Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 9:20 AM
The Major-League Baseball All-Star Game finally arrives on Tuesday night ... so let's not waste another moment as we dig in with the Jim Sez American League Report Card Grades for all 15 teams ...
BOSTON (57-37) - Hard to believe that the 2013 Bosox were supposed to be cellar-dwellers as new manager John Farrell has done a wonderful job and did you happen to notice that the Sawx have scored more runs than anyone in the junior circuit (492 or 5.23 runs a game)? The starting rotation of Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz is a collective 12 games over .500 (that's 31-19) and even with closer issues this club wins lots of close games.
OAKLAND (54-38) - The newest version of the "Moneyball" A's has been a smashing success - keep in mind that Oakland had a preseason over/under won/loss mark of 84 ½ wins. There's been a revival of RHP Bartolo Colon (12-3, 2.69 ERA) and whether the renaissance has been "legit" or not won't be addressed here. Hey, is righty Grant Balfour (24 of 24 in save opportunities) the best closer in MLB right now?
TAMPA BAY (53-40) - Hats off to the rather no-name Rays who entered this weekend riding an eight-game winning streak as LHP Matt Moore is a 13-game winner and Joe Maddon's club really has not missed outfielder B.J. Upton at all ... how about that!
NEW YORK YANKEES (50-42) - The team's been absolutely gutted by injuries as 3B Alex Rodriguez has yet to play a game, SS Derek Jeter has played once and may again go on the DL with a quad injury, OF Curtis Granderson's been injured twice already and 1B Mark Teixeira played a mere handful-plus games and then re-injured his wrist area and so kudos to manager Joe Girardi for holding this team together and a round of applause for soon-to-be-retired closer Mariano Rivera too.
TEXAS (53-39) - The Rangers sport the league's second-best ERA (3.71) and so the power loss from the exodus of OF Josh Hamilton to the Los Angeles Angels has not been felt quite as much as anticipated but that makes us wonder if Ron Washington's squad has "overachieved" the first 92 games this season?
BALTIMORE (51-42) - Not bad for a team that's nightly starting pitcher is TBD (to be determined) more times than not but this power-packed lineup has a legit long-baller in 1B Chris Davis (34 HRs and 86 RBIs) in the middle of a potent attack that's first in the AL in home runs (125) and 3rd in runs scored (444).
CLEVELAND (48-44) - Fact of the matter is the Indians have been a bit too streaky for our taste but first-year manager Terry Francona gets high marks for keeping things together with a pitching staff that ranks 12th in the AL.
KANSAS CITY (43-46) - The Royals simply have not hit (or hit with power) this year while ranking 12th in runs scored and 13th in total home runs (only 60 dingers) ... how come?
DETROIT (50-41) - So what that the Tigers sit atop the AL Central as Jim Leyland's crew has been an unimpressive lot save for 30-homer guy 3B Miguel Cabrera. No doubt that with this everyday lineup talent and some powerful arms in the starting rotation, we would have thought the Tigers would be 18-to-20 games over .500 ... agree?
SEATTLE (40-52) - The M's are heaping praise on old man Raul Ibanez and his team-leading 22 home runs but plenty has gone wrong in the great Northwest with a team that is 13th in runs scored and 10th in the AL in team ERA.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS (44-46) - No question the Angels' recent surge (winners of seven of their last 10 games) has re-invigorated this team but it remains a troubling issue that Albert Pujols is hitting just .252 with 15 home runs and that RHP Joe Blanton is nine games below .500 at a disconcerting 2-11.
TORONTO (44-47) - There's another seventy-plus games left on this 2013 docket for the Blue Jays but the first half of this year has been fraught with injuries (see SS Jose Reyes) and various pitching woes ... like why is Toronto ranked eighth in the league in team ERA with a group that includes knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, RHP Josh Johnson and lefty Mark Buehrle?
MINNESOTA (37-52) - The Twins stagger into this weekend having lost nine of their last 10 and you gotta believe this is going to be the last hurrah for long-time manager Ron Gardenhire who would sell his kingdom for a young Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
HOUSTON (32-59) - The fact that the salary-strapped 'Stros have given some teams a major tussle (see the LA Angels) keeps 'em from getting an "F" grade here.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (36-53) - One of the weakest offensive teams in memory, the Pale Hose averages a mere 3.8 runs a game and second-year manager Robin Ventura hasn't done much to generate runs outside of Adam Dunn's home runs (24 clouts in all).
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 wrap up our annual summertime NFL Team-by-Team looks of all 32 clubs. Still, be sure there's a whole lot of NCAA Football and NFL News & Notes in the days, weeks and months ahead. In today's column space we highlight the Houston Texans, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers. Take note that we list the overall team records (including post-season play) next to the team names below:
HOUSTON (13-5) - If the Texans are gonna prove to be an over-the-hump team after back-to-back years of losing in the AFC Divisional Playoff round, than their wide receivers must be a more integral part of this team. Last year it's duly noted that Houston wide outs registered a mere eight touchdowns and so draft pick WR DeAndre Hopkins - the 27th overall player tabbed in last spring's NFL Draft - must be an instant impact player and especially if veteran WR Andre Johnson remains dogged by foot, knee and other injury woes.
If you are looking for an X-factor type on this Houston offense that last year that ranked eighth in the league in rushing (132.7 ypg) and 11th in passing (239.4 ypg) than put a little check mark next to the name of Notre Dame rookie RB Cierre Wood who could wind up getting major play in short-yardage situations while spelling star RB Arian Foster.
Spread Notes - It was a tale of two seasons last year for these Texans who sprung right out of the starting gate with four consecutive pointspread victories but then Houston managed to go just 6-8 ATS (against the spread) the rest of the season.
No doubt that this AFC South crew liked its home cooking as the Texans sported a 6-3 ATS log in their own backyard and that included the 19-13 win/cover against 4-point pup Cincinnati in an AFC Wild Card Round game. On the road, Houston finished 4-5 versus the Las Vegas price tags including that 41-28 loss at 9 ½-point fav New England in an AFC Divisional Playoff Round setback.
NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7) - Now that the WR Victor Cruz contract hang-up has been resolved, the Giants are fearful that opposite WR Hakeem Nicks will become a major pain-in-the-rear with his upcoming contract talks but the fact that Nicks didn't start five games last year with various injuries could hurt his bargaining power. Still, a close examination shows that the Cruz/Nicks tandem combined for 139 receptions and 13 TDs last year for a Giants club that didn't make it to the playoffs following a Super Bowl-winning season in 2011. If the Jints are keeping fingers that both Cruz and Nicks stay healthy this year, no one can blame 'em but what will the team's prospects look like beyond that one-two receiving punch?
There are some folks in the organization that believe Rueben Randle (19 receptions and just one game start a year ago) could be a diamond-in-the-rough type after averaging a hefty 15.7 yards per grab in 2012.
Spread Notes - Last year's Giants never did get untracked en route to a 7-8-1 ATS season. Note the G-men never won or lost more than two games in succession spreadwise but this NFC East crew did split eight games in which it was declared the betting favorite at home and note the Jints went 0-6-1 spreadwise overall when scoring fewer than 20 points in a game.
In case you were wondering, the 2012 Giants failed to cover three of their four games played against AFC North competition and so that means Tom Coughlin's club is a rotten 4-8 vig-wise when facing non-conference foes the past three years.
GREEN BAY (12-6) - Last but not least on our summertime look of NFL teams, the GB Packers look to recapture yet another NFC North crown after topping Minnesota a year ago but Mike McCarthy's team has major plans to step up a ground game that finished 20th in the NFL a year ago while averaging a paltry 106.4 yards per game. Maybe the infusion of some new blood - that's Alabama rookie RB Eddie Lacy - will perk up a ground game that went AWOL in more than a few games last year
And don't think Green Bay is free of worry when it comes to defending the rush as that 183-yard rushing game by San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick in last year's playoff game in SF - we'll see if LB Clay Matthews and friends can slow agile quarterbacks this year or else that divisional crown could be out of reach.
Meanwhile, plenty of "old blood" departed the Green Bay scene this past off-season including C Jeff Saturday (released), CB/S Charles Woodson (released) and LB Desmond Bishop (also released).
Spread Notes - Overall, last year's Packers finished 10-8 versus the vig for a .556 winning rate but did you realize that Green Bay covered six-of-seven spread verdicts against fellow NFC North teams (and that included the 24-10 win/cover against 11-point underdog Minnesota in an NFC Wild Card Round game)?
Note that the Pack covered four-of-six games when placed in the favorite's role of 7-or-more points and that featured a 3-1 ATS mark when laying a double-digit price tag.
NOTE: Lots more NFL, MLB and NCAA Football News & Notes coming soon!