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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 13, 2012 at 9:26 AM

Hey, St. Louis Cardinals - welcome home!

The 2012 Major-League Baseball season turns into its second full weekend and yet last year's World Series champions haven't played their home opener and so today's 3:15 p.m. Eastern time game against the archrival Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium should be lots of fun in "Arch City" even if the likes of 2011 manager Tony LaRussa, ace pitching coach Dave Duncan and mega-star 1B Albert Pujols are no longer in uniform for the Redbirds.

The crazy thing is that this year's Cardinals - managed by novice boss-man Mike Matheny - are off and roarin' at the start with a 5-2 record that includes a win to christen the new Marlins stadium in Miami to go along with two-of-three victories in both Milwaukee and Cincinnati and so far, so good for this St. Louis team that is supposed to win 84 or 85 games (according to those Las Vegas experts) and may well have 95-win potential especially when you consider that the woeful Cubs could be on the wrong end of lots of Cardinals beatings this year and ditto for the putrid Houston Astros.

A team that absolutely nobody thought could repeat last year's magic - granted, most of that magic happened in September and October - could well be standing as National League Central champs by year's end but these Cards are like anyone else: They must steer clear of injuries and already 1B Lance Berkman (the unofficial heir to Pujols there) has a strained left calf after legging out a triple in Tuesday's 3-1 win at Cincinnati and let's not forget ace RHP Chris Carpenter has been shelved until sometime in May with nerve irritation in his throwing shoulder while pepper-pot 2B Skip Schumaker (torn right oblique) is out and so too LF/PH Allen Craig (knee surgery last November) who is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment any day now.

Still, take a long look at the power arms on this St. Louis pitching staff and you get the sense that - with or without LaRussa, Duncan and Pujols around - this club could be the NL's best team providing closer Jason Motte can stand the rigors of a 162-game regular season and providing home Opening Day starter RHP Adam Wainwright (4.76 ERA so far) can give this club 30-or-so starts.

Yes, we know it's early but...

The Cardinals are hitting .301 as a team with 12 home runs and 37 runs scored (that's a per-game average of 5.28 runs a game) to go along with a team-wide 2.93 ERA.

No doubt there's been some eventful Opening Days so far from the glitz-and-glamour in Miami to the great traditional theatre in Cincinnati to the renewed buzz at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles but today - when there are still home openers for fans of the San Francisco Giants, the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees this day belongs to the defending champs.

And don't bet against that repeat!
 
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to rock this 2012 Major-League Baseball season and remember there's still lots more NBA Winners too this spring and so sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily/nightly winners.

THE NBA REPORT

Lots of goodies on this Friday the 13th NBA card and here's what to watch: In the Eastern Conference, it's...

ATLANTA (34-24) at ORLANDO (34-24) - 7:05 p.m. ET
Has there been more silly drama in the league than what's happened in recent weeks in Orlando?

No wonder Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy is sick and tired of the whole Dwight Howard Saga - and there is absolutely no way these two gents will be together next year no matter how the front office spins it! - but the key thing to keep in mind here is that Orlando still could wind up getting home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series as long as it tops both Boston and Atlanta in the standings.

Howard was a "DNP" in Tuesday's 93-85 loss at 4 ½-point underdog Washington as his back spasms forced him to miss a fourth game in the past two-plus weeks but expect him back for this key tilt and don't expect Orlando to cut back its three-point tries:

In that aforementioned loss to the Wizards, the Magic attempted 35 triples and that marked the 40th consecutive game that Orlando tried 20-or-more trifectas in a game. Bombs away!

In the Western Conference, it's...

DENVER (32-26) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (37-22) - 10:35 p.m. ET
Here's a couple of teams riding mini two-game winning streaks into this clash at Staples Center but the Lakers - just like aforementioned Orlando - have a mega-star with injury woes as Kobe Bryant's shin injury kept him in "civvies" in Wednesday's rollicking 98-84 victory at 10-point favorite San Antonio but than again teams are gonna win lots of games when they have a 30-rebound performance by one player.

Oft-troubled C Andrew Bynum hauled down 30 boards in that win in Alamo City plus Ron Artest - really, do you want us to call him Metta World Peace? - poured in 26 points against the Spurs and that included a neat flat-footed three-point but keep an eye here on not only Bryant but whether or not G Ramon Sessions plays after suffering back-to-back index finger/sprained shoulder injuries. 

The Nuggets could finish anywhere from sixth place to eight place to out of the playoff race entirely out West and Denver here needs another big scoring night from Danilo Gallinari who pumped in 18 important points in Wednesday's 113-107 non-cover win against 8-point dog Minnesota. Looks like Gallinari is back after missing eight games with a fractured left (non-shooting) thumb.

THE NFL DRAFT: CHECKING OUT THE BEST OFFENSIVE GUARDS

Our official NFL Draft coverage at Jim Sez continues today as we bring you our position-by-position analyses - here it's the top Offensive Guards. Note that we will have our Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft Preview on Wednesday, April 25th. The NFL Draft will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26-27-28:

DAVID DeCASTRO, STANFORD - The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder figures to be a mid-first round pick and the first of three OGs that are expected to get plucked in Round One of this draft. DeCastro is a serious student of the game and his college coach David Shaw said he "arrives angry" when meeting up with enemy defenders. Naturally, his pass-blocking skills in front of Stanford QB Andrew Luck were brilliant and insiders claim he is an exceptional pull blocker who might even be better at first than Pittsburgh interior blocker Maurkice Pouncey who was an instant hit as a Steelers rookie in 2010. A finalist for last year's Outland Trophy, DeCastro could get nabbed as high as #14 (see Dallas Cowboys) but more likely will wind up with Cincinnati at #17 or else San Diego at pick #18. 

CORDY GLENN, GEORGIA - Size matters! This 6-foot-6, 345-pound mountain-of-a-man should not fall too far below DeCastro in Round One of this NFL Draft as most folks project him to be gobbled up somewhere in the #21-through-#26 area with Cleveland at pick #22 a strong possibility. Note that Glenn started 50 games for the Dawgs including 28 of them at the left guard position and he merely overpowers defenders and there is a thought that he could be moved to tackle eventually (he played four games there in college) and many draftniks are listing him first as a tackle but we won't here.

KEVIN ZEITLER, WISCONSIN - Typical bruising Wisky Badgers blocker who stands in at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and his clear-out blocks enabled the Big 10 team to score more than 44 points a game last year en route to a Rose Bowl berth against Oregon. Zeitler started all 14 of his team's games last year at right guard and he displays good foot quickness and is a real plus blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The general feeling is that Zeitler will be nabbed somewhere late in Round One - San Francisco at pick #30 seems to be a popular choice - but we won't be surprised if he moves up right behind Glenn and goes in the mid-20s area with Detroit at #23 a dark horse landing place.

BRANDON BROOKS, MIAMI-OHIO - Here's a four-year college starter who really bulked up from 290 pounds to 355 pounds and now the "official" listing has 'em at 6-foot-5, 346 pounds and he should be a 10-to-12-year starter at right guard in the pros. Brooks has overpowering upper-body strength but he's been flagged for more than a few holding calls in his day and needs some fine-tuning at this next level. Might be someone that Jacksonville or Miami is interested in come Round Two.

NOTE: Get more NFL Draft coverage along with the NBA and MLB all weekend long in our Jim Sez columns.

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