Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 17, 2015 at 9:53 AM
BASEBALL'S BACK!!! THE SEASON'S UNOFFICIAL SECOND HALF GETS ROLLIN' TODAY/TONIGHT AND WE CHECK OUT THE TOP WEEKEND SERIES INCLUDING A DODGERS-NATS SHOWDOWN
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL UPDATE: AUBURN'S THE PICK TO WIN THE SEC (BUT IS THAT A GOOD THING FOR WAR EAGLE?)
NFL NEWS & NOTES: THE HARD KNOCKS GANG IS COMING!
By Jim Hurley:
Did this week feel like a really sloooooow sports time without any Major-League Baseball the past couple of days?
It did to us!
Still, gotta admit it's nice to get Baseball back on the front-and-center stage for the unofficial second half of this 2015 season beginning with Friday's action - the first half of a day/night doubleheader between the Kansas City and the host Chicago White Sox actually gets things heated up 'round 2:10 p.m. ET come Friday afternoon -- and then it's a full card at night.
Plus, don't think we haven't been getting tuned up for the upcoming College Football and 2015 NFL campaigns too - don't sweat it, they'll be here before you know it - as there is great anticipation for this gridiron season and be sure we'll have lots of Football News & Notes in these coming weeks right here at Jim Sez.
Heck, there's both College and Pro Football goodies in today's column space, so get a pigskin taste today!
In any event, we get things jump-started on this July weekend with three (3) big baseball series, so here goes ...
In the National League, it's ...
LOS ANGELES (51-39) at WASHINGTON (48-39) - Fri (on MLB Network), Sat & Sun
Here's the only come-out-of-the-All-Star-Game weekend set pitting divisional leaders and this should be a doozy series in the nation's capital where All-Stars LHP Clayton Kershaw and Midsummer Classic starter RHP Zack Greinke along with Nationals All-Star RHP Max Scherzer each will get a start ... good stuff.
The fact of the matter is all eyes are on Matt Williams' D.C. gang that never could get its footing in the first half of this season while failing to put real separation between 'em and the gritty New York Mets in the NL East (the Nats hold a two-game lead as we head into play tonight). Injuries have been a real issue for the Nationals who should be averaging better than 4.27 runs per game - maybe OF Jayson Werth can finally get some at-bats in this series by Saturday or Sunday and the Nats are keeping fingers crossed that SS Ian Desmond will improve on a stat line that includes a .211 batting average with just 7 home runs and 24 RBI in 84 games.
The Kershaw/Greinke battles with Washington's All-Star OF Bryce Harper (.339 BA, 26 HR and 61 RBI) is "must-watch" stuff.
On the flip side, the visiting Dodgers come into this series as the NL's top home-run hitting team (113) with All-Star Game OF Joc Pederson (team-leading .364 on-base percentage with 20 dingers) a real headline-stealer but it has not escaped our attention that the Dodgers are a sub-.500 road team (see 18-22) this year.
NEW YORK METS (47-42) at ST. LOUIS (56-33) - Fri, Sat & Sun
Baseball's best team in the first half of this season - the St. Loo Cardinals - did enter the break on that three-game losing skid in Pittsburgh and so Mike Methany's crew looks to right the ship from the get-go here and be aware that no Card pitchers will be tired after All-Stars RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Carlos Martinez and closer RHP Trevor Rosenthal all stayed glued to the bench in Tuesday's tilt in Cincinnati ... hmmm.
The Cardinals also get a major break here as they won't be facing either All-Star Game star RHP Jacob deGrom (three Ks on 10 pitches the other night in Cincy) or former All-Star Game starter RHP Matt Harvey - both will go in NYM's next series in Washington.
In the American League, it's ...
BALTIMORE (44-44) at DETROIT (44-44) - Fri, Sat & Sun
It just doesn't look right that both the Orioles and the Tigers are entering the second half of the here-and-now season with identical .500 records ... the real question is which team is the bigger disappointment thus far (note the O's had an 82.5 "over" wins total while the Tigers entered the year with an 84.5 wins total projection).
Baltimore All-Star 3B Manny Machado - who doubled in Tuesday's game - will get to challenge All-Star Game winner LHP David Price in Saturday's tilt and that'll be fun stuff but the $64,000 question here is will Detroit show a bit more oomph in the season's second half after the Tigers hit just 86 home runs in the first half (only eighth-best in the AL).
Are either one of these teams gonna get "powered up" in the season's second half ... or are last year's AL East and AL Central division winners doomed to a season of mediocrity?
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT
Are you ready for another run at the national title by the Auburn Tigers?
We're wondering 'cause the SEC media just weighed in this week and the voting says Auburn will win the conference - just keep in mind that 18 times in the last 23 years the media know-it-alls have been wrong - but the bottom line is Gus Malzahn's crew is expected to enjoy another monster season just two years removed from its last opportunity to win it all (see Florida State 34, Auburn 31). The funny thing about Auburn in recent years - at least from a pointspread standpoint - is that War Eagle has been your proverbial feast-or-famine squad and here's what we mean:
So, go ahead and tally up the past five seasons and you'll see Auburn is a collective 33-29-0 ATS (against the spread) for a rather modest .532 winning rate but in four of these five seasons the Tigers were either a whole lot better than what Las Vegas thought 'em to be ... or a whole lot worse.
Just to let y'all know, last year Auburn failed to cover its final five pointspread verdicts - including that 34-31 OT loss to 6-point underdog Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl - and actually lost seven of its final eight spread verdicts while dating back to early October. Ugh!
Most of the preseason pollsters have placed Auburn somewhere in the top five - and remember if you win the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta you're virtually assured of going to participate in the four-team playoff system - but gotta wonder if even this high-octane Auburn crew can get there considering the schedule that includes conference road games at LSU, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M along with "name" home games against Louisville, Miss State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama and at last check a handful of these teams will be ranked while heading into the 2015 campaign.
Is the bar therefore set too high for Auburn? Stay tuned.
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 NEWS & NOTES
Remember in a couple of weeks the HBO Hard Knocks series will be coming your way with the 2015 Houston Texans the team in the spotlight (and let's hope they have more juice than the 2014 Atlanta Falcons who bored everyone to tears!) but the reason we bring up the Texans here is they could - conceivably - be a team that went from making the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft (see LB Jadeveon Clowney) to getting to the Super Bowl in a mere 20-or-so months.
The Texans - who finished 2-14 SU (straight-up) just two years ago - have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks) and keep in mind RB Arian Foster (1,246 yards rushing last year) and WR DeAndre Hopkins (76 receptions in 2014) are amongst the best at their respective positions but will the Texans have the all-important answers at quarterback where last year's signal-callers threw 22 TDs and 13 INTs?
The roll call at quarterback right at this very minute includes former Cleveland Browns' starter Brian Hoyer, oft-injured Ryan Mallett, youngster Tom Savage (University of Pittsburgh) but not Peyton Manning (we never believed those late June rumors anyway).
Hey, let's round up this talk with something similar to what we just uttered about the Auburn Tigers - and that's this Texans' team has been feast-or-famine in the spread department and here's what we mean:
So, the Texans will be very much on our radar this summer of 2015 - and let's hope Hard Knocks gets us some key "intel" on this AFC South team too.
NOTE: More MLB & NFL goodies in the next edition of Jim Sez,