Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 10, 2015 at 9:46 AM
IT'S THE LAST WEEKEND BEFORE THE ALL-STAR GAME BREAK AND SO THAT MEANS IT'S TIME FOR THE MID-SEASON REPORT CARDS
MORE NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORTS AS WE CHECK IN ON THE BILLS, TITANS & PANTHERS
Fame can be fleeting - just ask the defending World Series San Francisco Giants who also won it all back in 2010 and 2012 but right here/right now have eight National League teams with better "mid-year grades" according to our Jim Sez report cards.
Okay, so maybe we are indeed "hard markers" having given the Giants only a "C" but roll through these NL Mid-Season Report Cards and we believe you'll see that we're very fair.
NATIONAL LEAGUE REPORT CARDS
ST. LOUIS (55-30) - The far-and-away best team in Major-League Baseball the first half of this 2015 campaign has shrugged off a spate of key injuries such as RHP Adam Wainwright having started just four games this year and 1B Matt Adams with just 144 at-bats and yet this club that's been to four consecutive National League Championship Series (winning two of 'em including the 2011 World Series) just keeps truckin' along with the NL's top ERA (2.65) and one of the most efficient lineups in the sport. Did you know St. Loo only ranks eighth in the NL in runs scored (339) and 12th in home runs (65)? No doubt manager Mike Metheny is fluent in English, Spanish ... and winning.
PITTSBURGH (50-34) - Give the Buccos a round of applause because the way this season began it sure looked like Clint Hurdle's club would be no better than a .500 squad but CF Andrew McCutchen (team-leading 53 RBI with a .398 on-base percentage) rounded into form and the pitching has been superb with All-Star closer Mark Melancon (28 saves) a better-than-you-think shutdown specialist. The Pirates are for real, folks!
ATLANTA (42-43) - Not often that we'll reward a .500-or-worse team with an "A" but keep in mind this whole Braves' team underwent an off-season facelift that included the night-before-the-season-started move of closer Craig Kimbrel to San Diego ... give oft-maligned manager Fredi Gonzalez lots of credit for piecing things together with ace RHP Shelby Miller (2.07 ERA) and born-again CF Cameron Maybin (43 RBI) two main keys.
ARIZONA (42-42) - It's been an excellent season for the Diamondbacks who may not have many "name" players save for All-Star 1b Paul Goldschmidt (.349 batting average with 20 HR and 68 RBI) but they score plenty of runs (an NL-best 385) and play to their hitter-friendly park. Remember the D-Backs had a season-opening 72.5 wins total in Las Vegas.
CHICAGO (46-38) - Right now the Cubbies are hanging on to that second wild card spot in the NL but the $64,000 question is can Joe Maddon's club get a strong second half from LHP Jon Lester (4-7, 3.48 ERA)? No question we've liked what we've seen from kid 3B Kris Bryant but this outfield hasn't delivered enough pop and remember the Cubs are 7-0 versus the Mets and just 39-38 against everyone else.
NEW YORK (44-42) - It's rather amazing that the Mets enter this final weekend before the All-Star Game break two games above .500 considering 3B David Wright has played just eight and this team just went more than 10 games without a dinger but that wow-wow-wow rotation starring RHP Jacob deGrom (9 wins and 2.14 ERA) could be the best in the league and the most well-positioned group with this current six-man rotation that cuts down on innings/pitches for deGrom, RHP Matt Harvey and veterans LHP Jon Niese and RHP Bartolo Colon.
WASHINGTON (46-38) - Gotta admit we're giving the Nationals the benefit of the doubt with this rather generous grade but maybe this is where Matt Williams' crew deserves to be considering the injuries but where would the D.C. gang be without All-Star OF Bryce Harper (.343, 25 HR and 60 RBI)?
LOS ANGELES (48-38) - The Dodgers have been just good enough to fend off a .500-type crowd in the NL West but for a team leading the league in home runs (109) and fourth in team ERA (3.32) should be better than a .558 crew. RHP Zack Greinke (0.89 WHIP) could have folks thinking Cy Young/MVP at year's end ... sound familiar, Dodger fans?
SAN FRANCISCO (43-43) - The Giants are 22-22 at home and 21-21 away and that's the problem ... and what's up with all the mental mistakes lately during this shaky 2-8 skid?
CINCINNATI (38-44) - The All-Star Game hosts simply have not "fired" this year and gotta believe the offense (12th in the NL in runs scored) has been a shocker with 3B Todd Frazier (25 HR and 55 RBI) a big hit but what happened to everyone else?
MILWAUKEE (37-50) - Recent hot streak catapulted the Brew Crew a grade level here and it appears in-season manager Craig Counsell has made a difference.
COLORADO (35-49) - Maybe the Rockies have spent too much damn time discussing whether or not SS Troy Tulowitzki and/or OF Carlos Gonzalez would get traded!
SAN DIEGO (39-48) - Now who would have thought with all these offensive acquisitions that the Padres would be eighth in home runs and seventh in runs scored in the NL here at the midway point? Bad and boring is no great combo, guys!
MIAMI (35-50) - The injury to OF Giancarlo Stanton is a killer but, let's face it, the Fish were rotten long before he broke his hand.
PHILADELPHIA (29-58) - Less said the better for one of MLB's most dysfunctional franchises in years.
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 1-800-323-4453 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 the baseball winners. Plus, the Football Season isn't far off as NFL Preseason action swings into gear on August 9th with the NFL Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Minnesota Vikings - can't wait, right?
NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES
Hey, it's summertime and that means the annual Jim Sez reports on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers ... and do check out our quickie pointspread ditties here too.
BUFFALO (9-7) - There are plenty of interesting characters (including new head coach Rex Ryan) on this Bills' team but one to keep a close eye on this summer is WR Percy Harvin who is telling anyone that will listen he only wants to be a wide receiver this year. The one-time return specialist and "gadget play" star has caught 52 balls worth 500 yards in the past two years - while playing in just 14 total games - but Harvin believes if he stays put as a wide out he could be a major field-flipper along with second-year star WR Sammy Watkins (65 receptions for 982 yards and 6 TDs last year). Keep in mind Harvin signed with the Bills after his former New York Jets coach Ryan inked his deal with Buffalo.
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Bills finished with a flourish going 5-1 ATS (against the spread) in the final six weeks of play but overall this AFC East squad is a dead-even but vig-losing 24-24 ATS the past three years.
TENNESSEE (2-14) - Only two AFC teams (that's Jacksonville and Oakland) scored fewer points last year than these Titans who finished up by scoring 254 points (or 15.9 ppg) and while all the preseason hype swirls around Heisman Trophy-winning rookie QB Marcus Mariota, there are some other Titans' draftees that deserve your attention this summer including WR Dorial Green-Beckham (a second-round pick from Oklahoma) and RB David Cobb (a fifth-round choice from Minnesota) as both look to infuse some energy into an offense that scored a grand total of 51 points in the team's final four games last season. If Green-Beckham - who's been plagued by both on- and off-field issues the past few years including getting booted from the Missouri team - can stay on the straight-and-narrow path this summer under new offensive coordinator Jason Michael (former tight ends coach for the San Diego Chargers) than Tennessee may have hit a real home run with this pick.
Pointspread Notes - Believe it or not, the Titans have suffered through six consecutive non-winning spread seasons (the 8-8 ATS mark in 2010 was the best during this time span) including last year's crummy 4-12 spread log. Go back to the start of 2009 and Tennessee's 34-55-4 ATS overall (a wobbly .382 winning rate).
CAROLINA (8-9-1) - It's not often that a sub-.500 record gets you a divisional title but that's what happened last year with these Panthers who won divisional road games at Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta to squeeze out a post-season berth (and then beat Arizona in an NFC Wild Card Game before losing a closer-than-it-appeared 31-17 decision at Seattle). Now, this year's Panthers realize the road will be ultra-tough with three separate back-to-back road trips including four of the final six games away. No doubt Carolina believes getting a bit more physical is the key this year and so rookies OLB Shaq Green-Thompson (Washington) and Michigan TE David Funchess (Michigan) - the team's top two draft picks - will play a huge part in attempting to upgrade the physical nature of this team that last year a middling 16th against the rush (allowed 112 yards per game on the ground).
Pointspread Notes - The Panthers have cranked out three consecutive 4-2 ATS marks in divisional play the past three years in a row. Overall, Carolina has failed to cover its season-opening game eight times in the past 11 years.
IT'S TIME FOR THE A.L. REPORT CARDS AS WE ZOOM TOWARDS THE ALL-STAR GAME BREAK
PLUS OUR NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORTS FEATURE THE CHARGERS, COWBOYS & SEAHAWKS
By Jim Hurley:
Hey, don't sit there and tell us the American League - save for a couple of teams - is a "mass of mediocrity" because we've got an all-time high three AL squads pulling down "A+" grades here in today's mid-season report card segment of Jim Sez.
That's right, the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and defending AL champ Kansas City Royals all have gone above-and-beyond expectations the unofficial first half of this 2015 MLB season but we've also handed out four "D's" and an "F" too. Okay, so it's been a bit of a wacky first 80-plus games for AL teams that featured 12 teams above-or-below .500 by seven games or less while heading into this pre-All-Star Game Weekend.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MID-YEAR REPORT CARDS
HOUSTON (49-39) - Keep in mind the Astros had an "over" 75.5 wins mark prior to the start of this season when the general consensus would be this AL West team needed another year or two of seasoning and so this has been a glorious year for the 'Stros who rank first in the league in home runs (122) and third in team ERA (3.58) and may have the frontrunner for the Cy Young in LHP Dallas Keuchel (11 wins and 0.99 WHIP) and the game's best young player that still doesn't get enough "pub" in OF George Springer (team leader in on-base and slugging percentage).
MINNESOTA (46-40) - So, who saw this coming? The Twins - who had a modest 70.5 wins mark prior to the start of the season - have been re-born behind first-year manager Paul Molitor who continues to get star performances from 1B Joe Mauer (team-best .343 on-base percentage). OF Torii Hunter (team-leading 47 RBIs) and 2B Brian Dozier (his 18 HRs leads the team) and this is not some super pitching staff either (the 3.81 ERA is only eighth in the league). The Twins do more with less and think of where they could be if young kid OF Byron Buxton didn't get hurt after just 37 at-bats.
KANSAS CITY (50-33) - Three cheers for the Royals who started off this 2015 season by engaging in a slew of brawls (did someone say it was a chip-on-the-shoulder start after all the preseason knocks on KC?) but now that things have settled down we see another great defensive team that runs the bases well, pitches great out of the pen and gets enough pop from their All-Stars and gotta send some love to manager Ned Yost who has become a real master of handling his key relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland who sport a combined 104 Ks and 37 BBs.
NEW YORK YANKEES (46-39) - Consider that RHP Masahiro Tanaka has started just 11 games and LHP CC Sabathia entered this weekend 4-8 with a bloated 5.47 ERA and still the Bombers are sitting in first place in the jumbled AL East ... c'mon. Okay, so Joe Girardi may not be a modern-day Miller Huggins or Casey Stengel but he's done a wonderful job mix-and-matching this year and surviving for a huge chunk of time without closer Andrew Miller. Perhaps 1B Mark Teixeira (22 HR and 62 RBI) deserves some mid-season MVP love.
LOS ANGELES (46-39) - Once upon a time this season it appeared the Angels who gonna fade into the Pacific Ocean but internal bickering or not (see recent resignation of GM Jerry DiPoto or not) this club has pulled itself up by its high tops to get within 1.5 games within AL West front-runner Houston and RHP Garrett Richards (club-best 9 wins) is bury writing his own comeback story. Ditto for 1B/DH Albert Pujols (26 HRs) who - dare we say - could be a 50-HR guy when all's said and done in 2015.
TAMPA BAY (43-45) - The Rays staggered into this weekend having lost nine of their last 10 and 14 of their last 17 games and thus what appeared to be an "A" or this club was chopped down a full grade with the pitching staff starting to grumble about the way rookie manager Kevin Cash handles his bullpen.
BALTIMORE (43-42) - The Orioles have been super streaky (now have lost eight of last 10) and we keep thinking Buck Showalter's squad should be better than this especially considering RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (7 wins and team-best 2.81 ERA) is enjoying an epic bounce-back season.
TORONTO (44-44) - Our pick to get to this year's World Series sports the league's top run differential (plus 82) but that dawgone starting rotation is a mess with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey at 3-10 with a 4.87 ERA and with righty Drew Hutchison pitching to a 5.33 ERA (and he's 8-2!). Where would Canada's club be without 3B Josh Donaldson (.299, 21 HR and 60 RBI)?
TEXAS (41-44) - Would have liked to give the Rangers a little bump up in this grade but fact of matter is AL West squad dropped five in a row heading into Friday's game versus San Diego and putrid 15-24 home record a killer.
DETROIT (44-41) - Suffice to say, the Tigers' "window of opportunity" to win it all could be gone as this only-average club has been dragging its way through the season with a minus 3 runs differential and lots of question marks on a staff that ranks 13th in the AL in ERA (4.19).
CLEVELAND (41-44) - Where are all the folks that forecast a World Series appearance this year from the Indians? Terry Francona's club has been sabotaged by an un-Cy Young season from Cory Kluber (4-9, 3.45 ERA) and a real power outage as Tribe bats rank just 12th in the league in home runs.
CHICAGO (39-44) - Another popular preseason pick, the Chisox have been LHP Chris Sale (see 147 Ks and 0.94 WHIP), 1B Jose Abreu (.296, 14 HR and 45 RBI) and a cast of nobodies.
BOSTON (41-45) - Hey, we could have told you back in March that the starting rotation would be rotten and who knew if LF Hanley Ramirez and 3B Pablo Sandoval would "fit"?
OAKLAND (39-49) - Last year the A's were the only AL team to nab an "A+" grade in our Jim Sez mid-year report grades and so this blow-'em-up experiment by GM Billy Beane just blew up in his grill.
SEATTLE (40-46) - Are we being unduly harsh on the Mariners who were supposed to be a borderline 90-win team and instead are 19-25 at home, minus 42 in runs differential and are 35-45 on grass.
NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES
Hey, it's summertime and that means the annual Jim Sez reports on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the San Diego Chargers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks ... and do check out our quickie pointspread ditties here too.
SAN DIEGO (9-7) - Is it us or have there been a plethora of performance-enhancing drug suspensions that have come down the pike in recent weeks? The Chargers have their PED woes with the recent word that veteran TE Antonio Gates - a 12-year NFL veteran - will miss the first four games of this 2015 season and so that means TE Ladarius Green will get plenty of attention this summer from QB Philip Rivers and backups. P.S., first game back for Gates will be the Week 5 Monday Night Football tilt against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pointspread Notes - The SD Chargers actually started off last year with five consecutive spread wins but wound up going an ugly 7-9 ATS (against the spread) and if you date back to the start of the 2011 season you'll see the Bolts are just 31-34-1 ATS and that includes an 0-6 spread mark in divisional play last season.
DALLAS (13-5) - Okay, Cowboys fans, happy now? New DE Greg Hardy had his 10-game suspension reduced to only four games on Friday and so all the doomsayers when it comes to the much-publicized WR Dez Bryant contract issue can breathe a little easier on that front. Hardy now hopes to bolster a Dallas team that registered only 28 sacks a year ago and raise your hand if you knew Jeremy Mincey's six sacks led last year's team. Now, the Cowboys are tinkering with the idea Mincey will shift from defensive end to defensive tackle now that both Hardy and second-round draftee DE Randy Gregory (Nebraska) are expected to be new/integral parts of this year's stop unit.
Pointspread Notes - The Cowboys are a miserable 15-32-1 ATS as betting favorites since the start of the 2010 campaign but did you remember that Dallas covered five of its last six games overall a year ago including that gut-wrenching 26-21 loss-but-cover at Green Bay in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
SEATTLE (14-5) - Gotta admit that we're beginning to tire of all this QB Russell Wilson contract status talk ... aren't you? The hidden factor here is the Seahawks - set to pay Wilson only $1.54 million this year - do need to improve the backup quarterback position unless you think B.J. Daniels or Tarvaris Jackson are the answers. In fact, look for Settle to spend some time later this month working out a couple of other journeymen-type signal-callers but we believe the Wilson Saga will work itself out sooner rather than later. One other Seahawks note: Last year's club ranked first in the NFL in passing defense (allowed 185.6 ypg) but calls to gobble up secondary help min the draft were left unheeded until CB Tye Smith (Towson State) was nabbed in Round 5 ... we wonder if the 'Hawks should have grabbed a DB earlier.
Pointspread Notes - Last year's Seahawks actually covered seven consecutive games before failing to cover the NFC Championship Game versus Green Bay and then the Super Bowl versus New England. Note that Seattle is 25-15 in its last 40 games when in the favorite's role.
NOTE: Stay tuned for all the latest College Football and NFL Updates all summer long right here at Jim Sez plus we'll get you ready for the Baseball All-Star Game the beginning of next week.