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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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An interesting article showed up in my Inbox anonymously (the sender forgot to add an identifying message). The story, published yesterday by UPI out of Los Angeles, takes a closer look at the whole "White Jays" controversy and the evolving nature of organizational decision-making viewed from a race-based standpoint. The story has more than a few holes, but it does make a lot of good points, including the fact (as we've already discussed here) that Jackie Robinson was the perfect sabrmetric player. It's worth a read, and I'd be interested in people's comments.

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The basis of Craig's hypothesis is the fact that the Yankees are comfortably ahead of the pack in terms of DIPS ERA (DIPS is an acronym coined by Voros McCracken for Defence Independent Pitching Stats). DIPS ERA assumes that pitchers control only HBP, W, K and HR and then fills in the rest of the stats based on league average performance, so that the effects of "fielding" are filtered out.

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It's Jon Garland vs. Kelvim Escobar tonight in the finale of this two-game "series." Howie Clark is leading off and playing left field, Bobby Kielty hits sixth and mans right field, while shortstop Mike Bordick finishes the lineup off, sending Chris Woodward to the bench, where, hopefully, he'll watch some videos of Ozzie Smith. Heck, Ozzie and Harriet might help.
Rob Neyer chats with JP Ricciardi in his latest column. It's good stuff, with some funny parts -- the photo of Ricciardi and Tosca looks like they're doing a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta -- and one funny-yet-alarming part.

Funny: Derek Jeter might not have the greatest first step, but he can roll out of bed in January and hit line drives wherever he likes. This column isn't about Derek Jeter (though the Good Lord knows the world could use another column about Derek Jeter).

Funny: When you talk to a general manager in July, you have to ask if he's got any trades in the works. Ricciardi didn't miss a beat: "Keith Law for Paul DePodesta." (That's an inside joke, for the benefit of both me and Law, who was within earshot.)

Alarming: Finally, I asked Ricciardi a question, variations of which I've been asking a lot of people in recent weeks ... "With more and more teams following -- or trying to follow -- the Oakland A's model, where will you find your edge in five or six years?"

Ricciardi smiled. "In five or six years I'll be gone, coaching high school basketball somewhere, so I won't give a s---."

He's just kidding ... right?
If you're not familiar with the ongoing discussion about the "first annual" award to be presented by Da Box, the Joaquin Andujar YouNeverKnow Award competition was announced here on Groundhog Day.

The purpose of the award is to recognize, within certain defined parameters, the best offseason free agent acquisition, where "best" also means "most surprising."

The leader heading into the final 18 holes of play this season? No surprise -- it's former Jay Esteban Loaiza. But the field is still wide open as we head down the homestretch. (That's both a golf and a horseracing metaphor so far ... can anyone work in some sort of bowling or billiards terminology?)

Let's review.
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Coach was kind enough to let me archive my Rich Harden post for, so here it is. Denizens of Da Box can ignore this. readers may plow forward at their discretion.
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While talks no doubt continue that could determine the fate of current Jays' #2 starter Kelvim Escobar, the undisputed ace of the staff takes the mound at Skydome tonight trying for his franchise-record 15th straight winning decision. Opposing him tonight will be the always-pesky Chicago White Sox and their 1990s All-Star Game lineup (Robbie Alomar, Frank Thomas, Carl Everett, Sandy Alomar Jr., etc.) and their rejuvenated starter, lefty Mark Buehrle, who's been pitching lights-out lately. Against the southpaw, Carlos Tosca has Reed Johnson and Bobby Kielty batting one-two (Kielty's at first base again as Carlos Delgado rests his knees in the DH slot), Jayson Werth getting a rare start in right field, and Mike Bordick at second base. Keep your eyes peeled for Breaking News during the game....
It's my great pleasure to introduce a regular pinch-hitter in this space, someone already familiar to regular BB readers: John Neary. John has been doing minor-league updates at Batter's Box off and on the last little while, as well as providing excellent insight on threads related to prospects and draftees; he'll be providing minor-league updates more regularly from this point onwards. Take it away, John!
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Look out -- here comes the Hose.

Chicago has won five straight and seven of eight, as they have surged past Minnesota as Kansas City's primary challenger (at the moment, anyway). Roberto Alomar has been solid in black pinstripes, but it's been the power surge from the middle of the order -- Thomas, Ordonez, Lee and even Paul Konerko -- that's gotten the White Sox back on track. Chicago has been counteracting its poor defensive play with a reliable bullpen that has pitched particularly well recently.

The Jays duck Esteban Loaiza, who has shown no signs of a post-All-Star hangover. But Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland have both been tough on the Jays this season, and they're both coming off of respectable outings. Nobody really knows who the Jays will trot out on Thursday, given the mercurial nature of trade winds. What we do know is that Doc goes for 15, one day later than anticipated, tonight. Lots of reasons to follow this mini-series, including Frank Thomas going for #400; he's one away.

On to the Advance Scout!
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With the trade deadline approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to pick one central place where we can discuss all the trades (and yes, trade rumours) that happen. This should be a good place to visit to get any breaking news, etc.
Richard Griffin raves about the newest Blue Jay in the Star this morning. He also tries out "Beane-heads" as a new epithet for the enlightened, and drops a silly rumour:

If Kielty can do the job at major-league levels, then Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi can begin dreaming of an off-season in which he successfully clears Delgado and his $19 million (U.S.) off the roster. The Jays would do it, even if they were forced to eat a portion of the final year.

Somebody's dreaming, all right. Delgado's no-trade clause is a significant obstacle, and since his salary fits in next year's budget, why give up his production? Carlos will almost certainly be gone in 2005, unless he decides to take a substantial discount (in money and years) to stay in Toronto. But nobody is pushing him out the door.
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The major league leader in victories seeks his 15th tonight, as the Jays try to extend their Yankee Stadium win streak. Roy Halladay can equal Roger Clemens' team record for consecutive decisions without a loss, and the way he's been pitching, you have to like his chances. Doc handled the Yanks on short rest in his last start before the break, then tossed a brilliant complete game against the Red Sox in his latest. Another strong performance tonight will make the Cy Young whispers that much louder.

With Andy Pettitte on the hill, I was expecting a few lineup changes, but there's no sign of Jayson Werth or Mike Bordick, as Carlos Tosca sticks with the guys who were hot last night. That means three lefties (Cat, Delgado and Hinske) and two switch-hitters, one of whom (Hudson) isn't very good from the right side. The other (Kielty) has a .724 OPS vs. RH, but it's 1.045 against southpaws. Tom Wilson is another whose splits (.705 to .964) are extreme, and Reed Johnson's (.738 and 1.135) are ridiculous so far. Hitting lefties used to be a Toronto weakness, but not any more.

If the Jays stay as relaxed and confident as they were last night, this should be just as much fun to watch. Unfortunately, I won't see it. We're having cable problems at home again, so there's no Internet access and I'll be listening to the radio.