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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 8:59 AM

Hey, did you ever really consider the fact that possibly the best race in Major-League Baseball this year might be going on in the American League Central?

Most "experts" - including yours truly - believed the Detroit Tigers would run away and hide in that division in this 2013 season but noooo!

The Tigers instead find themselves in a rollicking back-and-forth race with the Cleveland Indians and so dig in and get ready for this weekend's four-game wraparound series in Ohio between the two teams and we'll be following some of these headliner topics:

Will Tigers' 3B Miguel Cabrera be okay or will his ailing bad back keep him out of the lineup for some/all of this four-game set?

Cabrera (26 home runs and 85 runs batted in) felt something in his lower back after diving for a ball in Toronto this past Tuesday but the 2012 AL Triple Crown winner claims mere treatment should keep him on the field right throughout this series in Cleveland. Gut feeling is that unless Cabrera's back acts up on him with some pre-game tightness, he should be okay to play in all four games this series although don't be surprised if he's popped in as the DH for a couple of games.

Then there's the Cleveland starting rotation which will get tweaked this weekend when RHP Carlos Carrasco gets recalled from Triple-A Columbus for the expected start on Saturday. Carrasco has allowed five or more runs in three of his six MLB starts this year and he sports an ugly 8.17 ERA (and 1.93 WHIP) in 25.1 innings on the big-league level. While Carrasco is far from a proven starter or the Tribe's ace (see 10-game winner Justin Masterson who is expected to start the Friday night game against the Tigers) the Indians need him - or someone - to help fill out a rotation that otherwise is composed of righty Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir and Corey Kluber, all of whom have started 13-or-more games for Terry Francona's club.

Finally, let's take a quickie look back to see the results with home teams in CAPS:

5-10 DETROIT Cleveland 10-4 Max Scherzer
5-11 Cleveland DETROIT 7-6 Ubaldo Jimez
5-12 Cleveland DETROIT 4-3 Joe Smith
5-21 Detroit CLEVELAND 5-1 Max Scherzer
5-22 Detroit CLEVELAND 11-7 Justin Verlander
6-7 DETROIT Cleveland 7-5 Justin Verlander
6-8 DETROIT Cleveland 6-4 Rick Porcello
6-9 DETROIT Cleveland 4-1 Jose Alvarez

Okay, so the Tigers have won the last five consecutive head-to-head showdowns with the Indians while going 6-2 so far this '13 season. Jim Leyland's Tigers won't get Verlander into the mix here as he pitched in Thursday's game in Toronto ... does that mean advantage Indians here?

Enjoy the games, be safe, have fun and remember ...Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will be banging out loads of Major-League Baseball Winners all summer long and so check with us right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 after 1 p.m. Eastern time for weeknight action, after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday games and after 10 a.m. ET for Saturday/Sunday/Winners. Plus, the Football Season isn't that far off as NFL Preseason action swings into gear in early August-can't wait! So, pile up the greenbacks while you're kicking back this summer of 2013!


Today we continue with our annual summertime NFL Team-by-Team looks of all 32 clubs. We'll concentrate on two or three teams per Jim Sez column, so there's still plenty of football straight ahead. Today we check out the Buffalo Bills, the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins: Take note that we list the overall 2012 team records (including post-season play) next to the team names below:

BUFFALO (6-10) - Stability? No, that's not a word anyone should be using with this franchise as the January 7th hiring of Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone made it five head coaches in the last 10 years for this AFC East team ... and who's ever gonna forget Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron or Chan Gailey? Wow, that's some "who's who" of head coaching greats, ain't it?

If Marrone wants to right the ship than improving a rush defense that ranked 30th in the league a year ago is an absolute must.

The Bills - who yielded a per-game average of 145.8 rushing yards a game - have turned to former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to fix things but is it a pie-in-the-sky notion to believe second-round draftee Kiko Alonso (Oregon) will be a stud at the club's middle linebacker spot? The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder has wowed the Bills' coaching staff with his off-season work but just how many MLBs come into the league and make an instant impact? And is Pettine ready for this job after basically being Rex Ryan's understudy with the Jets the past few years?

One other key spot on this Bills team is at placekicker where veteran Rian Lindell is trying to fend off the challenges of rookie kicker Dustin Hopkins (Illinois). Folks, this one could come down to a Preseason Week 3 or even Week 4 kick ... it's that close.

Spread Notes - Last year's Bills finished up with a 7-9 ATS (against the spread) mark that included a 50-17 loss to 4 ½-point favorite Seattle in a Week 15 "home game" . In all, Buffalo sported a splendid 5-2 spread mark when in the chalk role while going a dreary 2-7 versus the vig as a dog. Note also that this AFC East crew split its six intra-divisional games and so the Bills are now 7-13 ATS in their last 20 AFC East tilts. Ugh!

CHICAGO (10-6) - It's gonna be the first Bears season since 2003 that Lovie Smith is not the team's head coach (did you recall that the aforementioned Jauron preceded Smith in Chitown?) and that will be strange as will the fact LB Brian Urlacher is no longer part of the Bears' family.

Keep in mind last year's team ranked 8th overall in both pass defense (213.9 yards allowed per game) and rush defense (101.7 ypg) and so all the talk that Urlacher and Company were "overrated" was silly when you consider that Chicago finished in the top quarter in league stats for both pass/rush defensive categories. Still, with Urlacher gone there will be plenty of folks in the Windy City expecting big things from DE/LB Shea McClellin who last year collected only 14 tackles as a rookie from Boise State. McClellin - the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft - may not exactly be asked to fill Urlacher's shoes this year but more is expected from this 6-foot-3, 260-pounder who tallied just 2 ½ sacks last season. Note that McClellin's foot woes are not expected to make him miss any time in camp.

Keep in mind the Bears say both WRs Brandon Marshall (hip) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) are considered "probable" for the start of the team's training camp later this month while PK Robbie Gould (calf) also isn't expected to miss any training camp time

Spread Notes - The Bears last year charged out of the starting gate with four pointspread wins in their first five games and still finished with a sub-par 7-9 ATS log overall. Note that Chicago failed to cover 5-of-6 games within the rough-and-tumble NFC North with the sole spread winner here coming in a 28-10 home triumph over 6 ½-point dog Minnesota in late November. Otherwise, the Bears went 3-8 spreadwise after a Week 5 bye and that included a 25-point loss at 4-point fav San Francisco and 7- and 8-point losses, respectively, versus rivals Minnesota and Green Bay. Finally, Chicago a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 against the odds last year whenever in the favorite's role while going 1-3 vig-wise as an underdog.

WASHINGTON (10-7) - Contrary to what the mass media might tell you, this whole team isn't solely about QB Robert Griffin III. In fact, the 'Skins believe this year's defense will be a whole lot better with improved health as two-time Pro Bowl OLB Brian Orakpo will be very much back in the mix come training camp later this month after he missed 14 games last year with a torn pectoral muscle.

Orakpo will be a key pass rush figure for a team that last year ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense (allowed 281.9 ypg) while fellow LB London Fletcher (ankle and elbow injuries) these days is being listed as probable for the start of training camp.

Two other quick-hitter notes on the Redskins:

There is a new special teams coach in town for the first time in 10 years. Gone is gum-chewing Danny Smith who - somehow - coached in the second tenure of the Joe Gibbs Era, with Jim Zorn and with Mike Shanahan but he left for Pittsburgh and that opened the door for Keith Burns who had been a special team assistant with the Denver Broncos for six years.

Finally, the Redskins say WR Pierre Garcon is questionable for the start of training camp with both toe and shoulder injury problems.

Spread Notes - All hail the Redskins for their 11-6 ATS mark a year ago (that's a .647 winning rate) and keep in mind the D.C. gang covered seven games in a row prior to that 24-14 loss to 3-point road favorite Seattle in an NFC Wild Card Round game. Overall, the 'Skins covered 7-of-10 games when in the point-grabbing role and that included outright upset wins at 8 ½-point fav New Orleans in Week 1 and at 4 ½-point home fav Cleveland in Week 15 play. Note that the Redskins registered a tidy 6-2 ATS road mark and so this NFC East club enters 2013 with a collective 20-11-1 ATS mark away the past four seasons ... not bad at all!

NOTE: More MLB and NFL Notes in the next Jim Sez and next up we check in on the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions.

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