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Interleague play begins early this year, with a visit from the ex-Expos. Gone are the days, alas, when the Expos and Jays used to play before large and loudly bipartisan crowds at the Dome; the slow death of the Expos turned this matchup into a non-event some years ago. There's talk of now making Philadelphia the "natural rival" for interleague purposes, starting next year.

But there are still two series to play this year, and Frank Robinson's Nats are playing inspired ball of late, parlaying quality starts, a tough bullpen and a solid middle of the order into victories despite a slew of injuries (most notably to Jose Vidro). The good news for the Jays is that John Patterson's achy back means the Jays get an unrested pitcher today, and likely an untested pitcher on Sunday. In between, the Doctor is in on Saturday.

This week's Scout features a resurgent corner infield, an anomalous outfielder and a closer putting it all together.

On to the Advance Scout!
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After salvaging the last of their three games in Cleveland, the Jays pay a visit to the three-time defending AL Central champions.

Though still very much in the hunt in the Central, Minnesota is playing middling ball of late. Their once-noted defence has declined with the departures of Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman and Doug Mientkiewicz, but their control-freak pitching staff has nevertheless carried the Twins to a healthy first-quarter record. Can the Jays snag two of three? To do so, they'll need to defeat both of the Twins' most inconsistent starters -- or one of them, and a certain Johan you may have heard of.

This week's Scout features a slugging Canadian, a glove man on the mend and the return of a popular hero.

On to the Advance Scout!

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The Jays travel to Cleveland to face a club with a struggling offence, particularly against lefthanded pitching. It might be just the tonic for Ted Lilly.

That said, Cleveland features several hitters on the cusp of breaking out, two solid starting pitchers and a very steady bullpen. It should make for an exciting and well-matched three-game set.

This week's Scout features an antsy young catcher, a faltering postseason hero and a middle infielder who's rather candid in his self-assessment.

On to the Advance Scout!
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After having an awfully tough time with the best club in the AL Central thus far, the Jays now welcome the team that's struggling more than any other club in the American League (notwithstanding what you might read in the New York Post).

The 8-23 Royals come into town without a lot of confidence, although they did gut out a victory at Camden Yards yesterday. Will the Jays get well, as they did against Tampa Bay? Or will Kansas City start to turn some of their close losses into wins?

This week's Scout features a lone bright light on offence, a very promising new reliever and a touted young starter who should sue his teammates for non-support.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Another series, another red-hot opponent for the Jays.

The White Sox come to town, and I think even their most ardent supporters would admit that they're fortunate to be sporting a league-best 21-7 record; they've benefited from a soft schedule, an incredible 12-3 record in one-run games and consistently superb pitching from up and down the staff despite rather modest run support. It can't last, can it?

That said, even the most bitter detractors of the Pale Hose would have to admit that this is a team capable of playing .500 ball the rest of the way; if they do so, they'll finish 88-74 and certainly in the hunt for supremacy in the milquetoast AL Central. Like it or not, the South Siders will be a factor in 2005.

This week's Scout features a slumping slugger, a startling starter and an innings-eater extraordinaire. After a poor series at the plate in Baltimore, the Fighting Jays will have to scratch and claw against a pitching staff that keeps the ball down and uses its defence. Might we see another 1-0, late-inning situation?

On to the Advance Scout!

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The Jays have won five of their last six...and have lost ground to the front-running Orioles, who have rattled off eight consecutive wins -- all against division rivals.

Baltimore bats have been fearsome thus far and present a tall order from a Jays rotation that is starting to round into form. The back end of the O's bullpen isn't forgiving, either, so Toronto has to get to the Orioles' more suspect starters.

After this series, the Jays will be either 1, 3, 5, or 7 games out of first place. Can the Fighting Jays continue to jockey in the seemingly (and stunningly) wide-open AL East?

On to the Advance Scout!

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Flush from their confidence-boosting sweep of Tampa Bay, the Jays cruise into the Bronx to take on the struggling Yankees.

Of course, the Yankees remain a dangerous club with a ferocious lineup and two tough starting pitchers sandwiched around a Taiwanese rookie making his big-league debut. Can the Jays put the ball in play and pressure the Bombers' suspect defence?

This week's Scout features a scuffling Godzilla, a surging superstar and some trade talk in the bullpen. It's a critical sink-or-swim weekend for the 12-11 Jays.

On to the Advance Scout!
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"Astrology used to be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays of all sciences. Not so very good."
--Professor Frick, The Simpsons

The D-Rays, long the butt of jokes of varying quality, have once again become joke-worthy after a somewhat surprising '04 campaign. (Another example: David Letterman suggested that a stiff punishment for Alex Sanchez, rather than a ten-game suspension, would be to make him play those games as a Devil Ray.) Nevertheless, they come into town after a rousing display of walk-off heroics and bench-clearing fireworks against the Red Sox.

The D-Rays have some pesky hitters in their lineup, but they haven't gotten anything approaching steady pitching this season. Will Mickey's men get well against Tampa pitching, or will the hometown slump continue? The Jays are unlucky to draw the organization's bright light among moundsmen -- Scott Kazmir -- tomorrow night.

This week's Scout features a Shea Hillenbrand doppelganger, more ex-Jays than you can shake a stick at and the first Advance Scout Trivia Challenge.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Big series for the Jays this weekend, as the Cheer Club endeavours to get the Fighting Jays back in the win column after dropping four of five.

By now, you've heard of the fantastic start Brian Roberts is off to, and he's backed up by a bevy of powerful bats. The good news for the Jays is that other than the back end of the O's bullpen, there are some shaky arms set to face the home team.

This week's Scout features a lights-out setup man, an all-around star at short and a starting pitcher that may not get past customs. Seriously.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Yankees stumble into town not only tied for the worst record in the American League, but three and a half games back of the hometown Jays.

Pitching's been the problem for the Yankees, who sport an ungainly 5.50 ERA and the highest team WHIP in the American League. The bullpen has been a real problem area after being such a significant strength for so many years, and the rotation has been middling (Pavano, Mussina, Unit) to brutal (Brown, Wright).

After the magnificent game that Craig captured so eloquently in today's Game Report, are the Jays due for a letdown? Will they face a post-road-trip malaise game? Not with the Bronx Bombers in town.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays' nine-game road trip concludes in the ninety-three-year-old home of the World Champs, with a Patriots' Day morning affair followed by a night game tomorrow. If the Jays split the series, it'll have been an excellent Oakland/Texas/Boston jaunt on balance. If they manage to take the pair, it'll have been an absolutely superior road trip.

The Red Sox have come alive, winning their last four over the Yankees and D-Rays. What's worrisome in scouting the Bosox is that they are winning with three key hitters -- Millar, Manny and Mueller -- who are not swinging the bat anywhere near their expected level. The rest of the lineup is rounding into the patient and powerful form that makes the Boston batting order so dangerous. Let's see how accurate my scouting reports prove to be for some of these batsmen.

Now's the time to get to Curt Schilling, who will only get stronger once his fastball starts moving today. The good news is that a razor-sharp Doc gets the ball against Bronson Arroyo in a more favourable matchup in the finale of this mini-series.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays ride into the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the stompin' grounds of our very own Mick Doherty (and, according to Mapquest, three and a half hours from the stompin' grounds of our very own Scott Lucas). The Rangers come into play with an absolutely reeling bullpen, as even ace reliever Francisco Cordero has proven mortal this season after gagging two leads to the rival Angels.

The Fightin' Jays would do well to press on with their offensive patience and persistence, because there are lots of ways to get on base against the Rangers' staff. The downside, of course, is that the Jays' pitching staff travels from a forgiving Oakland outfield to a windy Arlington bandbox. The bottom third of the order, presumed to be the weak link in a powerful Rangers lineup, has actually swung the bats very well in the early going.

It should be four shootouts at Ameriquest Field. Can the Jays win yet another series?

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays' kindred spirits by the Bay play host to Toronto for tonight's home opener at the re-renamed McAfee Coliseum, and two subsequent games at 10 pm EDT.

Both teams will send three young (or youngish) hurlers to the hill this series. The A's have enjoyed superb pitching from everyone who has not yet won a Cy Young Award this season, but they've struggled to make contact. If the Jays' staff continues to pound the strike zone, they have a real chance at success.

The A's enter play having split their six-game road trip through Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The first-place Jays, meanwhile, kick off a nine-game road trip through Oakland, Arlington and Boston before returning home to play the Yankees. Hey, you didn't think that being a surprise team in 2005 would be easy, did you?

On to the Advance Scout!
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The World Champs come to town for three of their eighteen meetings with the hometown heroes. The teams have been mirror images of each other this season, with the Jays having been denied a sweep by a late-innings collapse and the BoSox avoiding a sweep at the hands of the hated Yankees by rallying -- again -- against Mariano Rivera.

This weekend's series features three pitching matchups that are actually rather appealing to the Jays. The key will be Roy Halladay on Saturday; he'll need to go as deep into the game as he can, since Ted Lilly will be on a tight pitch count on his return to live action on Sunday.

Please let me know what you think about the new Advance Scout format, particularly compared to its traditional style. I'm open to any suggestions and all criticism; my scouting is based on Boston's recent three-game series with the Yankees.

Without further ado...on to the Advance Scout!

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The Jays start playing games for real today as they kick off a three-game set at Tropicana Field. The Advance Scout, however, won't begin "for real" until the Jays' home opener this Friday.
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