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The Orioles come to town to kick off the Jays' second homestand of the season -- which, by definition, will be much more successful than their first. Baltimore is currently part of the four-way logjam atop the curiously lethargic AL East of early April.

It's only fitting that a 4-4 club has overachieved and underachieved in relatively equal amounts. The starting rotation, which is likely to be the club's Achilles' heel throughout the season, has been shaky except for fledgling Jay-killer Matt Riley. The bullpen, in contrast, has been a significant asset thus far.

On the offensive side of the ledger, the Orioles are exhibiting the patient approach favoured by co-GMs Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie, but have not hit for any kind of meaningful power, which has led them to strand scores of baserunners. Here, the exception has been Javy Lopez, who has been tearing the cover off the ball as an Oriole -- much like he did during his unexpected comeback season of 2003. Defensively, the O's are excited about Miguel Tejada's range and effort defensively, but jack-of-all-trades Melvin Mora is struggling to adjust to his new gig at third.

The Jays face a whole lot of inexperience on the mound this weekend, and will be countering with three pitchers with something to prove. Two wins out of three should gear the club up for Boston's first visit next week.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Back around April Fool's Day, sports enthusiasts in the Detroit area certainly assumed that April would be an exciting month. The Red Wings and Pistons, each bolstered by mid-season trades, would be jockeying for position and then commencing their respective playoffs -- each with high hopes.

But improbably, the Tigers have also forced their way into the consciousness of Detroit fans. Off to their best start in nineteen years, the Tigers are generating sincere enthusiasm for their strong play when most Tiger fans would have settled for basic competence after last season's debacle. An influx of veterans with a basic idea as to how to play the game has rejuvenated the franchise, at least in the early going.

Still, the Jays need to get back on track, and this series presents an opportunity to do it. All three pitching matchups favour Toronto, and a better approach at the plate is all that's needed to get to Tiger pitching that was vulnerable against the Twins this weekend. Remember, Doc's outing on Thursday will be a matinee.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays are embarrassed, and didn't show pluck
In getting swept. I'll try and change up their luck.
So after seeing things go from bad to worse,
I'm writing the Advance Scout intro in verse.

As the Pedro-Doc matchup quickly approaches,
Be thankful we have no old bald-headed coaches.
Let's erase the taste of the Opening Day rout...
Without further ado, on to the Advance Scout!
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At first glance, it might appear easy to preview the Jays' first series of their hopeful 2004 campaign: "They're the freakin' Tigers." But this might not be as much of a cakewalk as the easy, breezy pair of series that the Jays played with Detroit last September.
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And so it comes to an end.

Often entertaining, occasionally frustrating and certainly tantalizing for the near future, the 2004 season of Blue Jays baseball comes to a close this weekend with a visit from a rebuilding Tribe club that is a little further behind the development curve, but definitely on the right track.

It's hard to assess Cleveland's results at the major league level, since they first lost Ellis Burks and Omar Vizquel to major injuries, and then had to endure the sight of Milton Bradley, Matt Lawton, Ryan Ludwick and now Billy Traber going down with season-ending ailments. Jays fans making the trip out to SkyDome will see a whole bunch of rookies -- some of whom are really quite promising.

But of course, that's not why Toronto fans will be there -- at least not the Saturday fans. Doc tries to put the exclamation point on his Cy Young season by facing a young, inexperienced lineup in front of what should be a nice crowd. A trio of southpaws will be opposing the Jays this weekend; here's hoping that Crash Myers gets at least a pinch-hitting appearance so the fans can vocalize their appreciation for his steady contributions, both on and off the field, in his return tour in T.O.

Finally, this is the last Advance Scout of the season. Many thanks to those of you who offered support, praise and constructive criticism for the column over the year; all three, particularly the third, remain more than welcome. The Scout column will return in April of 2004, and like Batter's Box itself, it'll hopefully be better than ever. Without further ado...

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays' last homestand begins with their season-long nemeses from St. Petersburg. Toronto's 5-10 record against Tampa Bay probably hasn't cost the Jays a shot at contention in and of itself, but the 1-5 stretch against the D-Rays in late July and early August was what cemented the Jays' spoiler status for the 2003 season.

Tampa staggers into town with lineup full of frosty bats, and face some awfully long odds in thawing the lumber against a always-motivated Doc Halladay tonight. The remaining three matchups are more interesting, particularly Josh Towers gunning for a future with the Jays and a duel between surprising Doug Waechter and sizzling Kelvim Escobar.

Today's Advance Scout features some middle-of-the-order slumps, a talkative speed-burner in the middle minors and a Triple Crown that Victor Zambrano would rather not be wearing.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The prospects for the weather improving immediately in the Chesapeake region are much better than are the prospects for the local ball club turning its recent slide around. Mike Hargrove, though well-respected and an ardent players' manager, has sealed his fate in Maryland with a second consecutive late-season collapse.

The Orioles did get a bit of good news this week, as Luis Matos is back in the lineup. The Jays finally complete their nineteen-game season series with the O's, which didn't even start until June 18 this season. As for pitching matchups, Kelvim should be able to handle the Baltimore attack tonight, and Lurch may get another shot at starting on Sunday. Meanwhile, Cory Lidle, whose stock has continued to slip, gets another shot at Tommy John recipient Matt Riley on Saturday.

On to the Advance Scout!
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One hundred and eleven.

It's hard discussing anything but the ever-increasing loss total when previewing a series involving the 2003 Tigers. It's not like they have one enormous Achilles' heel to describe, either; they don't hit well, they don't pitch well, they don't field well and they don't run well. They don't take losing that well, but they've also lacked the kind of competitive fire needed to go out and compete hard the next day. Beleaguered manager Alan Trammell described Saturday's effort as "bland" and Sunday's showing as "blah." Too bad Lou Piniella's gainfully employed.

Nate Cornejo has a chance to stop the bleeding tonight, as Pete Walker makes a spot start. But tomorrow's Halladay-Loux match-up is reminiscent of one of those Kansas-Prairie View A&M games in the first two days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Josh Towers hopes to continue his strong pitching of late in the series finale.

On to the Advance Scout!

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The Jays are enjoying a 7-3 month, and they face an Orioles team that appears to be prone to lapsing into its annual late-season swoon. On the hitting side, the O's haven't been very healthy or productive of late -- with Larry Bigbie a notable exception. However, in Eric DuBose and Pat Hentgen, the Jays lock horns with a couple of hot hurlers. Ex-Oriole Josh Towers will hopefully channel his extra motivation constructively tonight.

The Orioles are in an interesting spot, thanks to some shrewd dealings by their two-headed "Beatagan" front-office monster. Baltimore has much more young pitching in the system than they had when the season started, and they enjoy tremendous payroll flexibility for an offseason shopping spree that won't even implicate the luxury tax, thanks to the team's wise clearing of the books this year.

Peter Angelos says he wants to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in 2004. Hopefully, the home team will take this weekend's opportunity to remind him that there's another AL East hurdle in his path.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Devil Rays aren't just a nuisance to Toronto anymore. After taking two out of three from both the desperate Mariners and the surging A's, Tampa Bay has officially earned its spoiler credentials during their current homestand.

In so doing, the D-Rays have surged to above .500 since the All-Star break -- no mean feat for a club virtually bereft of experience, and one that pays roughly as much to players not playing for them as they do to their current roster. See, e.g., Vaughn, Greg; Grieve, Ben. Tampa hasn't expanded its roster much, with a postseason berth for AAA Durham outweighing the opportunity to look at fresh faces, and strong starting pitching of late obviating the need to bring in bullpen reinforcements.

The Jays have not matched up well against a speedy Tampa club that runs a lot, but not to excess; their stolen base percentage is still among the game's best. They also have the misfortune of facing two red-hot pitchers tonight and tomorrow night, although Thursday looks like a great opportunity for Doc's 20th. He'll square off against the inconsistent Jeremi Gonzalez.

This week's Advance Scout features a Canadian catcher, a leadfooted slugger with a steal of home to his credit, and a local boy on the mound tonight for whom everything's gone right in his budding career.

On to the Advance Scout!
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Today, the Jays and Yankees make up the July 22 game, when truly frightening weather washed out the Jays' opportunity for a two-game mini-sweep at Yankee Stadium. The Jays come into town having won five straight at the intersection of the B, D and 4 trains. Can they pull out the season series against mighty New York in today's matinee?

Just a short report today, as this game is a whistle-stop en route to the real test of whether Toronto is enjoying a September resurgence: A three-game against their bugaboo opponents in Tampa Bay. A busy day at work means no hooky for me, but I might sneak a peek at the ol' Internet from time to time...

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays' opponent this weekend is riding high, having won three in a row.

Break up the Tigers!

Overall, of course, it's a sorry outfit that makes the trip up Hwy. 401, and the Jays hope to deal Mike Maroth his twentieth loss tonight. The Tigers have underwhelming pitching, mistake-prone baserunning and defence, and good hitting by players named Young -- but utterly wretched production at the plate from the Detroit "hitters" who actually are young. You wouldn't expect a team with a 37-102 record to do a lot of things well. Accordingly, the Tigers don't.

Things to watch for this weekend include a starting pitcher from Ottawa on Sunday; a utility infielder from Leamington, who can hopefully shake off an injury in time to get some game action at the Dome; and the answer to this question: How much fun can Roy Halladay have with this opposition lineup on Saturday?

On to the Advance Scout!

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Since I'm in town for the weekend, and spending time with friends and family, I can only come up with a Mini-Advance Scout for this series. I'll be back at my Manhattan perch in time for the next series, where hopefully the tabloids will be screaming disappointment after the Bombers' series north of the border.

It's an interesting series for the Jays, as they've inserted a rare mid-series off-day in order to capture some Tonawanda revenue with a Labour Day tilt. Today's opponent on the mound, of course, needs no introduction; it's a particularly sweet opportunity for Doc to pad his win totals.

By the end of this series, the Jays will have exhausted their responsibility to play their best every night; no more meaningful baseball in 2003, as the last 22 games are against the league's also-rans. They will even be through with their logo and possibly their uniforms; the Jays' new look gets premiered at Roots during tomorrow's off-day, and local advertisements have hinted at the possibility of a "Turn Ahead The Clock Day" on Wednesday; might the Jays be sporting new threads?

Apologies for the brevity this week. Enjoy the series!

On to the Mini-Advance Scout!

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If only this series began just three days later!

Two young clubs with loads of minor-league talent square off, just days before the expanded 40-man rosters take effect. Of course, smart clubs are wary of starting young players' arbitration clocks...but it would have been fun to see at least some of each team's touted kids. As it is, the Jays march into Jacobs Field with their standard 25.

They'll face a team that seems like it's in expanded-roster mode already. Injuries to star hitters Milton Bradley and Ellis Burks mean more playing time for the likes of Jody Gerut, Ryan Ludwick and Coco Crisp, who are each taking advantage of their opportunities to play. While the Jays need to guard against a letdown after 16 games agains the AL's elite, Cleveland will be trying to ramp up its game after six against Detroit and Tampa Bay.

Tonight has the potential to be an outstanding pitching matchup, and none of the games are gimmees for the Jays; the Tribe features a retooled (and red-hot) bullpen, and a surprising lineup that is getting better at the plate (if still a little shaky in the field and on the basepaths).

On to the Advance Scout!
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So our beloved Blue Jays went out on a six-day road trip to California and Florida (!), returned home for a weekend series, headed back out to the West Coast for seven games without the benefit of an off-day, and returned home for seven games before hitting the road, again without an off-day. Oh, and the last 14 games of this difficult schedule were against two of the best clubs in baseball, each locked in airtight two-tiered playoff races. The Fightin' Jays battled, and emerged with a 6-8 record against Oakland and Seattle after last night's comeback attempt fell just short.

Now things begin to get hard.

Fortunately, it's just a two-game set against a Red Sox lineup that is downright scary. Never mind their stats, which are excellent; Boston's top-to-bottom batting order, particularly against righties, frightens me more as an opposing fan than anything I've seen since the '95 Cleveland squad that (not coincidentally) also featured the menacing bat of Manny Ramirez. Lurch and Doc have their work cut out for them tonight and tomorrow night.

I hesitate to post this article above Coach's excellent interview with J.P., but time marches on here at the Box...

On to the Advance Scout!
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