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Since nobody put up an entry for Game 31, I wanted to mention something I saw in the seventh inning of yesterday's game.
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A couple of brief articles on the Blue Jays' most promising farm club, the AA New Haven Ravens. This profile of the multi-talented outfield of Gabe Gross, Alexis Rios and John-Ford Griffin is both enjoyable and insightful, while this item from The Sporting News touches briefly on Ravens starter Jason Arnold. The odds are good that both Gross and Arnold will be in Toronto by next summer, and Griffin and Rios may well be on a flight north within the following year. Cause for optimism.
As you can see, I am filling in for Mike D this weekend. While I can't be expected to be as comprehensive and entertaining as Mike, I will do my best. And isn't that the best any of us can do? Our very best? I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Mr. Denysyzn is surrounded by other denizens: he's spending the weekend in Las Vegas. May his return to New York be accompanied with extra currency, treasured memories, and a minimum number of new brides.

Now, to the upcoming series. With the Blue Jays pitching staff going through a Feng Shui of sorts, another good-hitting team, the Anaheim Angels, comes to Toronto. Those pesky Angels, the anti-poster boys for sabermetrics, nonetheless work the count effectively, put the ball in play, occasionally juice one over the wall or, if they don't, run the bases hard. In short, they make you play. This is not a good sign for the Jays, who appear as vulnerable to teams keeping the ball in the park as they are to teams hitting it over the fence. The good news is that Carlos Tosca won't be around to tinker with the bullpen, at least for the first two games. The skipper will miss Friday and Saturday's adventures to attend his daughter's graduation from the University of Florida; first-base coach John Gibbons will take over as manager. Here's hoping Tosca doesn't bring a cell phone with him.

This series will mark the debut of Doug Davis in a Blue Jay uniform, as well as the semi-return of Kelvim Escobar to the rotation. In what seems like a move more appropriate in Dunedin in March, the Jays plan to start Davis Saturday then bring in Escobar to relieve him. One can only hope the Jays are well ahead, because Escobar is allowing base runners at a rate that makes Roy Halladay, circa 2000, look like a Hall-of-Famer. New closer Cliff Politte (I love the sound of that, and not just because I have him in my keeper AL-only fantasy league) has worked two days in a row; if he's needed tonight, it will be interesting to see who gets the call Saturday if there is a save situation.

In the meantime, Anaheim is missing some ingredients of last year's World Series run: Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele, and Darin Erstad are on the DL, and, while game seven winner John Lackey is healthy, it is hard to tell if he has actually been pitching or if opposing teams are merely whacking balls off a tee while Lackey eats some sushi or takes a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean at nearby Disneyland. Nonetheless, and whether or not they were a fluke last year, the Angels are an exciting team to watch.

On to the advance scout!
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The Skipper isn't here, but the lineup's the same as the World Champs come to town.
Day two of the Cliff Politte closer era, and day one of our two-day reprieve -- we hope -- from maddening bullpen switches. It's Lackey vs. Lidle tonight; I like the Jays' chances for an easy win for a change.
Has a few interesting pieces.

Stephen Brunt breaks out an old journalistic staple claiming the Jays can always dream about next year, because this year is lost already. I don't think many of us here expected that much sucess this year, certainly only the most optimistic were speculating on contention for the Wild card. Brunt goes on to suggest that while there is 'reason for optimism' on the offence the team is 'doomed' until they can afford a decent pitching staff. He makes the reasonable point that Oakland have had a lot of luck to go along with their superior decision making in their run of success.
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"Hudson stirs from dark place" is an odd headline, no matter how you look at it. It makes me visualize Andy Sirkis in a baggy and tattered Blue Jays uniform. But the rather sympathetic article by Richard Griffin in today's Star is just fine, examining the crisis of confidence that (for the moment) appears to be a leading cause of Orlando Hudson's struggles this spring.

The young second baseman seems to have psyched himself out despite (or in fact, because of) his excellent spring training. Ricciardi thinks Hudson's problem is that he's over-intensifying on the field, taking things too much to heart. Go figure. There are a lot of things that are easier and more enjoyable to do if you're not thinking furiously about every aspect of them while you're taking part, and I suppose baseball is one of them. Six hits in his last two games offer hope that Orlando may be snapping out of it at the plate, but I suspect his defence will be erratic all season.

Sidney Ponson in a Beach Boys song? (Make that Sir Sidney Ponson) ... That's right ... it's time ... for another ... edition ... of ... Elliptical ... Information! ...

Our Top Story This Week ...
Pitchers Sidney Ponson of Baltimore and Calvin Maduro of LA along with Detroit OF Gene Kingsale missed game time this week to return to their home country of Aruba where they were knighted (no kidding) by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Aruba governor Olindo Koolman. Please fill in your own punchlines, but for starters ...
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In the Star today, Richard Griffin's "Pathetic pitching is Jays' problem" takes a shot at "Teflon-covered" Carlos Tosca, but is mostly fair:

Typical of the disappointment Ricciardi has suffered with his leaky pen, the three left-handed relievers, Doug Creek, Trever Miller and Jason Kershner, have combined to allow 47 runners in 23 1/3 innings. The right-handers have not been much more efficient. The bullpen's first-batter (in)efficiency is only 50 retired in 88 appearances. Yikes!

It's not as colourful as "Zombie-like cult of statistical seamheads", but there's a mention of "J.P.-worshipping fans" -- feel free to take that as personally as I do. I'll cop to respect and admiration for Ricciardi and gratitude that he signed on here for five years to fix the mess Ash made. I'll admit to hope, just like the skipper. I even like J.P.; he's honest and open (sometimes to a fault) about what he's doing with the team, and he's a high school coach. Funny, too -- Justin Miller may need shoulder surgery (they will know by the middle of next week) so the GM said, with a straight face, "That's what happens when bad-body guys try to work out."
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So what do you do when itís May 1 and your favourite major-league team looks like itís lost a fight with a cement mixer? You go look at the minor-leaguers, of course, especially since theyíre the ones upon whom this franchise is really being constructed. The Blue Jays are rebuilding at every level of the system, and despite the sorry recent results in Toronto, thereís reason for solid optimism for the future.

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of monthly updates on the progress (or lack thereof) of key Blue Jays prospects and other denizens of the organizationís minor-league system. Not all prospects are accounted for, just the ones with notable performances thus far. All stats are current through April 29. Here we go.
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He is sorely needed. The ace is on the mound trying to break the Ranger's ten game winning streak against the Jays.

Lovely end to the first for Halladay with the strike-em-out throw-em-out DP.
Here's part two of the Jays' report card for April 2003, in which I cover the pitchers. The young and impressionable among you may want to avert your eyes.
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When I was running my own Blue Jays fan website for two years (2000 and 2001), I used to write up a monthly report card for each Blue Jay, assigning grades from A+ to F, often on a whim. I thought I'd try it again with this year's Jays. Enjoy.
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Doubleheader for me today; before watching part two of the shootout at the SkyDome corral, I'll be at Talbot Park coaching the Ursula Franklin Academy Flames in our season opener. This game is reminiscent of the Jays' first series of 2003 -- might as well start against the best. In our case, it's 3-0 Leaside. Ranked #2 in the Star poll, they've already won the Ontario Showcase tournament (MVP pitcher/SS Mark Sikorski was the paper's Athlete of the Week) and are strong contenders for the provincial finals at the Dome June 10-12.

Our much smaller school competed in Tier II last year, and had a fine season, reaching the city semi-finals. This year, with a number of graduating seniors, a Team Ontario righthander and a talented crop of Grade 9 and 10 players, we decided to move up to Tier I. So it's a David-Goliath scenario this afternoon (Bayview & Eglinton, 4:00, weather permitting) and we're hoping to benefit from the experience. But we're starting our ace, and they might take us lightly. I hope we stay relaxed and have fun; if we win the first inning, youneverknow.
Mike Moffatt said it less than an hour into last night's embarrassment: "The fans are certainly getting their money's worth tonight." This morning, Dave Perkins has the same take in the Star, and in the Globe and Mail, Stephen Brunt ignores the awful ballgame, saying, "This was about the city that the rest of Canada loves to hate, embracing and reassuring itself."

It's not easy to embrace the bullpen or be reassured that the problems there are temporary. I'm less disappointed in Hendrickson's start (though I wish he'd followed my advice to pitch around A-Rod) or Kershner's ineffectiveness (it happens, and Tosca got him out of there promptly) than I am in Tam and Escobar. One's just not good enough -- maybe in 2000 and 2001, but no more -- and the other has exhausted everyone's patience on and off the field. It had been a very long day, so I had the sound turned down and was falling asleep by the time Kelvim the Indifferent came in -- what was the crowd's reaction?

Reliable, consistent Dave Berg, 3-for-5 in his second consecutive start at 2B, seems to have replaced the erratic Hudson. It's time for Cliff Politte, who doesn't always succeed but at least shows up, to be named the closer. The next time I have to watch Escobar, I hope it's in another uniform.