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Chicago's American League entry remains a difficult bunch to figure out. Mark Buehrle struggles, while Esteban Loaiza shines; the team's supposed weakness -- pitching -- has been decent but the team's alleged strength -- hitting -- has been utterly horrid all season. Any hopes the S.S. South Side had been righted after taking two of three from the Jays were dashed by embarrassingly dropping two of three at home to the Tigers.

While the Jays are inspiring exuberance from the local fans and media, the Sox are shrouded in pessimism as they set out for a long road trip. The Chicago Sun-Times resident Griff, Jay Mariotti, has the following to say in today's paper: "Only the blind, deaf and dumb still have any faith in this pile of pulp ... When they finally return home, the Sox will be so far behind the Minnesota Twins they'll need a compass, map and Sherpa guide to find them."

Chicago does, however, have some good pitching matchups this series, and the Colon-Halladay duel tomorrow night should not only be entertaining but a good bellwether as to what extent Doc has gotten his groove back.

On to the Advance Scout!
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I'm not sure if an unofficial bandwagon can have an official meeting, but WE'RE GOING TO THE GAME. And we want you to join us. And tickets are FREE.
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The Blue Jays, 3 1/2 games out of the wild card race, have nothing to lose this afternoon (1:00 on Sportsnet) and the Yankees, especially Juan Rivera, are obviously feeling tons of pressure. Doug Davis has had surprising success against the likes of Giambi and Posada, and a few Toronto mashers always enjoy hitting off Jeff Weaver (Delgado has a 1.473 OPS, Hinske 1.408 and Wells 1.111). Weaver has seen his 2003 ERA rise by nearly two runs in his last five starts (1-2, 6.90, with 14 walks and 43 hits allowed in 30 innings). He did beat Toronto April 17, but a lot of things have changed in both dugouts since then.

The Yankees have enough talent to turn this mess around eventually, but for now, the aura is black, and Richard Griffin sums up the current state of the pinstriped mystique:

"Even the legends in Monument Park seem to be looking the other way, pretending they don't know these guys. If bronze could blush, it would."
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I've had a couple of people ask me recently whether I thought (given that U.S. media congolomerates aren't swallowing sports franchises at the same rate anymore) Rogers Communications might be only a temporary corporate home for the Jays, especially given the losses that they are claiming.

To which I have said, I don't think so...
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Chris Reed of catches up with the Jays' future. The promising youngster wasn't sure about the training regimen required for Oakland pitchers:

"Pitchers throw five tosses at 45 feet and then every three throws move back 15 feet. You end up throwing farther, but not as much. Its kind of neat, but weird at first. I was skeptical, but obviously it works for them," Arnold said.

Cory Lidle (you know, the only 8-game winner in the major leagues) still does this routine, even on game day. Earlier this season at the Dome, I watched in amazement as he threw strikes from at least 150 feet, immediately before his final warmups on the bullpen mound. Jays fans should be very happy if Arnold develops into another Lidle.
As Shane mentioned in last night's game thread, Doug Creek is on the 15-day DL with a strained elbow, and Josh Towers is your newest Toronto Blue Jay. The skinny righty, who relies on "sneaky" control, pitched well for the Orioles in 2001 before an absolutely disastrous 2002 season. Credit Team Ricciardi for the low-risk signing this winter, as the 26-year-old has bounced back nicely with a 3.29 ERA in nine AAA starts. Both his walks (8) and strikeouts (33) are low for 54.2 IP, but he's been getting people out consistently.

The more logical replacement for Creek was Jason Kershner, who has been untouchable in AAA, so something's up. Mark Hendrickson may have been just pitching on the side late in last night's game, or he could be Creek's temporary replacement in the bullpen. Lurch's next scheduled start is Monday, against the same righty-loaded White Sox lineup he faced last time. Perhaps the plan is to let Towers pitch that game (it's certainly a different look for the Chicago hitters) and keep the big lefty in the bullpen. Obviously, I'm just speculating, but it makes some sense. The Jays brain trust knows Mark has been effective in relief, and they're still evaluating Doug Davis as a starter.
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No matter what happens today, the Jays have achieved a passing grade in the midterm. If some crazed optimist had told you exactly one month ago that the 7-15 Blue Jays would be guaranteed no worse than a .500 record and a split in this series after today's game, you would have laughed.

Can Cory Lidle make it seven in a row? Will Stewart, Wells and Wilson continue to own Boomer? I have no idea, but it will be fun to watch.
The Moose is 16-7, 2.92 against Toronto lifetime, 2-0 already this year. Only Frank Catalanotto (.464 in 28 AB) has had any real success against him; Cat was 2-for-4 in the third game of the season, and had one of just three Jays hits on April 15, when Mussina was superb, striking out nine. If there's any hope for the boys in blue, it's that Mussina hasn't been as dominant in his last two starts as he was going 7-0 with a 1.70 ERA to start the campaign. Both Anaheim and Texas got to him for four runs, about the most the Jays can expect tonight.

On the mound for the good guys is Kelvim Escobar, making his second start since 2001. The failed closer lasted just three innings against the Royals, walking three, striking out three and allowing two hits. Because he goes so deep into counts, he required 61 pitches that night, and should be ready to stretch out to 80 or 85 tonight, if he's effective. The proud owner of a fastball that hits the upper 90s, an equally nasty slider, a devastating splitter and a back-breaking changeup, Kelvim likes to show them all to every batter. He will undoubtedly need help from the bullpen at some point tonight, and while Tanyon Sturtze might be the first man up, it's also likely we'll see Doug Creek at some point; the erratic lefty hasn't worked in a week.
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Not yet, advised Steven Goldman in yesterday's installment of the Pinstriped Bible on "For the 2003 Yankees, the moment to embrace the 'Donít Panic' mantra is now."

Of course, when he wrote that, Steve didn't know how serious Bernie Williams' knee injury is, or that Jorge Posada would get hit by two pitches last night (one on his unprotected ankle bone) or that Andy Pettitte would continue to get clobbered. The Bombers, 3-7 duds in their last 10 games, have escalating problems in the bullpen, at DH, on the bench and in the outfield. If the Blue Jays get to Mussina this evening, panic might be the appropriate response.
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Corey Thurman comes off the DL, New Haven plays to a fleet of empty seats, Dunedin's bats finally come around, and the Alley-Cats get more good pitching.
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Roy Halladay is 0-2 against the Bronx Bombers this year, with a 5.84 ERA. After an unbelievably bad April, Doc has stepped up his game, not walking a man in his last two starts while striking out 13. He's also reduced his alarming tendency to give up home runs, as his curve ball has been biting better lately. His #1 nemesis Bernie Williams has been in a brutal slump, and is taking the night off, but there's still plenty of danger in the Yankee bats, and Doc will need his best stuff.

Andy Pettitte is going in the opposite direction. He's been very hittable in his last three starts, all losses. He does have a win and a no-decision in two previous starts against the Jays this season, but historically has trouble with Stewart (.438 in 48 AB) and especially Wells (1.462 OPS). Pettitte is also one of Carlos Delgado's favourite lefties -- three HR, three doubles and a .441 OBP.

A well-rested Frank Catalanotto is in right, batting second. Hinske sits, with Dave Berg filling in at 3B. I hope the Jays stay relaxed; they were their own worst enemies while going 1-6 in the two April series. Toronto is five games better than the Yankees this month (12-6 compared to 7-11) but a loss tonight might stir up those bad memories. On the other hand, a big win could set the tone for a very satisfying weekend. If you're looking in the TV Guide, it isn't listed, but TSN has picked up the open date, so for the first time this year, we'll listen to the dynamic duo of Rod Black and Pat Tabler.

Well, the Jays are one game back of Coach's optimistic 24-23 prediction for the Jays' "midterm exam" in the Bronx this weekend. I think we'll let Toronto sit for the test. After the opening-week humiliation and dropping three of four in New York later in April, the Jays could be proud to earn a split in this four-gamer.

They have an opportunity to do so, with some Yankees seriously hurt and others playing through pain. After creating an "aura of invincibility" among even the more staid baseball scribes with their 18-3 start, the Bombers are just 11-14 since then. The Yankees have not been stellar in the field lately and feature several slumping hitters (gory details below). Kind of ominous deja vu, isn't it, after Konerko and Lee woke up this week in Chicago?

Forecast is for dreary weather here in the Apple, save for Sunday. I'll be checking out Wells-Lidle on Saturday afternoon from the upper deck, and will report back to the ol' Box.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Former Blue Jay Pat Borders is 40 and still playing in the minor leagues, for the Mariners AAA affilliate, the Tacoma Rainiers. And he's still having fun. That's noteworthy. On Wednesday night, Borders went 1-5 with a single as the host Rainiers fell to the visiting Sacramento Rivercats, 6-3, under the pleasant gray skies of the Pacific Northwest. That's not noteworthy. I should add that Borders singled against A's phenom Rich Harden. That's not noteworthy all by itself, but yours truly was there to see it. I file this scouting report for Batter's Box.
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Pedro Martinez has a sore back. Jose Contreras has $32 million; belated compensation for all that great pitching he's done in Cuba. Jason Giambi is pining for his "personal trainer and glorified go-fer". The Yankees also invested heavily in Jeff Weaver, trading Ted Lilly, Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin for an expensive fruitcake. The AL East race is a soap opera. The Blue Jays, relatively healthy and free of distractions, are watching the drama with interest.

As troublesome as the Yankees' bullpen and 1B problems are, the Mets are in an even bigger mess. GM Steve Phillips has a stalker, Mike Piazza might be out for the season (at least 8-12 weeks) and David Letterman has enough material to fill a season's worth of monologues and Top Ten lists.
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Mark Hendrickson isn't your typical 6'9" flamethrower. When he's on his game, Lurch uses finesse and control to keep hitters off balance, changing speeds and hitting corners. He induces ground balls with his slider and popups with a deceptive changeup, but he doesn't strike out enough batters to impress some observers. All he's done so far this month is win, and he's made just one poor start in his last eight. Most of the White Sox hitters have never seen him, usually an advantage to the pitcher.

Mark Buehrle is another lefty whose K rate is less than expected from an ace, but he was 39-21 heading into 2003, and picked up this season where he left off, going 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA in his first three starts. What happened next, nobody knows. He's lost six in a row, and was truly awful last time against the Twins, giving up 10 hits and a couple of walks in just 3.1 innings, for nine earned runs. Unless he makes a dramatic reversal tonight, the Jays' hitting machine should get back in gear.

Carlos Tosca is loading up with RH bats -- Reed Johnson plays RF and bats second, Tom Wilson is behind the plate, and Dave Berg makes his first start in a while, giving O-Dog a rest. Chris Woodward also returns after nursing a tender shoulder. This lineup makes Cat, Myers and Hudson available to pinch-hit, a tactical edge if it's close in the late innings. It's another radio-only game, as Sportsnet has Memorial Cup hockey.