performance by the Cubs bullpen, which has been stellar this year. It's a classic case of "irresistible force meets...other irresistible force." I know, it doesn't quite work...

Are the Cubs unbeatable? No, because Chicago doesn't have a lot of offensive depth or power, so the onus will be on Esco, Davis and Lidle to go right after their hitters. Yeah, I'm lookin' right at you, Dougie! With the tragic disappearance of Mark Bellhorn, the Cubs' two power sources have been replaced in the lineup by the likes of Troy O'Leary and the un-cryogenically-frozen Tom Goodwin. Surprisingly, though the much-dissed acquisitions of Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek have worked out very well for the Cubbies, as both veterans came to the club psychologically prepared to play a reduced role -- and have performed admirably when used. They'll both likely start all three games this weekend, with Hee Seop Choi on the DL.

I wonder if Alex Gonzalez can still attract those pre-strikeout screams of adulation from the Seventeen set.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Yanks Grab Upper Hand in Ultimate Series, 3-2
Guidry Outduels Key, 3-1

Ultimate Series: The Concept
Recaps: Game 1 * Game 2 * Game 3 * Game 4 * Game 5 Below
Box Scores: Game 1 * Game 2 * Game 3 * Game 4 * Game 5

In what was certainly the strangest game in an already paranormal Ultimate Series, the All-Time Blue Jays and Post-1977 All-Time Yankees finally returned to play. After a 30-day layoff brought on by bizarre inclement weather patterns, an international tantrum by the Yankee owner, a stadium under quarantine and a border brawl, the two teams ultimately faced off in Game 5 in a different stadium -- in fact, a different city -- than originally scheduled.

After all that, the All-Time Jays find themselves one game from elimination after falling prey to Louisiana Lightning for the second time in the series.
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As noted on last night's game thread, the Blue Jays have recalled Corey Thurman and Mike Smith from the Syracuse Skychiefs. Ken Huckaby is expected to be one of the players sent down in return, but there's no word yet on the other victim. If Mark Hendrickson struggles tonight, he's most likely AAA-bound and Doug Davis sticks around; if he pitches effectively, probably he'll stay and Davis will be released outright. Jayson Werth will be joining the flight to Syracuse as soon as Shannon Stewart comes off the DL.
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Well, I promised myself I would not join the pirate prattle, but here we are. Pitching tonight for the Pirates is one of my Andujar picks, Jeff Suppan, while Mark Hendrickson, who appears to have staved off a demotion for the time being, gets the call for your Toronto Blue Jays. This has the potential to be another arcade game. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Except when Halladay is pitching, which, alas, cannot be every night.
Thinking the worst they could do was turn me down, I called the Blue Jays office yesterday and asked for a media pass. Imagine my surprise and delight when Jay Stenhouse, the team's Director of Communications, said yes. It was only for the day, but since Gil Patterson, Brian Butterfield and Mike Barnett have all agreed to Batter's Box interviews, I'll be back on the field, tape recorder in hand, for batting practice on Thursday.

I chatted with several players, renewed acquaintances with J.P., thanked Keith again for the interview, and enjoyed a press box seat for the game. The food up there is pretty good, and so was the company. I had dinner with people I've criticized from my cozy armchair, but instead of shunning me as an outsider, the "working" media types who already knew about Da Box had nothing but nice things to say, and others were curious, promising to check us out soon. Oddly enough, I woke up this morning with "Money For Nothing" running through my head. That ain't workin'...
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Batter's Box reader, poster and econ-whiz Mike Moffatt has prepared a great article on the Jays' 2002 catchers, measuring their impact on the pitching staff. We are happy to bring this to you at Da Box.

The thrust of Mike's piece is that Ken Huckaby's gaudy catcher's ERA is a result of who he was working with, as opposed to what he was doing. Mike's method is something that would make an interesting study is broadened, and might tell us something about whether catchers really have an impact on the pitchers they hook up with.

If you have an article or other piece, feel free to run it by me (; we're delighted to employ pinch-hitters here (this is an NL-style website, not an AL-style website).

Over to you, Mike...

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Pirates are funny. Granted, they weren't much fun to encounter when they sailed the seven seas back in the day, or even nowadays for that matter. Nasty brutes. And folks like Microsoft and the RIAA get mighty steamed about software and music piracy. But the whole pirate ouevre, the parrot and the pegleg and the cutlass and the yo-ho-hoing -- that's funny (see pirate joke, below). Pirate movies are splendid bombs at the box office (Hook, Cutthroat Island, and Pirates of the Caribbean any day now). Overboard is a pretty funny pirate comic strip. And those old Pittsburgh Pirate uniforms in the '70s, the black-and-yellow bumblebee numbers they'd stuff Willie Stargell into, they were pretty stinking hilarious too.

So yeah, pirates are funny, but not when they score eight runs off your #2 starter, as Pittsburgh did last night. It was a rare offensive outburst for this somnolent team: the 2003 Pittsburgh Pirates are 4th from the bottom of the National League in runs scored, 2nd-last in home runs and 2nd-last in team OPS, at 702 (would you believe the Dodgers are dead last, at 669?) Expect this group to revert to its usual form tonight against Roy Halladay, seeking a team-record ninth straight win. Doc will face The "Good" Jeff D'Amico, the gargantuan (6'7", 255 lb) hurler who's as fragile as ice crystals (he's never started more than 23 games in any of his seven seasons). This should be pretty straightforward for the home squad. But pirates are sneaky folk; look alive, Mr. Halladay!
MLB officials were back in Portland yesterday, listening to the Oregon Stadium Campaign's dog and pony show and trying to talk money out of Portland's city government for a new ballpark.
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It seems to be the day for interviews.

A few snippets that might be of interest to Jays fans:

On how much credit Beane should get: "... well, I donít say Billy was responsible for rethinking the game at any point. Sandy (Alderson) introduces him to Bill James, Paul DePodesta does most of the actual thinking, so I felt I had to make that clear."

DePodesta was one of the candidates for the Jays' GM job - not that I would have preferred him to J.P. With all the fancy metrics, the most important single skill is the ability to judge talent - J.P. might be among the best in the business.

On Beane's relationship to his players: "... They fear him, he doesnít fear them, almost on the level of physical intimidation. And when youíre trying to take such a intractable, unchangeable culture as a major league baseball team, and change it, thereís a kind of violence involved there. And heís very well suited to practice that violence."

Probably with a lesser degree of violence, J.P. has stamped our club with his philosophy of how the game should be played. The guys who weren't deemed suitable were shipped out and only a few "relics" remain. By spring of next year, this team figures to be completely on board with J.P.'s thinking.

A great chapter in Canadian baseball is beginning this week... Justin Morneau of New Westminster, BC was called up yesterday to the Minnesota Twins.
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The Jays are back in the wild, wooly world of the DH, and couldn't be happier. Not only that, but they face a struggling team that isn't really firing on any cylinder, unless Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez count as cylinders. But as the Ottoman Empire learned when they laid siege to Vienna, overconfidence can be costly.

Having said that...the Pirates seem to be a great matchup for Roy Halladay, with their paucity of pop. The starters set to face the Jays don't issue walks, but are very hittable and could be feasted on this week. Mike Williams is the one and only Pittsburgh hurler the Jays don't want to face this week.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Last Friday, Blue Jays Consultant (Baseball Operations) Keith Law graciously took two hours from his schedule to grant an exclusive interview to Batterís Box. The wide-ranging e-mail conversation, conducted by your Coach and GM, touched on everything from the 2003 draft to minor-league sleepers to the teamís amazing May run to the inner workings of the Jays front office. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation. Our thanks once again to Keith for making this possible.
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Brian Giles and a bunch of average to below average hitters is what Cory Lidle will have to contend with tonight. Mr. Lidle is making his second consecutive start on 5 days' rest. Perhaps his sub-par performance against the potent Cardinals had as much to do with this extra day of rest as it did with the quality of opposition - perhaps not.

Josh Phelps is most probably chomping at the bit to get regular at-bats.
In a very interesting article that I'm sure has no connection to his new Big Book of Baseball Lineups, :-), Rob Neyer has put together an all-time Blue Jays lineup that's sure to generate some discussion. Here it is:
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The Jays' starting rotation, be it five-man or four-man, figures to see major changes in the immediate future, says the Toronto Sun. Halladay is confirmed as the ace, Lidle will provide useful innings, and Escobar will be in the rotation until he's dealt or his arm falls off. But Mark Hendrickson has been getting lit up lately (13 runs in his last 2 starts, 29 hits in his last 18 IP), and Doug Davis has been tentative and has gone 6 innings just once since his wins over Anaheim. Tanyon Sturtze apparently isn't going to a second chance as a starter, so Corey Thurman's name is now bring floated as the next candidate.

Those who read my dispatch from Thurman's last AAA start know that I came away less than impressed, but in truth, his mediocre start against the Lynx broke a string of solid outings throughout mid-May and June. Is he ready for the big leagues? I think he's about as ready now as he would be in August, but not as ready as he'd be next April. But Toronto needs starting help now, and Corey's education can continue at the major-league level without too much disruption. If he comes up now, don't expect miracles -- but do expect to see a better pitcher than either of the two lefties he could displace.