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Either Richard Griffin submitted his April Fool's column four months late, or he has completely wigged out this time. In today's screed, he calls for baseball to adopt a football-style two-platoon system - ironically, because the offenses are boring, producing "grinding, three-hour games".
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The D-Rays aren't the biggest gate attraction, so the scouts may outnumber the spectators tonight. They will be looking closely at two Venezuelan righty starters for the price of one, as Kelvim Escobar faces Jeremi Gonzalez. Kelvim has been widely discussed in Da Box, but Gonzalez, quietly enjoying a fine comeback season, is an unknown to the Jays and most fans.

Since his callup in mid-May, the 28-year-old has made 13 starts, only one of which was really bad. He's 4-4 with a 3.73 ERA, but three of his losses were by scores of 2-0, 2-1 and 3-2, and he's been very good in a couple of no-decisions. Jeremi beat the Yankees in June on six innings of one-hitter, held the Red Sox to three runs last time out, and blanked the Rangers, scattering five hits in eight innings, in his previous start. The walks (40) to strikeouts (63) aren't great, and 11 HR in 79.2 IP is a concern, but he's allowed opponents just a .209 average. It's no sure thing that the Jays will hit Gonzalez; this could be an interesting duel. Escobar is 4-6, 6.37 against Tampa in his career, and 2-5, 6.39 at home this year. The speculation about his future could also be a distraction, so it would hardly be shocking if he's less than awesome.

Carlos Tosca has made it official, according to Mike Wilner on The FAN 590 -- Mike Bordick is now the starting shortstop, and Chris Woodward will play "one or two days a week" until further notice. Howie Clark was sent to Syracuse to make room for Dave Berg, leaving Tosca without a lefty stick on the bench. Frank Catalanotto is playing first base tonight, so Delgado can DH. Cat is batting seventh, with Hinske remaining in the 2-hole.

By the time a professional baseball player has played a few seasons of minor league ball, we're usually able to get a sense of how good a prospect he is. But to determine what kind of player he's likely to end up takes more than a cursory look at the numbers he's posted at each minor league stop. For more precise and fruitful analysis, we need to contextualize and aggregate the data. Once we do that, trends emerge.

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Damian Rolls! Mark Malaska! Matt Diaz! D-Rays fever...Catch It!

Seriously, the Rays have some hope for the future. Ownership has promised LaMar and Piniella a payroll increase for next season, although they have refused to commit to a figure. Still, that ought to allow Tampa Bay to substantially improve their team, since the salaries of Ben Grieve, Rey Ordonez and Greg Vaughn -- finally -- come off the books. Piniella's happy with his young nucleus, which he recently described as Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Antonio Perez and Toby Hall. Going forward, there is at least the makings of respectability here.

Back to the present, the Jays face a team this week that's been hitting well, but pitching poorly. It won't be easy, but the Jays have an opportunity to add three more W's this week. (And they duck their inexplicable nemesis, Joe Kennedy.)

On to the Advance Scout!
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Our pal Aaron Gleeman has a great Blue Jays essay on his blog today. I'm not just saying that because he made Batter's Box his "Link of the Day" and had nice things to say about Craig (and, to a lesser extent, me). It's a mutual admiration society, and we're grateful for the enthusiastic plug.

The piece is called "Eating Innings 101" and after a preamble about why the Jays are becoming Aaron's favourite non-Twins team, it's a fine analysis of the Toronto ace and his workload:

Roy Halladay is on pace to pitch nearly 20% of his team's innings this year, he's done some of his pitching in a 4-man rotation and he's very likely going to end the year with one of the highest innings-totals of the last 15 years. And yet, the way he is being worked - or not being worked - would make me feel more confident about him pitching 400 innings than most guys on other teams tossing 200 innings.

So far, it seems that Doc is even more economical with his pitches on three days' rest, leading me to wonder if there shouldn't be a 4-man rotation next year, or more precisely, 4.5 men, counting a spot starter. Getting 300 quality innings from your best arm, without abusing it, makes perfect sense.
Late last night, I tuned in to ESPN's Baseball Tonight on my new cable, as provided by my friendly neighbourhood monopolist, Time Warner Manhattan. Following the Jays' highlights, Harold Reynolds and Bobby Valentine riffed on the club.

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The Cincinnati Reds have fired General Manager Jim Bowden and Manager Bob Boone. The Reds, dead last in pitching and with one of the worst defences in baseball, for some reason also fired their hitting coach Tom Robson and third-base coach Tim Foli. Triple-A Louisville manager Dave Miley will take over the team on at least an interim basis.
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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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