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Jordan's article on closers got me thinking about one of my favorite topics, a proper World Cup of Baseball where MLB players would compete. In particular, his "2006 dream staff" caught my eye.
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A hearty thanks is in order for John Gizzi, who came through with an Advance Scout pinch-hitting appearance that would have made even Rance Mulliniks proud. Since Gitz ratted me out, I might as well admit to being in Las Vegas for the entire Jays winning streak. For many, many reasons, as much as I support "taking one for the team," I should let you know now that I would not be amenable to suggestions that I head back to Sin City until the Jays lose. On the bright side, our entire party did manage to avoid ill-advised marriages.

So the Jays have turned things around with pitching and defence. It should be all too fresh in the Jay hurlers' minds, though, that the Rangers lineup can put up a lot of crooked numbers (sometimes, sadly, even with a straight number preceding it). The formula for beating Texas has been simple: Keep the ball in the park, and be patient with their pitching. It's just a matter of executing the formula against A-Rod, Palmeiro, Blalock, and the rejuvenated Gonzalez and Everett.

At least the Jays snapped their multi-year, 10-game losing streak against Texas last Thursday. The most notable memory from the Metroplex for Jays fans, I think, is Nolan Ryan's last no-hitter on a muggy night at Arlington Stadium. I think Joe Carter's "TOROTNO" jersey might also have been infamously donned in Texas.

Doc has his work cut out for him as he tries to cut back his gopher balls. Blow in, sweet winds of Texas. Blow in.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Every morning I wake up, read my e-mail ("Should I pick up Mark Ellis?"; "What is wrong with Tejada?"; "Dude, u r an idiut"), then check if Mark Texeira has been sent down to AAA, where at least he won't have to beat out Ruben Sierra. Someone please explain to me why Sierra is playing over Texeira? Or Mench? Or Gizzi? Or Scott Lucas, who asks the same questions in his ESPN column?
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So who's the best closer in the majors? According to the good readers of SLAM! Sports, it's John Smoltz, whom they chose in an online survey. What amuses me most about this poll is that 14% of the respondents took the time to click on "I don't care." Now, really. If you don't care, why are you reading the poll, let alone taking it?

Anyway, "best closer" is a nebulous term at best -- this year's top closer is often next year's setup guy, waiver claim or elbow surgery. "Best reliever" would be a more interesting choice, which for my money is a tossup between Octavio Dotel and Johan Santana. Anyway, Smoltz is a fine choice so far this year: 16 IP, 15 H, 4 BB, 20 K, 12 saves, just one BS. But a better choice would be this guy:

16 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 28 K, 10 Saves, 0 Blown Saves

Any guesses?
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Moments after venting about too many lefty relievers and not enough Aquilino, I learned the Jays made a roster move. Jason Kershner has been sent to Syracuse, and according to the AP, Brian Bowles will be recalled tomorrow. The 6' 5" RH had one terrible AAA outing April 20, walking 4 in less than an inning, but his ERA is a stingy 1.06 and he's been much better since, notching his eighth save yesterday. I wonder if they will use Bowles in late-inning "hold" situations right away. Whatever Brian's role, this is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Jeff Tam, who's reduced to mopping up.
Four teams within 1.5 games of the lead, ten teams bunched within seven games. Percentage points (or a Yahoo tiebreaker; I didn't do the math) separate the Walrus from the Gorillas for the league lead, after my Sunday comeback from a 7-4 deficit to a 6-5 win over Snellville. Thanks to Carlos Delgado, Matt Morris and my bullpen; Wagner and Baez pulled out the SV category. I've already traded a couple, but I still find myself with three closers, so I'd listen to offers for Baez or Cliff Politte.

A few teams made big gains -- Mike H.'s Springfield Isotopes closed three games on the leaders with an 8-3 win, Jonny's K-Town Mashers moved up three positions in the standings with a 9-3 romp, and Jason's Garces_not_on_roids squad went from 18th place (15 games out) to 14th (11 games out) with a 9-2 win. A couple of teams went the other way, most notably Red Mosquitos -- I think Spicol was distracted by managing the all-time Jays -- who lost three games to the leaders and fell from 7th to 12th overall.
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Alright, if you'd said to me, following the debacles against Texas and the generally painful season up till now, that the Blue Jays would sweep the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels this past weekend -- and not really have to sweat very much doing it -- I would have had you straitjacketed and sent to the Island of Misfit Bloggers. But there it is, in the books: One Sweep. Great pitching, fine defence, timely and sometimes devastating hitting.

It's an off-day today, then they're flying to Arlington to begin a tough stretch of 16 road games out of 19, against the good (Angels, Yanks), the bad (Rays at home) and the middlin' (Rangers, ChiSox, Royals). So which Jays team will show up, the Keystone Kops of April or the juggernaut of early May? Has the pitching turned the corner with the new closer and the revamped rotation? Are the young guys emerging from their slump? Will Carlos Tosca take a page from the John Gibbons Interim Managerial Handbook and leave his Pitcher Hook in the batrack? The floor is yours.
The entire Jays lineup has apparently been replaced by replicants who make accurate pitches, get first strikes, and make accurate throws on defense. One would hope that this resurgence will continue with Lurch on the mound in the closer to the Angels series.

This Angels team we have seen so far is the Mr. Hyde to the World Series Champs' Dr. Jekyll.
Ultimate Series: The Concept
Recaps: Game 1 *Game 2 * Game 3 Below
Box Scores: Game 1 * Game 2 * Game 3

The scene shifted south of the border to The House That Ruth Built, but the storyline stayed the same in Game 3 of the Ultimate Series between the1977-2002 All-Star New York Yankees and the all-time All-Star Toronto Blue Jays as the Bronx Bombers survived a bizarre ninth-inning Toronto rally for a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead.

Those unchanging storylines? Despite the presence of some of the finest relief pitchers in the modern era, both teams stayed with their starting pitching deep into the contest. Both first baseman continued to pound the ball all over the diamond. And the Yankees benched a Hall of Famer.
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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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