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Don't look now, but the Jays are closer to fourth than first after a mad, mad, mad, mad road trip and a not-so-good series with the defending champs. A weekday series with two afternoon games awaits the Orange Birds and Blue Birds, which is why this Advance Scout shows up obscenely early. We are so dedicated to our craft, we wake up before noon on a holiday.

In this Scout, you'll find a pitching rotation that keeps changing on us up to the last minute, a team that has not lost their last zillion games in a row, and a couple of names you thought you'd never see again. Naturally, it all starts with John Halama.

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It doesn't get any easier for the good guys this weekend. Next up are the White Sox, who like the Jays have lost 12 games since the all-star break. Unlike the Jays, they've won four of their last six, and they're only half a game behind Boston.

This week's Scout features the wit and wisdom of Ozzie. Everything else is meaningless, possibly including Sunday's tasty pitching matchup. Live from Waterloo/Toronto...

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After their wild and crazy weekend four-gamer at the Rogers Centre, the Yankees and Jays meet up again in the Bronx this week for three. Unlike a week ago, emotions are much different for these teams as it was Toronto's turn to lose a series, and lose it bad. New York went 5-1 (the one was a laugher) while the Jays...did not. New York has pulled away, now with a fairly substantial lead over Toronto.

You already know that the Yankees "traded" for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle, but they also got another ex-Phillie to help with the stretch drive. They also feature a sinkerballer, a shortstop having a terrific offensive season, and a bunch of quotes that will make you shake your head.

This introduction serves a dual purpose, as I'm happy to announce the addition of Alex Obal to the Batter's Box Roster! Alex and I will collaborate to bring you all of the Advance Scouts from now through to the end of the season, and most (but not all!) of what you will read here is his original research. So, live from Toronto/Waterloo...

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You know, I don't blame you if you react like Santa Claus in the classic M&Ms ad. Yes, Advance Scouts do exist, though not recently. Forget my earlier '61 Yankees comparison; Mike Denyszyn and I are more like Catfish Hunter and Mike Wallace from the '75 team. The absence of the Scouts can be explained by my transition from full-time student to full-time cubicle monkey. However, while I said earlier that the Scout will return in full capacity by the Red Sox series starting August 31, they're making an early return for first-place Boston now.

The Bosox have won four in a row after sweeping away the Devil Rays; the Jays have won two of three and face an stretch against AL East teams for the next 10. Boston has some hurting outfielders, a short-on-good-pitchers bullpen and will send the two worst Sox pitchers out against Toronto this week. Of course, the third pitcher scheduled to start is just a little bit better...

On to the Advance Scout!

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Take it away, Bruce Wrigley:

Tuesday and Wednesday, the Yankees come in to Toronto for a short two-game series sandwiched between a couple of off days. (Note to Toronto-area fans: the Tuesday night game is a $2 Tuesday so do what you can to make it down to the park and make some noise for the good guys).

Like the Blue Jays, the Yankees have been inconsistent to begin the season and come into the game with a 6-6 record. Both teams are looking up at all three of their other AL East competitors so each will be hoping for at least a win to keep them in touch with the lead.

Over the weekend, the Yanks dropped two of three in the Metrodome, looking bad in a 5-1 loss to Scott Baker on Friday night but strong in a 9-3 win over Brad Radke on Sunday. Earlier, the Yanks had played their home opener in a three-game set with the Royals and pounded their way to a three-game sweep averaging ten runs a game.

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The White-hot Sox are next on the docket. They've won four straight, including a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Standings mean nothing this early in the season, but those three games only put Chicago in a tie with Detroit. Both Toronto and Chicago are at 5-4, one game behind a favoured division leader, but the Jays don't have anyone hitting .059 at the top of their lineup.

Aside from Scooter Podsednik's early season woes, the Chisox have a masher at first, a big guy in the bullpen, a legitimate #1 workhorse, and a "dink" in the press box.

On to the Advance Scout!
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It's the first road trip of the season for the Fighting Jays, as they take a trip to Fenway for three games with the Bostonians. Unlike last year and 2003, there will be no 11:06 AM start, as Toronto is not in town during the Boston Marathon this time. Today's game is at 2:05, though, and with that early start time and a busy day (and week) for yours truly, the Scout is not as full of information this time around.

The Red Sox have started off 5-1 this year, and it looks like the Jays will dodge Curt Schilling just as the Bosox won't face Roy Halladay. Unfortunately for Toronto, they have no real edge in any of the pitching matchups this series -- and as good as some of the Blue Jay hitters might be, there are two guys batting 3-4 in Boston who'll have something to say to the Toronto pitching staff.

On to the Advance Scout!
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After losing 2 of 3 to the Orioles, the D-Rays come into town. They're no longer the pest they once were -- the Bad Blood of Luke Prokopec is gone now, don't you know? -- and they only won one-third of their road games last year, so colour me optimistic about this series.

Scott Kazmir struggled on Monday and Seth McClung needed 84 pitches to get through three innings on Wednesday. Sure, Mark Hendrickson somehow pulled a three-hit shutout out of thin air last night, but the pitching is still not very good on this team. And, honestly, this is the kind of series we won't remember two years from now, but any three-game set with Roy Halladay is worth watching.

On to the Advance Scout!
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A note: if you're new to Batter's Box, the Advance Scouts, in the past, "have offered a bullet-point series of notes to help Bauxites prepare for the Jays' upcoming opponents. Traditionally, this has meant a mix of local-media accounts, statistical trends of key players, and a breakdown of team lineups." Thanks to Mike D, our regular Scout, for the explanation.

Speaking of Mike, media reports indicate he has been kidnapped by a law firm in New York and forced to do their bidding for the low, low rate of $150/hour plus benefits. Or something. Anyway, with his work committments, he is unfortunately not able to provide the regular high-quality scouting readers have come to expect. But it's all right, as yours truly is here to either a) save the day or b) become the Ross Moschitto to Mike's Roger Maris.

Enough preamble -- On to the Advance Scout!
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Alas, this will be the only October baseball played at the Rogers Centre. And after seven pulsating games in Boston and the Bronx, the meaningfulness of the games played by the Jays couldn't take any more dramatic of a turn than to welcome the Kansas City Royals to town. That doesn't mean there's nothing to play for; a sweep will bring the Jays back to .500 -- a mark that most honest observers of the club would admit the team deserves, at a minimum.

As this is the final series of the season, so too is it the final Advance Scout. It'll be back next year, so please feel free to offer comments and criticism about how to make it better. I'm always open to suggestions!

This week's Scout features some young arms, a no-hitter (interrupted) and a bonus baby signed by a team that has had some rotten luck with bonus babies.

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Four big games in three days await the Jays, who go from raucuous Yankee Stadium to frenzied Fenway.

The Fighting Jays have played the Bosox awfully tough this year, and it would do wonders for the confidence of some of the younger players if the good guys could steal a couple of wins this week. The Red Sox are unlikely to overlook the Jays, though; they know that this is not the roll-over-and-die Orioles in town.

This week's Scout features a struggling veteran hurler, a locked-in MVP candidate and some empty hospital beds. After all, the Sox are on TV at home.

On to the Advance Scout!
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There wasn't a chance this week to put together an analysis of the Yankees this weekend, but they're playing the most motivated ball they've played since at least the 2003 playoffs.

If the Jays want to steal a game or more, they'll need to do it with the bats. Toronto was unlucky to be shut down by Shawn Chacon last weekend, and Jaret Wright and Chien-Ming Wang are far from unbeatable. But the ferocious Yankee offence is starting to fire on all cylinders. Here's what the Jays are facing this weekend.

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After an emotional and gutsy showing this weekend, the Jays have to adjust to a non-electric atmosphere and a non-contending opponent. The Mariners, who pay an anomalous mid-September four-game visit to Toronto, faced the same problem themselves this past weekend -- and struggled against Texas after playing inspired spoiler-ball against the Angels.

My advice for those of you in the GTA: Head down to the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night, and splurge on a 100- or 200-level ticket. You'll want to be up close and personal to see 19-year-old Felix Hernandez taking aim at the Blue Jay bats.

Felix isn't the only player you likely haven't seen before as you prepare for the series. You want to learn about Greg Dobbs? George Sherrill? Jeff Harris? The wonderfully-named Yuniesky Betancourt? Well, there's an awfully convenient way to do it -- and it's to read on here at Batter's Box.

On to the Advance Scout!
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The Jays have a chance to have a real impact on the AL East playoff chase, with six home games against the Red Sox and Yankees. First up: the champs.

A relatively brief Scout this week, as it's being created while visiting family for a wedding (not mine). As is usually the case with Boston coming to town this season, Toronto faces three up-and-down starters, an inconsistent bullpen, an occasionally erratic defence...and an absolutely dominant lineup. Can the Jays keep up their strong play against the Bosox, with less on the line (at least from the Jays' perspective)?

This week's Scout features some offseason planning, some nagging aches and pains and some more of the same from the one and only Boomer.

On to the Advance Scout!
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These are the games that test a club's mettle: drab affairs in September against a team that, though eliminated, is playing confident baseball.

There are reasons to expect the Blue Jays to show some life, however. Aaron Hill should give the Jays' brass a chance to see just what their middle infield options look like for next year and beyond. Dave Bush -- and, possibly, Josh Towers -- are pitching for not-yet-assured slots in the 2006 rotation. And if Gus wants to have a shot at Rookie of the Year, he's going to need his last five starts to all be good ones.

This week's Scout features some minor league news, an acknowledged "good guy" and some unfortunate stereotyping of the sort discussed by Jordan in his last Game Report.

On to the Advance Scout!
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