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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM




By Jim Hurley

Okay, so it’s no secret that scoring is way down in the bigs this year—the no-hitters thrown by Los Angeles Dodgers’ stars Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw and San Francisco RHP Tim Lincecum were the real gold-star specials among moundsmen this first half of the 2014 Major-League Baseball season—but you watch “MLB Tonight” on the MLB Network or “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN and all those guys seem to talk about are the likes of Kershaw and New York Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez.

How, those dudes are terrific and everything but it’s high time we spread the word about three of this year’s more important starting pitchers who aren’t necessarily getting much media “love” these days—even if none of ‘em appear to be household names outside their own households!

Here’s the short list …

GARRETT RICHARDS, RHP, LOS ANGELES ANGELS—Now who knew at season’s start that this 26-year-old from nearby Riverside (Ca.) would be the most important pitcher in the American League West’s rat race for first place?

Richards (9-2, 2.81 ERA) earned his latest win with an 8-4 triumph over the Chicago White Sox in the first game of Tuesday’s twin-bill in Chitown and in typical Richards fashion he showed lots of fight after a truly frustrating first inning.

The Angels’ hurler surrendered a three-run home run in the bottom of the first inning to slugger Jose Abreu and then  proceeded to batten down the proverbial hatches as his stat line featured 3 runs allowed on 2 hits over 8 innings with 9 Ks and 2 BBs (both of ‘em preceding Abreu’s three-run ding-dong).

The fact is you’ve heard precious little about Richards this year and yet—go ahead and ask long-time Halos manager Mike Scioscia—and you’ll probably get an answer that says Richards has been his team’s most important player through his team’s first 80-plus games and that includes do-it-all OF Mike Trout.

When you awoke yesterday morning, there were the Angels at 47-35 and just 3 ½ games behind the Oakland A’s for the top spot in the star-studded AL West (and firmly in control of one of the league’s two wild card berths). Now consider that Richards—alone—is seven games above the .500 mark and all the other Angels’ pitchers are a combined five games above the break-even mark.

Hey, we’ve noticed, Mr. Richards!

Next start figures to come Sunday at home against the gritty Houston Astros.

HENDERSON ALVAREZ, RHP, MIAMI MARLINS—You do remember that Miami mega-star righty Jose Fernandez was lost for the season way back in early-to-mid May but did you realize the Fish have been staying afloat in the National League East thanks in large part to the pitching of this 24-year-old Venezuelan?

In fact, Alvarez exited his latest start—a 5-4, 11-inning home win against Philadelphia this past Tuesday night—with a tidy 2.33 ERA for the year and an underrated 5-3 record and did you know the Marlins have won each of his last nine starts now?

Alvarez—who allowed two runs and seven hits over seven innings against the visiting Phillies the other night—didn’t know it when Fernandez first went down, but he became the “glue guy” of a rotation that includes real no-names Nathan Eovaldi, Tom Koehler and new kid on the block LHP Andrew Heaney.

Maybe the national media at large hasn’t given Alvarez much “love” (or even paid all that much attention to a 40-43 Marlins team that is very much in playoff contention) but we’re here to tell you he’s helped Jim Hurley’s Network® cash a few plays this year and he’s kept the Marlins right in the race for both the NL East lead and/or one of the two wild cards. Bravo!

The next on-the-mound challenge for Alvarez should come Sunday in St. Louis—with this sort of streak do you really want to bet against him?


Name the three NL pitchers with 10-or-more wins while entering yesterday’s action …

If you said St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Zach Greinke and the aforementioned Mr. Simon (10-3) then you win!

Now Wainwright and Greinke being on that short list of double-digit winning pitchers in the senior circuit is no surprise at all but Simon’s been one of the top feel-good stories in baseball this year—the 33-year-old Dominican Republic native exited last Saturday’s start in San Francisco with a dandy 2.81 ERA this year and note his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 64-to-24 in 102.2 innings.

No doubt the early-season injury that sidelined RHP Mat Latos till recently had Cincinnati fans a bit twitchy about parts of its starting rotation but Simon’s been a stud and yet all you really hear about him is that he’s been a journeyman who came out of nowhere—when he winds up very high on the leader board of NL Cy Young finishers this October/November then you’ll note he was getting a “standing O” from us midway through the 2014 season.

Next time you figure to see Simon on the hill is Friday night’s home game against the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Welcome to the big stage, ‘Fredo!

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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 Cincinnati Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles … and check out our quickie pointspread ditties too:

CINCINNATI—There were some question in/around the Queen City as to whether or not the Bengals should have tabbed a cornerback with their first-round draft pick back in May.

After all, the Bengals last year did rank first in the NFL in pass defense while yielding just 122 aerial yards a game but there was Thorpe Award-winning CB Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State still sitting there late in Round I and so the AFC North crew pounced on ‘em even though there might have been other issues to address (such as a porous rush defense that last season allowed 196 yards a game to rank next-to-last in the rankings.

According to Bengals’ defensive backs coach Vance Joseph, Dennard is not an absolute lead-pipe cinch to start from Day One, but Cincinnati’s loved what it has seen so far and recently Joseph praised him for being “a winner”.

The Bengals will open their 2014 season in Baltimore where Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco—for sure—will test Dennard and note there’s a date with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for this whole Cincy secondary come Week 5.

Pointspread Notes—The Bengals are a shabby 6-10-1 ATS (against the spread) when facing fellow AFC North foes the past three years and that includes a truly subpar 2-3-1 ATS mark against the Cleveland Browns.

TAMPA BAY—The good news for the 2013 Bucs is that they split their four games played against the AFC East with wins against Miami and Buffalo.
The bad news is that Tampa Bay won only twice in 12 NFC games and note that the Bucs scored 21+ points in only four of those intra-conference affairs.
Now, word comes down the pike that Tampa Bay plans on a “running back by committee” approach this season even though it’s been established that Doug Martin is the unquestioned starter one year after he rushed for only 456 yards in six games in an injury-plagued campaign.

The other “committee” members include Mike James, Bobby Rainey and 2014 draftee Charles Sims (Houston) who is considered third-down back more than anything else for these Bucs.

Pointspread Notes—Tampa Bay’s alternated winning/losing spread seasons the past five years as the Bucs have gone 6-10, 9-5-2, 4-12, 9-7 and 6-10 ATS since 2009 … so should Buc backers expect a profitable season here in 2014? Note that TB’s 12-26-2 spreadwise overall at home since the start of that aforementioned ’09 season and that equates into a crummy .316 winning rate.

PHILADELPHIA—Bad news for the Birds this week as RT Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four games of this upcoming 2014 season after he violated the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The NFC East team was able to start the same exact offensive line last year for all 16 regular-season games last year but that’s not gonna happen now in ’14 as Johnson’s suspension delivers a major body blow to Chip Kelly’s club.

It’s expected that Allen Barbre—a 6-foot-4, 320-pounder who ably filled in at times last year for LT Jason Peters—will step in and fill the temporary void but the Eagles will be eyeballing others at the position as well.

Last year’s Eagles copped the NFC East with a 10-6 mark before getting eliminated in the wild card round by New Orleans and Johnson was a key figure for a blocking wall the enabled QB Nick Foles (2,891 yards passing with 27 TDs and 2 INTs) to enjoy a banner year.

Pointspread Notes—The Eagles are just 11-21-1 ATS overall the past two years but take note that Philly’s a tasty 7-2-1 ATS in its last 10 head-to-head games against the archrival New York Giants. P.S., note the Eagles ended last season having failed to cover four of their final six games and that includes the aforementioned 26-24 home loss to the 3-point underdog Saints.

Note: Gear up for your 4th of July weekend with our MLB News & Notes plus more NFL team-by-team glances in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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