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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 12:05 PM

There used to be an old saying in Major-League Baseball that the teams leading their leagues come the 4th of July usually -we repeat, usually -were there come the World Series but nowadays with multiple playoff tiers (not to mention two wild cards in each league now) you do have to wonder if that old adage has gone the way of the typewriter.

Well, just for fun on this grand ole 4th of July, we'll take a look at the best team winning percentage-wise right now in both the American and National Leagues and wonder aloud if they'll be bucking heads come the World Series this October/November (records through Monday's games):

In the AL, it's ...

TEXAS RANGERS (50-30, .625) -No doubt the Rangers have been in a"been-there, done-that" mode come World Series time but back-to-back Fall Classic losses to San Francisco and St. Louis have soured this team's moods the past two years.

Is this the year the Rangers get to the World Series ... and win it?

Okay, so first things first: The Rangers -who somehow are 13-13 against fellow AL West teams but a rousing 37-17 against the rest of Major-League Baseball -lead the junior circuit in runs scored (427) and right now rank third in the league in total home runs (100) but consider it's just now heating up weather-wise in the great Lone Star State and so lots more baseballs will be flying over the fences in the coming weeks.

Heck, everyone knows all about this team's offense and the bench depth is terrific but here's the key number at this mid-way stage of the 2012 season:

Texas right now ranks 4th in the AL in team ERA (3.69) and that's quite an accomplishment considering the offensive nature of The Ballpark at Arlington and the many questions that surrounded this staff while heading into the current campaign.

Gut feeling: The Rangers will be back to defend their back-to-back AL titles but probably will have to gut out a long series against either the New York Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays just to get there.

In the NL, it's ...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS (45-32, .584) -Right now the best NL squad out there hails from the nation's capital and so the $64,000 question can this young-and-spunky team make it into the post-season and than withstand the rigors of October baseball? Hmm. We'll get back to you on that one!

Note that the Nats really wow you with their pitching -the staff ranks first in the NL in team ERA (3.19) and with a rotation that boasts both RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 2.81 ERA) and fellow All-Star LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-3, 3.01 ERA) the fact of the matter is the likes of RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2.77 ERA) and righty Edwin Jackson (3.57 ERA) have been fine as"back-enders" and the bullpen's been tremendous.

True, the Nationals rank only 11th in the NL in runs scored (316) and so that could put a real strain on the Washington pen come the post-season but veteran manager Davey Johnson has been great with doling out the innings -and the rest between appearances -and there is little doubt that Washington sports the best young everyday talent in this NL East.

Gut feeling: The summer's too long and too hot in D.C. for all these kids to shine all season long and, while the Nats should nab a first-ever playoff berth, we don't believe they'll"hold up their end of the bargain" when it comes to making it to this year's World Series.

Come back and yell at us if we're wrong!

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to crush the folks in Las Vegas with all the Major-League Baseball Winners -so sign up today and get it all with Sides & Totals Winners. You can get baseball FREE when you sign up for the NFL Preseason. Just be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily and nightly MLB winners.

NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM CAPSULES

LET'S GO AHEAD AND CHECK OUT THE PATS, PANTHERS & RAMS

Nope, we don't take off on holidays and so let us roll on with our continuing coverage of all 32 NFL teams. On today's busy pigskin menu, we bring you the New England Patriots, the Carolina Panthers and the St. Louis Rams:

NEW ENGLAND -Here's the $64,000 question that's ganging around the greater Foxborough area these days: Is there gonna be a"hangover" for this year's NE Patriots following last year's painful 21-17 Super Bowl loss to the 3-point underdog New York Giants? No doubt that the Pats -who, for the record, have not won a Super Bowl since that win against Carolina to cap the 2004 NFL season -clunked through the off-season with little fanfare save for the fact Bill Belichick's crew used defensive players in each of the team's six draft picks including grabbing DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse), ILB Don't'a Hightower (Alabama) and FS Tavon Wilson (Illinois) among the draft's top 48 picks and maybe the new blood will pep up a defense that last season ranked next-to-last in pass defense (293.9 yards per game) and 30th overall. Hey, at least the Pats can't cry about this year's schedule as New England will play just four teams that boasted better-than-.500 records a year ago.

CAROLINA -The good news last year for the Panthers was that this gritty NFC South squad found itself in just about every game ... the bad news is that Ron Rivera's squad lost 5-of-6 games decided by 7 points-or-less and so a major challenge this year is for Carolina to"finish the job" but improving the team's rush defense that ranked 27th in the NFL last year (allowed 130.8 ypg) and keeping QB Cam Newton (4,051 yards passing and 706 yards rushing) in one piece over the span of 16 regular-season games will be major challenges. Meanwhile, it's interesting to note that the start of this 2012 season really ain't gonna be easy for Carolina: In the first month the Panthers play all three of their NFC South Division foes -and they're at Tampa Bay in Week 1 and at Atlanta in Week 4 action -with home games sandwiched in between against New Orleans and the defending Super Bowl champion NY Giants ... Might an 0-4 SU (straight-up) start await the Carolina kids?

ST. LOUIS -The Rams snapped up four of the NFL Draft's top 50 picks back in April with LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers (at #14 overall) the real pick of the litter but it's quite possible that Appalachian State WR Brian Quick (#33), North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins (pick #39) and Cincinnati's do-it-all RB Isaiah Pead (at #50) all will make contributions to this 2-14 team that was painfully depth-shy a year ago. Okay, so St. Loo QB Sam Bradford just has to stay healthy and he has to have time to throw but already one of his intended targets -TE Brody Eldridge -will be missing at season's start as he has been suspended for the first four games because he violated the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. Finally, note that last year's sad-sack Rams team finished next-to-last in the NFL in rush defense -they allowed a whopping 151.7 yards per game on the ground -and so expect more eight-men-in-the-box moves here by new head coach Jeff Fisher's team that must clog the holes early or get run over roughshod one mo' time.

Here's a little NFL"holiday extra" as we present last year's Top 5 Pointspread squads -and then the Bottom 5 Pointspread teams (and note all records below include post-season games):

THE TOP 5 SPREAD SIDES IN 2011

TEAM ATS PCT.
New Orleans 13-5-0 .722
San Francisco 12-5-1 .706
Seattle 11-5-0 .688
Houston 11-5-2 .688
Green Bay 11-6-0 .647

... AND THE BOTTOM 5 SPREAD SIDES IN 2011

TEAM ATS PCT
St. Louis 3-12-1 .200
Tampa Bay 4-12-0 .250
Dallas 5-10-1 .333
Indianapolis 6-10-0 .375
San Diego 6-10-0 .375


NOTE: There's more NFL Team-by-Team Capsules in the next Jim Sez as we bring you a post-holiday"Six-Pack" -it's don't miss goodies all week/weekend long.

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