Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM
OUR MID-WEEK BASEBALL UPDATE:
THE SECOND-HALF TEAMS TO WATCH (AND WE’VE GOT OUR EYES ON THE INDIANS AND THE PIRATES!)…
PLUS IT’S ANOTHER INSTALLMENT OF OUR NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM SUMMER QUICK-HITTERS AS WE TRACK THE BILLS, BRONCOS & BEARS
By Jim Hurley
The Major-League Baseball All-Star Game doesn’t get here till July 15th—the National League and American League stars will be bucking heads in Minnesota on that summer night—but we know you’ve been checking the standings each/every day and know that we really are beyond the season’s halfway point at this stage.
So, we ask our annual "Jim Sez" question:
Who are the “teams to watch” now that we’re playing back half of the 162-game skeds?
Here’s two teams worth your second-half-of-the-season attention:
CLEVELAND (39-43)—Ignore the Indians at your own risk, folks.
The fact that Terry Francona is one of the few “A+” managers in the sport makes Cleveland a dangerous team on a night-in and night-out basis but then consider the following:
The Indians sport a better-than-you-think rotation with RHP Corey Kluber (7-6, 2.99 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), who is the real ace on this staff. Kluber was a hard-luck 1-0 loser to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past Monday night but he’s been a real stopper for this squad and don’t sleep on the likes of RHPs Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin, who figure to produce better second-half numbers after pitching to respective ERAs of 5.03 and 3.78 in the season’s first 80-plus games.
The real key to the Indians is the power numbers need to rise—right now the Tribe’s eighth in the AL in home runs (74) and something tells us Cleveland’s gonna be in the market for a big bat real soon. Might Philadelphia OF Marlon Byrd be on the Indians’ radar right about now?
Cleveland should be one of a handful of AL teams battling for one of those wild card spots—you watch!
PITTSBURGH (42-40)—Funny how baseball works.
For the past two years we “warned” you that the Pirates were liable to show major slippage in the back half of the baseball season, but last year the Buccos zinged us and wound up making it into the playoffs as a wild card team and gave St. Louis major fits in the National League Division Series.
Now, we’ve got Clint Hurdle’s crew on our Jim Sez radar screen as a “team to watch” in a good way and—ironically enough—it’s the fact that Pittsburgh now has that hardened nature sharpened by a playoff race a year ago that we see as a major positive.
Know what else is a major positive?
The Pirates now have—arguably, we’ll admit—the best outfield in the bigs with defending NL Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen (48 RBI and a .418 on-base percentage) surrounded by the likes of LF Starling Marte and RF Gregory Polanco. Once upon a time, an opposing pitcher could pick his spots in this Pittsburgh lineup but no more as these three outfielders along with the likes of 3B Pedro Alvarez (13 HR, 42 RBI) makes this a tough lineup to navigate.
Toss into the mix the fact that the Pirates—at least we don’t think—will blow 14-of-40 save opportunities as was the case in the season’s first half and you have all the needed ingredients to make Pittsburgh a “team to watch” and don’t even discount ‘em from winning the NL Central even though they entered Tuesday’s action a seemingly whopping eight full games back of division leader Milwaukee.
And now hear this…
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 at www.vegassportsmasters.com 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 on August 3rd with the NFL Hall of Fame Game between the New York Giants versus the Buffalo Bills—can’t wait!
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NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES
It’s summertime and that means the annual Jim Sez report on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears… and check out our quickie pointspread ditties too:
BUFFALO—Last year’s Bills finished 6-10 SU (straight-up), but then what else did you expect from a team that’s gone 6-10 in each of the past three years and four of the past five seasons?
If there is any getting out of that double-digit loss malaise (yes, the Bills have lost 10-or-more games in each of the past five years now) then second-year signal-caller EJ Manuel must lead ‘em out of the wilderness.
Manuel has shown some major growth since last year when he often appeared confused as Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett claimed recently that the former Florida State slinger “is really starting to get it all”, but Hackett did admit that Manuel’s accuracy must improve one year after he threw 11 TDs but 9 INTs.
Pointspread Notes—Since late in the 2011 season, Buffalo is 9-17 ATS (against the spread) when in the underdog role (a .231 winning rate) but note the Bills are a collective 7-3 spreadwise in their last 10 head-to-head meetings with fellow AFC East squads.
DENVER—No doubt the Broncos’ fabulous 2013 season was stained badly by that 43-8 loss to mighty Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, but remember that QB Peyton Manning and Company outscored regular-season opponents by a whopping 207 points (606-to-399) and now Denver believes TE Julius Thomas is just starting to hit his stride.
Last year Thomas nabbed 65 receptions worth 788 yards and 10 TDs, but now Manning believes his still-growing tight end will recognize more defensive coverages and be able to improvise for more big-gainer plays in 2014.
Pointspread Notes—The Broncos have covered 12 of their 19 home games in the two-year Manning Era thus far, although that does included two-of-three post-season pointspread setbacks to Baltimore in the 2012 season and last year in a 24-17 non-cover win against 9-point dog San Diego in an AFC Divisional Playoff game.
CHICAGO—The Bears were one of six NFL teams that finished last year with a dead-even 8-8 SU record, but none of those .500 teams scored more than Chicago’s 445 points (or 27.8 ppg average).
For all the talk about QBs Jay Cutler and Josh MCown, who combined for 32 TDs and only 13 INTs in 2013, it was dynamic and do-it-all RB Matt Forte that really shined with his career-best 1,993 yards from scrimmage as then first-year offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer neatly mixed in Forte’s favorite run calls with downfield chucks by Cutler/McCown.
Maybe the best single stat involving Forte was the fact the former Tulane star lost only two fumbles in 289 rushes while accounting for 74 of the team’s 102 rushing first downs.
If he stays healthy this year, Forte should top his 363 “touches” from a year ago and right now the rumblings are he’s gonna get the ball plenty.
Pointspread Notes—It’s no secret that the Bears have been bad as bets inside the rough-and-tumble NFC North as last year Chicago covered just once in six divisional duels and overall the Chitowners are an ugly 14-23 ATS versus Detroit/Green Bay/Minnesota while dating back to the start of the 2008 season.
NOTE: More NFL team-by-team quick hitters in the next edition of Jim Sez.