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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 10:05 AM

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By Jim Hurley:

The New York Yankees (39-33) have been – pretty much – treading water for the majority of the first two-plus months of this here-and-now Major-League Baseball season but something happened at the start of this late spring/early summer week:

They started playing the American League East again and they also started winning.

The Yankees brought out the brooms to sweep division-leading Toronto to start the week – the straight set scores were 3-1, 7-3 and 6-4 – and then came Friday’s “magic moment” as OF/DH Carlos Beltran walloped a three-run, two-out, walk-off home run to bash Baltimore 5-3 and hats off to Yanks’ play-by-play man Michael Kay for calling it Beltran’s “signature moment” in his albeit brief Yankees career but consider the entire bottom of the ninth inning when Orioles’ closer Zach Britton just couldn’t close the deal – a single by LF Brett Gardner, a two-out walk to 1B Mark Teixeira, an RBI single by catcher Brian McCann and then that 400-plus foot dinger that turned Yankee Stadium into an official asylum.

Don’t look now but the Bombers entered Saturday’s game 15-9 in divisional play and that’s better than anyone in the AL East and now comes news that the Yanks are “real players” in the trade market for a starting pitcher whether it be Chicago Cubs’ righty Jeff Samardzija or teammate RHP Jason Hammel.

The Yanks have much more ahead when it comes to AL East showdowns – note that Joe Girardi’s team is in Toronto to start the new week and then come home for a weekend set against the Boston Red Sox and then sagging Tampa Bay comes to New York City next – maybe just getting away from those other divisions (the Yanks are 4-6 against the AL Central and 10-11 versus the AL West) was the proper medicine for the team that wears the pinstripes.

No doubt you read the words “chaos” or “disarray” when it comes to Thursday’s NBA Draft now that it’s been announced seven-foot Kansas C Joel Embiid has a stress fracture in his right foot … did someone out there utter the name Greg Oden?

Okay, so maybe now the Cleveland Cavaliers do go to a “Plan B” here and skip Embiid for either Duke star Jabari Parker or Kansas G Andrew Wiggins – we need a bit more time to digest this whole top-of-the-draft situation and we’ll get to it prior to our Jim Sez Mick Draft next week but in today’s column space we wanted to address a handful of expected first-round draftees and give out personal “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to them here and so let’s roll …

AARON GORDON, F, ARIZONA – This jumping jack 6-foot-9, 225-pounder has been strongly rumored to be heading to Boston with the draft’s sixth overall pick but might that have been a smoke screen by Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge? The fact of the matter is Gordon may need a few years to develop his unpolished game and the question is do the teams picking in the top 10 have the luxury of time on their side when they nab a so-called project? Hey, the kid has great raw talent but in terms of a top 10 pick, we give ‘em a “thumbs down” and would look for him to go in the #11-thru-13 area.

DOUG McDERMOTT, F, CREIGHTON – We’ve been saying all along (and for years now, actually) that if NBA teams get a shot at drafting a four-year college player with star talent, take ‘em. Okay, so not everybody out there in the hoops world is gonna be the next Tim Duncan who played four years at Wake Forest and has gone on to become one of the NBA’s 10 greatest players (and a five-time champion!). Still, McDermott was a star scorer in college and really punctuated matters with a stellar senior year inside the Big East and we believe his offensive game will translate to the proverbial next level ... so thumbs up for McDermott and here’s hoping aforementioned Boston at #6 makes him its pick.

ADREIAN PAYNE, F, MICHIGAN STATE – Gotta admit we’re not sure why this former Sparty star is on most folks’ draft board somewhere in the 12-to-15 pick area … he should be higher. Payne can board with the best of ‘em, has a legit top-of-the-lane jump shot and sure as heck can nail his free throws (not every big man in the NBA can say the same, you know!) and if we were picking somewhere in the 6-7-8 spots we’d have Payne right at the top of our lists. Thumbs up to the four-year player who might be the right man for the Los Angeles Lakers at draft pick #7.

P.J. HAIRSTON, G, NORTH CAROLINA – Let’s touch on this former Tar Heels star who is slated to go somewhere in the draft’s 20-thru-25 picks. We give Hairston a “thumbs down” based on the fact he’s only an average shooter (see 43.1 percent from the floor last year) and generally runs too hot-and-cold for our tastes. Talent? Sure, but why pick him in the mid-to-late first round when better, more-rounded players are available. Who would you take, for example, at pick #22 or #23: Hairston or Duke’s Rodney Hood? We’d go Blue Devil here.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are banging outs lots of winners in Major-League Baseball these days and all you need to do is check in either right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 any time after 1 p.m. Eastern time for the weeknight action, after 11 a.m. ET for 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!

Roll this one ‘round your brain for a moment or two: Last year there were only four NFL teams that started off the season at 7-to-1 or less to win it all and, dang, all four of those teams were standing come the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Okay, so the likes of Denver (+ 400-to-$100), New England (+ 550) and San Francisco (+ 470) all came up short in their quest to raise the famed Vince Lombardi but the Seattle Seahawks (+ 700) snagged their first-ever Super Bowl crown.

Now, the Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX are out and here’s the top two favorites in each conference right now – and, surprise, surprise, it’s the same four teams:

DENVER (+ 475) – The Broncos had a storybook season in 2013 until that embarrassing 43-8 loss to Seattle at MetLife Stadium … now that one could sting for a lifetime. The fact of the matter is the last time a Super Bowl loser came back to win it all the following year was in the 1972 when the perfect Miami Dolphins came off a Super Bowl loss to beat Washington 14-7 in SB VII, so it’s been awhile. The Broncos have plenty of weapons, the offensive and defensive lines should be improved and no doubt QB Peyton Manning remains the greatest regular-season slinger in league history but should Denver really be the favorite among AFC sides to win it all?

SEATTLE (+ 500) – While we’re at it, the last time a Super Bowl champion repeated the following year was the 20004 New England Patriots who beat (but didn’t cover) Philadelphia 24-21 one year after an Adam Vinatieri FG beat Carolina in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have the youth, the depth and the quarterback to win it all once again … do they have that same hunger? The Seahawks may be a veritable monster at home but will it get home-field advantage throughout the post-season this time around?

SAN FRANCISCO (+ 600) – The 49ers have been to three straight NFC Championship Games with one Super Bowl appearance in that mix during the Jim Harbaugh Era but there’s been no Super Bowl title for this NFC West crew since the 1994 season. Maybe those rumors are true that the Niner players are getting a bit “tired” of Harbaugh’s rants but you gotta admit this is – top-to-bottom – one of the NFL’s top two or three teams and they really haven’t gotten a major break along the way these past three seasons. Hmmm. Tell us right here and right now that the 49ers are gonna beat Seattle twice – yes, a tall order, indeed – and we’ll put San Fran at the top of the Odds to Win it All chart.

NEW ENGLAND (+ 700) -- It’s now been nearly a full decade since the last time the Patriots won it all and while the defense has gotten younger/quicker in the past two years, there’s still lots of warts on the stop unit plus – believe it or not – QB Tom Brady ain’t getting any younger. Might the Pats be overpriced in the win it all odds this year? If New England can steal a win or two in tough enemy settings, we could see Bill Belichick’s club win 13 or 14 games – and this time the AFC Championship Game would be in Foxboro and not in Denver.

NOTE: Remember the NBA Draft is set for next Thursday, June 26th and we’ll have previews/coverages all through the next several days plus there’s more Baseball News/Notes comin’ soon in these Jim Sez columns. Our Jim Sez NBA Mock Draft comes your way in Wednesday’s column, so don’t miss out!

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