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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 18, 2015 at 9:56 AM



By Jim Hurley:

Had to love all the ESPN, Fox 1 and MLB Network shows during this past week's All-Star Game break that analyzed/dissected all the Major-League Baseball teams out there (okay, some of the "experts" knew what they were talkin' about and some didn't!).

In today's weekend edition of Jim Sez, we've got our own little take on matters concerning a handful of second-place teams who are looking to this unofficial second half of this here-and-now season to make a case for a divisional crown or, at least, one of the two wild card berths available in both the National and the American Leagues.

And make no mistake about it: How these teams fare right out of the second-half starting gate will be key and so let's examine what's straight ahead for a batch of MLB squads that right now find themselves sitting in second place in their respective divisions:

In the American League, it's ...

TAMPA BAY (46-45) - The rather no-name Rays exited the All-Star Game break some 3.5 games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees, having won three in a row prior to last night's tilt in Toronto. This weekend set North of the Border likely means the Tampa Bay pitching staff will get worked to the bone against the best offense in baseball but then the sked calls for three games in Philadelphia followed by a three-game home set against AL East rival Baltimore. Gut feeling is the Rays - who exited the break a minus nine in the runs differential category (332-to-341) -- need to ease the pressure on their pitching staff with a laugher or two in Philly and right now our knee-jerk reaction is to say that Tampa Bay should go no worse than 5-4 in these affairs but could slide in the standings (and never be heard from again) should they, say, lose five-of-six upcoming games against these above-named divisional foes. It's a real challenge for rookie manager Kevin Cash who needs rehabbed LHP Matt Moore to get 'em two good starts in the next 10 days.

 MINNESOTA (49-40) - Let's get something straight right here and right now: There's absolute no pressure on these 2015 Twins who have been major overachievers thus far while entering the post All-Star Game break a mere 4.5 games back of the terrific Kansas City Royals. In fact, the Twins are - and don't you love this little phrase - are playing this year with "house money" under first-year manager Paul Molitor who has been pushing all the right buttons but in the 10 days following the break the Twinkies play a three-game road series in Oakland followed by a three-game road series in Anaheim and then Minny comes home for a three-game set against the New York Yankees. From a defensive posture, the Twins must avoid a 3-6 or worse mark here during these three sets but anything else Minnesota (and its born-again fans) gets here they can live with - let's see how All-Star Game closer LHP Glen Perkins (28-of-28 save opportunities) holds up here while facing the likes of LA's Albert Pujols and NYY's Alex Rodriguez.

In the National League ...

NEW YORK METS (47-42) - Somehow/some way the Mets exited the All-Star Game break just two games back of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals despite the following:
"Franchise Four" 3B David Wright has played in only eight games because of hamstring/then spinal stenosis issues; expected closer Jennry Mejia was suspended for 80 games for PED use; and nobody's hit (next to last in the NL in runs scored with 310 and 13th in the league in batting average at a very wobbly .233). Now, the Mets face their toughest scheduling challenge of the year - this weekend's three-game series in St. Louis, three games at Washington and then next week a monstrous four-game set at home where the Mets may well avoid Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw. The outcome for these 10 games - all of 'em against current first place teams - is gonna make or break these Mets ... agree? Hey, if Terry Collins' club can manage to scratch out a winning record or even a .500 mark here, that's fine, but talk to any Mets fan over the years and they'll tell you the post-All-Star Game break often is when this franchise's knees buckle and they get eliminated from any/all playoff talk. Go 2-8 here and Mets fans will avoid Citi Field like the proverbial plague!

SAN FRANCISCO (46-43) - Okay, so it's an odd-numbered year and all, so the Giants are not "supposed" to win it all as they did in 2010, '12 and '14 but this club is a real live wire (just 4.5 games behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers) and gotta believe the four-day break allowed this starting rotation to catch its breath and so does that mean LHP Madison Bumgarner is ready to "carry" this club once again? The Giants packed their bags at break time with this weekend's three-game set in Arizona followed by three games in San Diego and then a return home for a three-game home set next weekend against cross-the-bay rival Oakland. Folks, don't be shocked if the Giants put the pedal to the medal here and go 7-2 or so in these nine games - if you figure Bumgarner will win his two starts in the next 10 days and that RHP Matt Cain and/or RHP Tim Hudson regain their form then this could be a real nice post-All-Star Game surge for the three-time champs.

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?


Gee, isn't it just grand that we don't have to hear any more about Dallas Cowboys' WR Dez Bryant and a potential holdout?

As you've all heard, Bryant inked a four-year, $70 million deal this past Wednesday that put an end to the mini-drama that had been building around "America's Team" and - surprise, surprise - it didn't take Bryant long to start making proclamations like "we're Super Bowl ready" and maybe if the Pro Bowl pass-catcher could have completed that late-game grab in Green Bay last winter the Cowboys could've been Super Bowl-bound in the 2014 season.

In any event, the Bryant signing may be a true feel-good moment these days for Dallas owner Jerry Jones and the whole entire organization but reality is the pressure knob just got turned up to a very high level and the pressure for Bryant - coming off an 88-catch season - is turned up to an all-time high ... yup, it's Super Bowl or bust this year for the 'Boys and can't wait to hear "Dez Sez" later this year should things not pan out just right ...

In other quick-hitter NFL News & Notes ...

The New York Jets re-made their secondary this past offseason with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine all either re-acquired or acquired via free agency and no surprise that most pundits place the Jets' cornerbacks somewhere in the top five in terms of rankings but it says here that second-year S Calvin Pryor must be a star (sooner rather than later) or else this 2015 defense may not be quite as good as advertised ...

Speaking of CBs, the Minnesota Vikings - who kick off the 2015 NFL Preseason on August 9th against Pittsburgh in the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton - suffered a real blow at the position when Josh Robinson recently sustained a partially torn pectoral muscle that could land him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list ...

Finally, the Atlanta Falcons are telling anyone that will listen that first-round draftee OLB Vic Beasley - the eighth-overall pick in last spring's draft - is indeed an "every-down player" despite all this chatter about him being a situational pass rusher who collected 33 quarterback sacks in an illustrious college career.

If Beasley can impact games versus both the run and pass, the Falcons - who last year ranked 21st against the run (118.4 yards per game) and dead-last in the NFL against the pass (279.9 ypg) - than Atlanta truly hit a home run with this pick and may we remind you that the Falcs only used one other pick on defense between #8 and #137 overall and that was the second-round choice (pick #42) of LSU cornerback Jalen Collins who started in only seven of the Bayou Bengals' 13 games a year ago.

NOTE: Catch more MLB, NCAA Football and NFL News & Notes in the coming days/weeks right here at Jim Sez.

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