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Much more than the A.L. Central is on the line over this four-game set. For those of you who don't recall, I also have a standing wager with Robert Dudek of a 100-level ticket on whether Cleveland will finish above .500 this season. Robert's in a slightly better position, as the Tribe sits at 53-52.

No matter the outcome, Cleveland has pleasantly surprised me. They have an excellent lineup capable of wearing pitchers out by going deep into counts. They have help on the way with some solid starting prospects. And their bullpen...well, let's just say that the bullpen remains my ace in the hole.

This week's Scout features some hot young hitters, a veteran that keeps on keepin' on, and an obstinate draft pick that might throw a wrench into GM Mark Shapiro's best-laid plans.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Apologies once again for a rather spartan Advance Scout. I'm pulling a Joe Namath, though, and guaranteeing against the odds that the Cleveland Scout next week will be a real bang-up report.

In the meantime, enjoy the series! The Devil Rays bounced back from their lost weekend in Toronto by returning home and sweeping the hapless crew from Kansas City. The Jays are eager to smack 'em down again. Should be a good one.

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No time to assemble a Scout report this weekend, but please feel free to refer to last week's Yankees Scout for more player-by-player info. I've thrown in a couple of links with this week's lineup and pitching outlook.

Enjoy the Insurrection!
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The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, virtually since the beginning of their existence a Newman to the Jays' Jerry, will provide the opposition as Toronto plays some badly-needed home games. Tampa Bay arrives in an offensive funk, and since their pitching has been consistently (and predictably) so-so, it's translated into a lot of recent losses after their franchise-record June.

It's been a busy, three-Scout week, but this edition features some freezing bats, some blazing speed, some not-quite-ripe rumours of both buying and selling at the trade deadline and a potential megadeal for a teenager who has yet to see action at the big league level.

On to the Advance Scout!
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In August of 1998, I moved to Manhattan. Within a week of my arrival, I attended a "Circle Line" cruise around the Hudson and East Rivers with my new NYU classmates. As we emerged from under the Brooklyn Bridge, my friend Dan motioned toward the Financial District and observed, "Just think of the unimaginable resources we're looking at right now."

Last night, as I was perusing the Yankee roster (and, for that matter, disabled list) on my desktop on Rivington Street, I was struck with an analogous feeling. What an insane collection of accumulated talent and experience!

Nevertheless, Joaquin Andujar's "youneverknow" axiom remains as true as ever for the Jays in their two-day whistle-stop to the Bronx. The Yankees appear to be the class of the American League, but they're not without their flaws. Their starters have underperformed and/or been injured; their lineup features superstars, yes, but some of these superstars are declining, aging, slumping or hurting -- read all about it in this edition of the Scout. Plus, they might be looking ahead to Boston this weekend...

On to the Advance Scout!
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Simply put, the Jays will have to find strength in adversity. After following their rousing sweep of Seattle with consecutive empty series against the Angels and Rangers, Toronto finishes its whirlwind tour of the AL West with a two-game mini-set in the East Bay, starting tonight. Unfortunately, the Jays picked a tough time in the schedule to drop six straight; their next two series are in the toughest ballparks in baseball to steal wins -- Network Associates Coliseum and Yankee Stadium.

The Jays did, however, catch a small break: Tim Hudson is unable to pitch tonight, so Kirk Saarloos will spot-start. Read about Kirk in this week's Scout, which also includes a Canadian finding his groove, a rather public feud between a rising rookie and a combustible veteran, and an aging utilityman who always seems to give the Jays fits. Remember, tomorrow's ballgame is a 3:35 (EDT) matinee.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Second-Half Road To Respectability (tm) for the Blue Jays starts in sticky Arlington, Texas -- and Arlington's own Vernon Wells will return to the lineup tonight to provide some much-needed offensive and defensive help. The Jays' pitching staff, however, faces a minefield of danger in the formidable Texas order, which puts up particularly scary numbers at home. Expect some Texas-style shootin' matches, as the Rangers have offered up some struggling pitchers for Toronto's consumption on Friday and Sunday, and a young starter on Saturday that the ol' Scout isn't sold on just yet.

This week's Scout includes some smoking hot bats, some surprising journeymen in the 'pen, some love for Rocket Roger and some hate for A-Rod. Plus, you can read about some front-office confusion on two fronts: first, a foreordained transition may not necessarily occur on schedule. And second, the Rangers have their sights set on a Blue Jay that ought not to be on the block.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Fresh off the exciting sweep of Seattle, the Jays next welcome another struggling AL West club. Anaheim enters today's play firmly in playoff contention, if not exactly knocking on the door of playoff position. Although Mike Scioscia has bemoaned the club's lack of timely hitting, the truth is that disappointing starting pitching has unquestionably been at the root of the Angels' recent mediocrity.

This week, three anticipated pitching matchups add colour to what should be an exciting three-game set. Of particular interest to Bauxites will be a certain Mr. Escobar, who makes his return to the familiar SkyDome mound on Batter's Box Book Day this Saturday. If Jays pitchers can throw strikes and hold runners close, there's a good deal of hope from the home side, even allowing for some inevitable production by the Halos' fine heart of the order.

This edition of the Scout is one of the most information-packed yet. Check out the tales of some A-list sluggers, a super sub made good, the pounding of a would-be ace and a name-change controversy that is brewing very seriously -- and we're not talking about a new corporate sponsor for Angels Stadium.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Take heart, fellow Jays fans: It could always be worse.

Despite being far healthier than the Jays (only Raul Ibanez and the scuffling Rafael Soriano are noteworthy members of the DL), the Mariners come to town with an $81 million payroll (not counting the departed Kaz Sasaki), a popgun offence and a shaky bullpen, just two and a half seasons removed from a 116-win season. Seattle got their hats handed to them in St. Louis, and it's a fragile bunch of Mariners entering tonight's series opener.

This week's Scout features an exuberant Aussie, a beleaguered bullpen, a five-pack of slumping sluggers and a very unusual condition on which John Olerud will accept a trade. Tonight's Moyer-Batista match-up should be a fast-moving pitchers' duel, and some very promising rookie hurlers will be on display in the other two games.

On to the Advance Scout!
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It's an unusual, and rather inappropriate, locale in which to hold what will likely be the last-ever Pearson Cup showdown. Instead of playing in the air-conditioned comfort of Olympic Stadium, surrounded by those familiar once-futuristic yellow moulded plastic chairs, the Jays and Expos will instead renew their rivalry in hot, sticky and soggy Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where Carlos Delgado will unfortunately not perform in front of his friends and family. Rain is a very real possibility for today and tomorrow; stay tuned for some possible doubleheader action (which would kill the Expo bullpen).

The Jays face a reeling Expos club that was bombed in dropping three of four to Philadelphia this week. This weekend, David Bush makes his big-league debut against a legitimate workhorse, the Doc takes on a recent patient and Ted Lilly squares off against a young Canadian with nowhere to go but up in his major league career.

Oh, and memo to the Jays' staff: Careful with that second baseman. He can hit a little.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Maybe we all should have known -- even as early as January -- that the 2004 Blue Jays would suffer through a cursed season. After all, the schedule maker did not exactly give Jays fans across Canada a rush of anticipation when he scheduled their July 1 matinee extravaganza to be...*sigh* in Tampa Bay. Not only is it a road game, but it's in drab Tropicana Field, home of the Devil Rays -- simply the most frustrating, get-every-bounce opponent the Jays have faced in recent years. Call them the "Brewers For A New Generation," in honour of those inferior Milwaukee clubs who always seemed to bring their A-game against Toronto.

That said, St. Petersburg fans are breathing new life into the former "ThunderDome," thanks to a surprisingly resurgent home side. They're hitting, running, pitching and getting a little lucky -- and their completely unexpected 15-2 run has actually vaulted the team to the fringes of the wild card race. After shutting down Tampa Bay last week, Doc endeavours to do the same tonight. Let's see if the Jays can begin to restore the Rays to their rightful place at the bottom of the division; the pitching matchups suggest that three of four is a definite possibility.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Will Sunday be the last-ever ballgame featuring only "O Canada" before the first pitch?

The Montreal Expos, who have been knocked down and kicked around by Major League Baseball and some shady owner-type characters therein, have finally broken down as an on-field product, as they enter this weekend series with sole ownership of the league's worst record. Contrary to the predictions of most pundits, it's been their league-worst hitting that's been the problem -- a huge problem -- with the 'Spos. For all of the well-founded angst about Toronto's performance at the plate, Montreal's tallied 89 fewer runs. Although Jose Vidro is heating up and Nick Johnson is getting healthy, Montreal's severe offensive underperformance has been the story for the club. Their pitching, though thin, has been perfectly respectable.

Still, there should be some interesting action on the field. Zach Day and Livan Hernandez will be challenging opponents, and Scott Downs has been lights-out in Wild Rose Country. This edition of the Scout features a struggling shortstop, an old-fashioned workhorse and a Georgetown boy in the bullpen still waiting for his first call to the mound.

On to the Advance Scout!
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As if the Jays' infuriating 8-11 record in 2003 against Tampa Bay wasn't enough motivation for the hometown gang to get up for the first of six series against their divisional rival, the Devil Rays come into town the talk of baseball, having won an astonishing eleven straight ballgames.

Only a brief Advance Scout report today, as time has been short. But against the three pitchers Piniella will be sending to the mound this week, the Jays need to practice what they preach -- namely, patience at the plate -- to prevail.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The depleted Jays travel down the Pacific Coast Highway (metaphorically, at least) to sunny San Diego for a three-game set. It'll be the first-ever meeting between these two franchises in meaningful games; does anyone know if they've ever even met in the spring?

The Padres also enter the game on a lengthy skid, going just 2-7 against the AL East thus far, including an embarrassing home sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays. Sadly, we know how that feels. Although San Diego began interleague play within percentage points of the division lead, they now sit third in the wide-open NL West. The Jays could continue to do the Giants favours by taking a couple at brand-new Petco Park.

This edition of the Scout includes a very familiar face gearing up to face his old club tonight, a slugger trying to slug again, and the #1 overall picks from both the 1992 and 2004 entry drafts. And check out the eerie final bullet!

On to the Advance Scout!

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The Jays pay their first visit ever to McCovey Cove and SBC Park, where I had the pleasure of attending a game back in 2002. It's a beautiful place to catch a game and the second-nicest park in the majors. (If you haven't made it to Pittsburgh, you really ought to go.)

Barry Bonds, still ludicrously dangerous at the plate at age 39, leads the Giants into this three-gamer with his club very much alive in the wide-open NL West at one game over .500. Coming off a long road trip, one might think the Giants could be prone to a first-game-back letdown, but the nasty Jason Schmidt gets the ball tonight. Although Miguel Batista will almost certainly have to continue his heroic recent efforts tonight, the Jays have more favourable mound matchups tomorrow and Thursday.

On a more sombre note, Jerry Howarth mentioned in his Batter's Box interview that he was really looking forward to seeing SBC Park in his native Bay Area. I'm sure that he won't enjoy the series quite as much without our friend Tom Cheek able to join him. If you haven't already done so, please add your best wishes to Tom in our dedicated thread.

On to the Advance Scout!
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