Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, July 8, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Okay, so we've reached the point where there is one full week remaining before we get to the annual All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York and there have been a number of great stories out there - there's the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig and what about still-unbeaten Detroit Tigers RHP Max Scherzer (13-0 with an 0.92 WHIP and 3.09 ERA) who entered the Monday night tilt in Cleveland without a single blemish on this record.
So, with a handful-plus games remaining for each of Major-League Baseball's 30 teams, who is the front-and-center team for this Jim Sez column?
Shhh, it's the Tampa Bay Rays (49-40) who just finished off a three-game holiday sweep of the lowly Chicago White Sox - an 8-3, 3-0 and 3-1 straight sets clean-up job - and now here's a four-game home set against the Minnesota Twins followed by a three-game home series against the awful Houston Astros ...
Gotta feeling the Rays - who exited the holiday weekend tied with the New York Yankees (also 49-40) for second place in the American League East - could be sitting on top of the divisional heap faster than you can say Joe Maddon and darn if no one out there saw this little stretch coming, right?
The Rays - who opened this Twins series at 28-18 overall at "The Trop" this year - were all smiles this past weekend and what about the fact LHP David Price (yes, last year's AL Cy Young award winner) threw a complete-game win in Sunday's shutout against the Pale Hose and did you notice that it only took him 98 pitches as Price fanned five batters and walked nobody. Not a soul!
Now that makes back-to-back snazzy showings by Price who just came off the DL earlier this week (see 8-0 win at Houston last Tuesday night) and this latest Price "W" followed a shutout win by lefty Matt Moore and a strong showing last Friday night by RHP Jeremy Hellickson and in this day-and-age that's something when a team's starting pitchers can string together back-to-back-to-back wins - hey, the Arizona Diamondbacks, for example, went more than a month without a win by a starting pitcher until last Wednesday's game at the New York Mets.
Meanwhile, even on a day when Tampa Bay 1B James Loney saw his 16-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-3 game at the plate, there was All-Star Ben Zobrist banging in his 45th RBI and leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings scoring another run (he had 57 runs) - and he's sure looking like the classy leadoff hitter that manager Maddon desired for the better part of the season's first three months of play.
Maybe the mass media wants to concentrate on the other four teams in the marquee-field AL East but you don't want to take your eyes off the Rays - this little four-game winning streak could be stretched out by the time we hit the All-Star break.
Yes, the Rays were laying better than 2-to-1 Vegas prices in two of the three weekend games against the Chisox and they'll be playing some heavy-duty price the next six or seven days - but so what if they keep winning?
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/Holiday 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!
NFL NEWS & NOTES - TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORTS
Today we continue with our annual summertime NFL Team-by-Team looks of all 32 clubs. From this point forward (and all this week long) we will concentrate on three NFL teams per Jim Sez column -- so there's still plenty of football straight ahead. In today's column space we highlight the New York Jets, the Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Take note that we list the overall team records (including post-season play) next to the team names below:
NEW YORK JETS (6-10) -Let everyone in/around "The Big Apple" analyze the soon-to-be-underway quarterback battle between incumbent and four-year starter Mark Sanchez and West Virginia rookie slinger Geno Smith ... we'll let that play out in the dog days of this Summer of '13.
Instead, let's examine the Jets' offensive line that has been an "overration" for years and this year's unit is expected to include newcomer guards Willie Colon (Pittsburgh) and Stephen Peterman (Detroit) joining with C Nick Mangold, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and RT Austin Howard and it's fair to say even though Colon and Peterman are proven veterans, it could take this unit some time to jell and that's really bad news for Sanchez and/or Smith.
The Jets might have opted for an offensive lineman with one of those two prime first-round draft picks but instead gobbled up DT Sheldon Richardson and CB Dee Milliner - nobody is gonna knock those selections but might the Jets have been wiser to grab a 10-year OT instead of going with Howard on the right side ... just askin'?
Spread Notes - Last year's J-E-T-S failed to cover five of their final six regular-season games en route to a 6-9-1 ATS (against the spread) mark that included a 3-5 spread mark at home and a 3-4-1 ATS road log. Note the Jets also failed to cover 5-of-8 games when in the underdog role and that included a 30-point home loss versus TD favorite New England and a 21-point loss at 5 ½-point fav Seattle.
DENVER (13-4) - Has it really been 15 years since the Broncos won their last Super Bowl?
No question that last year's team - buoyed by the arrival of savior QB Peyton Manning - had major Super Bowl plans throughout a 13-win regular season but that twin-OT loss to Baltimo0re on January 12th dampened the mood of many folks in the Mile High City and so now there's a new Super Bowl-or-bust mood in the mountains and naturally an offense that scored 30-or-more points on 12 different occasions last year is supposed to be even better with the arrival of slot WR Wes Welker who waved bye-bye to New England after averaging 112 receptions a season for the past six years there.
Welker may get 120-or-more catches with an offense that plans on speeding up things and gotta believe Broncos fans are giddy over the fact that 11 of the team's 16 regular-season games this year will be played against teams that didn't make it to the post-season a year ago.
In fact, six of Denver's games will come against teams that owned the top four picks in last April's NFL Draft in Kansas City, Jacksonville, Oakland and Philadelphia ... so could this Denver team be even better than the 13-win regular-season squad from a year ago? Good question!
One major X-factor for the Broncos is return specialist Trindon Holliday who scored on a punt return and a kickoff return in that 37-35 2-OT playoff loss to the Ravens and remember Holliday also registered a KO return and a punt bring-back for scores as he torched the Cincinnati Bengals in a 31-23 win/cover as 5-point road favs in a key Week 9 game with a 105-yard kick return for a touchdown.
Spread Notes -- No surprise that the 2012 Broncos rock-n-rolled their way to an 11-6 ATS mark (that's a stellar .647 winning percentage) but did you realize that this AFC West crew sported a five-game spread winning streak just prior to that heart-breaking 38-35 double-OT loss to Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Playoff round. The Broncos also entered that post-season tilt with a spiffy 6-1 ATS record as home betting favorites. Overall, Denver covered four of its six divisional games and - believe it or not - that was the first time since 2005 (when the Broncos went 4-1-1 ATS in divisional play) that the Broncs sported a winning spread mark in intra-division affairs.
TAMPA BAY (7-9) - The numbers didn't lie last year: The T-Bay Buccaneers finished dead-least in the NFL in pass defense (allowed 297.4 yards per game) and so it was a slam dunk that this NFC South crew would pursue former New York Jets CB Darrell Revis ... but will his arrival fix everything for second-year head coach Greg Schiano and his ever-changing team?
Revis is coming off serious knee surgery and so there has to remain some questions out there as to whether or not he can master his position as he once did on NFL Sundays but it's S Dashon Goldson who may be the real pick-up of the off-season.
Goldson - who was inked off the roster of the San Francisco 49ers for a cool $41.25 million for five years - not only has major experience in big games the past couple of years but will be considered a mentor of sorts for second-year SS Mark Barron who underwent more than just a few "growing pains" a year ago.
Keep in mind that Goldson is just 28 years old; Revis is 27.
The Bucs - if things panned out just right - could have one of the top two or three secondary units in all the NFL by year's end - remember last year's defense yielded 41, 35, 32, 31 and 41 points in five different games (four of which were losses - but the flip side here says it might take both Revis and Goldson some time to fit in here and so maybe the team's first few games will be tougher than they think:
It's at the Jets in Week 1, then a home game against always-explosive New Orleans in Week 2; and a road game in Week 3 at New England.
Perhaps the Bucs will be 0-3 SU (straight-up) right out of the starting gate - or perhaps this defense will click early on. Stay tuned.
Spread Notes - Last year's Bucs were 8-2-1 versus the vig at one stage of the season but wound up only 9-6-1 against the odds (a still-solid .600 winning rate) and note that included three-of-four covers against the AFC West. Overall, the Bucs boasted a healthy 6-3-1 spread log whenever gobbling up points and a sizzling 6-2 spread log away.
NOTE: More MLB and NFL Notes in the next Jim Sez. Our next batch of NFL Team-by-Team Reports will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers.