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With our regular season over at the end of August, the race for playoff spots is heating up. Not at the top, where the first-place Gashouse Gorillas pulled away with a decisive 9-2 victory over the Springfield Isotopes. Falling to twelve games back in second spot is my own Toronto Walrus; more about my nightmare week later, but I was very fortunate to escape with a draw. Billies Bashers solidified their hold on third in the Head-to-Head standings with a 7-4 win over Baird Brain, one of four teams in a scramble for three remaining spots in the championship playoff round. Mebion Glyndwr advanced with an 8-4 victory against the Nation Builders, and Red Mosquitos edged AGF 6-5 to get one game closer to sixth place.

Teams can still make a sudden move in the standings. The Eastern Shore Birds began the week in 15th place, 3.5 games out of a berth in the consolation playoff round. A 10-2 romp over Geoffs Grumpy Group moved the Birds past two rivals and just a half-game away from being one of the twelve who will play in September.
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Just the thing to get the Jays back in the winning groove -- a trip to Detroit. Tonight, Cory Lidle faces that fearsome lineup -- the Tiggers are hitting .225 as a team (20 points worse than anyone else in the majors) and have scored less than half as many runs as the Jays this year. Lidle still must be better than he was against Baltimore last week to earn his 11th win of the season.

Hard-luck southpaw Mike Maroth has a much more difficult assignment. Josh Phelps finally gets to start; so does Dave Berg, as F-Cat and O-Dog get the night off. Reed Johnson moves up to the 2-hole. Chris Woodward is back at short (it was a sore thumb, I'm told, not his shoulder) and Eric Hinske also gets a rest, with Bordick shifting to third. Tosca's got eight righties and a lefty RBI machine in there, plus an absolutely awesome bench.

Tomorrow -- nothing like a Canada Day game in the U.S. -- Mark Hendrickson takes on RH Matt Roney, a 23-year-old making his third career start. That could be the highest-scoring affair of the series. The finale is a classic pitchers' duel; 11-2 Halladay vs. 1-11 Bernero. Anything less than a sweep will be disappointing.
Did you know that the sweep in St. Louis was the only series the Jays have lost in more than five weeks? Toronto has won six series (sweeping four) and split two since being surprised by the White Sox May 21. The rubber match of this set will determine the Pearson Cup result -- the Jays have earned at least a tie -- and the next two series, in Detroit and Baltimore, are winnable.

Each team has had limited exposure to the opposing pitcher. Cabrera and Vidro have fared well against Escobar, but Delgado and Hinske are both just 1-for-6 off Ohka. Last June, Tomo beat the Jays in Montreal, then lost the SkyDome rematch. He's coming off two solid starts against the Pirates, allowing just two earned runs in 12 innings. Kelvim, in three 2002 relief appearances against the Expos, had a win, a loss and a save. Whether he meant to bean Conine or not, he lost concentration (and the game) in the sixth inning of his latest, so his poise and maturity remain questionable. His stuff has been excellent all month, with 34 K and just 7 BB in 34.2 IP -- I like his chances, if he stays calm.

Chris Woodward is still nursing the shoulder he hurt Friday night; Bordick (3-for-3 vs. Ohka) gets another start. Wilson gives Myers a breather. Josh Phelps is now a platoon DH, at least until Cat moves back to left field. I get it; Reed Johnson deserves to be a regular, and they have to prove that Shannon's hamstrings are OK in order to trade him. It's an embarrassment of riches when a guy with 25 HR in 514 career AB, a .353 OBP and .496 SLG wastes away on your bench.
Tim Naehring, who is player development director of the Reds, said that it's not for sure that Jose Rijo is done -- but it sure looks that way.
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An early game thread, as I'm not sure how many of our authors are around on this long weekend, and my family is going to an Internet-free party. Regardless of the outcome of today's potential Pearson Cup-winning matchup, it's been a magnificent first half for the home team. Rookie RH Claudio Vargas, with a stingy 2.73 ERA and coming off a brilliant 3-hit shutout of the Pirates, takes on Doug Davis, who always makes me nervous. The Jays' bats (and their bullpen) will have to be good. It's a 4:05 start on TSN; I'll check in here late tonight to see what I missed.
In the Saturday Star, there's a front page picture of the Blue Jays, 25 head shots. Is it celebrating the club's remarkable turnaround, two years ahead of schedule? Introducing the players to a city that's just waking up to the reality of being in a pennant race? Nope, it's drawing attention to Geoff Baker's feature, headlined "Whitest team in the majors," which occupies a lot of the sports section.

Baker consults an "expert" who points out the large Japanese turnout in Toronto to see Ichiro. Talent has nothing to do with it, I guess; perhaps Hideki Irabu would be a similar draw. Then there's this gem:

Complicating the entire issue of race is the fact the Jays aren't really seeking the best players available, many of whom happen to be non-white. Budget-conscious Toronto instead is looking for value.

Yeah, we all hate value. OK, so J.P. should spend more money, and start considering the "issue" of race, which happens to be irrelevant to his job of building a winner. Why? Isn't what he's accomplished in 18 months good enough?
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It's too bad there's no MVC award for coaches. What kind of year is Blue Jays hitting coach Mike Barnett having? Nearing the halfway point of the 2003 season, his club leads the major leagues in batting average, hits, runs, RBI, on-base percentage, total bases and slugging percentage. Carlos Delgado's amazing season has helped, but everyone in the lineup is contributing.

The common denominator is "Barney," who refuses to take any credit for the results of his diligent efforts. "You can't do what we're doing without good players," he explained in a recent dugout conversation, after guiding his charges through batting practice. "We've got guys who are very talented, very intelligent, and they all have a fantastic work ethic."
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It's a rematch of last Sunday, when both Roy Halladay and Livan Hernandez worked on three days' rest. Livan pitched well enough at home, limiting the Jays to four runs, but Doc was brilliant -- four hits, no walks, no earned runs. Winning eleven consecutive starts requires skill and luck. One of these days, Doc will not have his best stuff (remember the Sunday matinee against the Red Sox?) and may not get that kind of run support. Tonight, expect another dominant performance, as Halladay becomes the first pitcher in six years to win 12 in a row.

Once again, Josh Phelps sits so that Reed Johnson can play, which does improve the defence and saves wear-and-tear on Cat's back. Dave Berg (4-for-10 vs. Hernandez) gets the start at 2B, giving O-Dog a night off. How good is this Toronto lineup? The first six in the order are hitting .310 or better.
On the Official Site today, Spencer Fordin's column about the Jays players and coaches making their All-Star selections quotes J.P. on the releases of Rob Ryan and Mike Moriarty:

"It just got to a point where we had some other kids we wanted to play. The other kids are in the situation of passing them," he said. "We gave those guys Spring Training. We gave those guys 10 weeks. We just thought it just wasn't going to happen here for them. This will enable them to get on with their careers."

Carlos Tosca isn't keen on the changes to the Midsummer Classic; managing to win was never a consideration before. "Are you going to take Barry Bonds out of that game? Are you going to take Albert Pujols out?" The skipper also explains that Roy Halladay will start the last game before the break and may not be available to Mike Scioscia.

It's no more pressure than usual, as Mark Hendrickson's always pitching for his job, but tonight the team needs him to be a stopper. Boston and New York have already won, and it would be disappointing to lose three in a row. The Orioles haven't seen him this year; Lurch beat them twice in five days last September. He doesn't have to be perfect, just keep it close for six innings, seven at the most.

I don't expect Rodrigo Lopez to shut out the Jays. He's been OK in two starts since returning from the DL, but is nowhere near last year's form. Eric Hinske's return could be an emotional lift; they're back at full strength. Unless you think full strength includes Phelps -- Josh sits again, with Johnson in right and Cat at DH.
As most fans of the game will know, there are 108 stitches in a baseball. Unless, of course, it's a crappy Chinese-made baseball like the one I just bought, which has 97 for some reason.
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Given the "Last Word" in today's Sun, Bob Elliott quotes J.P.:

"Unless we totally fall off the face of the earth between now and the end of the month, of course, then we'll be buyers," Ricciardi said. "We'd like another starter. The problem is finding someone that's available.

Paul Godfrey cautions that the 12-game stretch beginning July 8 against Boston and New York may still affect the club's decisions, but praised his GM for assembling a cohesive group with "a lot of players maturing at the same time." I think Ted Rogers will find a million or two to back this longshot.
The timing is perfect. On the same evening that our site reaches the 100,000 hit milestone, Jordan, Craig and I (along with other friends) will be watching our first game together. It's a decent pitching matchup, there should be a noisy $2 Wednesday crowd, and we will be in a very good mood. Thank you, everyone, for making this season so much fun.

Things happen, like they did last night. I still expect the Jays to beat the O's three out of four, going on to win about 13 of 19 in the season series. How Tosca uses his evolving bullpen remains the biggest roster question; sounds like J.P. wants to give Acevedo a chance. I'm a big Reed Johnson fan, but I hope Josh Phelps hasn't become a platoon DH. Enjoy the game.

Not today, sorry folks. Leonard Koppett died yesterday, so I didn't feel much like working on the screed I was trying to write because I have my nose in one of his books now.

He was a master of his craft. Please, if you haven't, check out his masterpiece. Regardless, I encourage you to read some of his recent columns.

Not much action in the minors last night --- New Haven and Dunedin were rained out again, while Charleston didn't play -- but there are some scores to report, along with odds and ends of news. To start with, the Futures Game Rosters have been released, and two Jays prospects will be on the World squad, New Haven's Alexis Rios and Guillermo Quiroz. Those two guys are part of what some prospect-watchers are calling the best team in the entire minor leagues.

Elsewhere, the John-Ford Griffin trade was finally completed when Toronto sent Dunedin first baseman Jason Perry to Oakland. You may recall Perry ripping apart the Pioneer League last summer (a 1.300 OPS) before jumping to the FSL, where he started slow but was coming around nicely: his stats at deal time were .304/.356/.422 in 135 AB (11 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR) and a 10/32 BB/K rate. The Jays' farm system is not long on hitting prospects, but I'd rather they surrender a fairly replaceable quantity like a first baseman than one of their young arms. Perry is interesting, but offer me the choice between him and Griffin, and I'll take Griffin every time. As PTBNLs go, this is a good trade for the Jays.
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