Baseball's Hottest Teams
SUMMER'S OFFICIALLY HERE --
AND SO BASEBALL'S HOTTEST TEAMS
TAKE THE JIM SEZ CENTER STAGE ...
NBA DRAFT RUMOR MILL KEEPS SPINNIN' ...
OUR NFL CAMP NOTES GETS YOU THE FINAL
INSTALLMENTS AS WE CHECK IN ON THE
BEARS, CHARGERS, SAINTS AND BENGALS
In case you missed your local/national newscast over the weekend, Summer officially arrived this morning at 7:20 a.m. Eastern time and so -- aptly enough -- it's the 'Boys of Summer' that steal the major headlines here in this beginning-of-the-week Jim Sez column.
And as long as we're talking Summer and heat and all that good stuff, you might want to tip your cap to Major-League Baseball's hottest teams right here and right now:
The Texas Rangers exited the weekend with an MLB-best eight-game winning streak (really, that came out of nowhere!) while the Chicago White Sox wrapped up their weekend clean sweep in the nation's capital with a six-game winning streak and the Boston Red Sox also are winners of six in a row following last night's 2-0 home victory over Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers. So, a first-day-of-the-summer salute to these teams that can only hope the whole summer is a blazing trail of 'W's'.
We'll examine what's made the Rangers, Chisox and Bosox so hot in our Baseball Report below but first this rather important reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the MLB winners every day when you either call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else when you go right here online. The check-in times are as follows: Anytime after 11 a.m. ET for all the weekday afternoon Baseball; After 1 p.m. ET for the weeknight games; And after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. So, go right ahead and pile up your Summertime Baseball Profits with America's #1 Handicapper ... Mr. Jim Hurley!
THE BASEBALL REPORT
No disrespect towards the National League here as we continue the Interleague portion of the schedule but it's three American League teams that begin the new week with the longest winning streaks in recent days and so let's check out the Rangers, White Sox and Red Sox:
TEXAS RANGERS (41-28) -- Now tell us you knew exiting weekend play that these Rangers sported the biggest lead in any of MLB's six divisions ... you're lying!
The fact of the matter is Texas boasts a 3 ½-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West following the latest series sweep by the Rangers. Ron Washington's club stayed inside the Long Star State to bop the hapless and helpless Houston Astros 9-3, 5-1 and 5-4 (in 10 innings) this past weekend and no doubt that everything's going right for this club -- how about LF Josh Hamilton going 5-for-6 on Sunday and that included a game-tying RBI single in the top of the ninth inning and the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the tenth!
Hamilton (.337 batting average) now has hit safely in 16 consecutive games but he's hardly the only guy on fire here with Texas closer Neftali Feliz striking out two batters in his one spotless inning of relief for his 19th save ... did someone say All-Star berths for both of these guys? Hey, all we know is that the aforementioned Washington is no longer the butt of jokes in/around Arlington after his botched drug test last year -- maybe the guy can manage a bit too.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX (34-34) -- Baseball's biggest soap opera squad (okay, so maybe they're actually with the Cubs these days) has been climbing an uphill battle for the better part of the season's first three months but here's the Chisox heading into Tuesday's series-opening game against the surging Atlanta Braves (winners of their last five in a row) with those aforementioned six straight wins and nine triumphs in their last 10 games.
Wow ... and manager Ozzie's Guillen's son hasn't even lifted a bat yet for the big club!
The Pale Hose just finished off a three-game sweep of the host Washington Nationals and they may have struck out 10 times against phenom Stephen Strasburg (see last Friday night in a 2-1 win in 10 innings) but the AL Central club showed major grit all weekend long with Saturday's 1-0 win and Sunday's 6-3 triumph that starred -- among others -- 1B Paul Konerko (three RBI) and born-again hurler Freddy Garcia (8-3) who apparently can't pitch well for anyone but Guillen's Sox.
Chicago's 8-1 road trip allowed the White Sox to get back to the .500 level for the first time since early April (see 1-1) and now may well have convinced GM Kenny Williams that he does need at least one more bat in the order and than the team's playoff hopes could be realistic -- perhaps a third baseman with some pop?
BOSTON RED SOX (43-28) -- Yes, here's another AL team that doesn't wish to see Interleague Play end anytime soon.
Last night's snappy 2-0 win against Joe Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers (wow, a Red Sox game played in only 3:09) left old friend 'Manny Being Manny' without a single win in his return trip to Fenway Park and gave the Bosox a rather incredible 16-4 mark in their last 20 games played against NL teams dating back to last year. This current six-game winning streak had a little bit of everything -- 10-6 and 5-4 triumphs preceded the Sunday night affair -- with pitching star Clay Buchholz nailing down the last win while allowing just three hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings.
P.S., Buchholz (10-4, 2.47 ERA) now has allowed three runs or fewer in eight straight starts but he won't be getting a turn in Coors Field where the Red Sox head next hoping to keep their Interleague Play magic going full-speed ahead.
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NBA DRAFT RUMOR MILL
The NBA Draft roars into your living room this Thursday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) from Madison Square Garden in New York and there remains next-to-no intrigue when it comes to the first two choices:
Kentucky guard John Wall is headed to Washington with the #1 overall pick and Ohio State guard Evan Turner is your basic lead-pipe cinch to go #2 to Philadelphia but the destination of the next handful of players that get selected remains a mystery with reports that teams with extra picks could be moving on up to the high-recent district in Round I.
For example, take the Minnesota Timberwolves who right now own the #4, #16 and #23 and might be willing to part with those back two choices plus a body to get another draft pick inside the top 10. The T-Wolves -- who may or may not get guard Ricky Rubio (Spain) to play for them in the next year or so -- would love to deliver their now long-suffering fans a Draft Night one-two punch of Syracuse F Wesley Johnson and Kansas center Cole Aldrich, if at all possible.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies currently own three Round I picks -- that's #12, #25 and #28 -- and this sad-sack franchise may well be willing to part with all the opening-choices just to get either Georgia Tech F Derrick Favors or Kentucky C DeMarcus Cousins with the third or fourth overall selection.
The phone lines will be burning between these teams and the rest of the NBA -- now let's see if anyone talks turkey or whether they'll just hang up on 'em.
P.S., two names that could make a big-time leap up the boards on Draft Night include G James Anderson (Oklahoma State) and two-guard Dominique Jones (South Florida). Both players bring special traits to the game -- Anderson's a tremendous shooter off the screen while Jones is a physical player who's not afraid to go to the hoop and recent reports that both of them will be nabbed in the #21-thru-#25 area could be wrong.
Anderson might be a missing puzzle piece for some team picking in the teens (did someone say Houston at #14?) while Jones might be a really good fit with Chicago at #17 ... yes, whether or not the Bulls plan on having free-agent whopper LeBron James in their uniform colors next season!
NFL CAMP REPORTS
It's our final June installment of NFL Camp News -- but keep in mind that we'll have full-fledged NFL News & Notes in the coming days and weeks.
Now, here's a look at the Chicago Bears, the San Diego Chargers, the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals:
CHICAGO -- Much has been made of the fact the Bears have turned their offense over to one-time St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz who is installing a new scheme that figures to cut down on QB Jay Cutler's interceptions (NFL-worst 26 picks last year) but little has been mentioned of the fact Chicago also has a new defensive coordinator this season.
Former defensive line coach -- and one-time Detroit Lions head coach -- Rod Marinelli is calling the shots on 'D' for Lovie Smith's squad and one difference already is that Danieal Manning has been working at strong safety. Manning played free safety for the Bears in 39 of his previous 42 starts and he told media members recently that he hoped to have all the 'learning stuff' behind him when training camp rolls around in late July.
Note that the Bears also spent this past off-season inking S Chris Harris (Carolina) and CB Tim Jennings (Indianapolis) plus they hold out high hopes for draftees DB Major Wright (Florida) and DB Joshua Moore (Kansas State) who could be part of the ever-changing secondary landscape under Marinelli's rule.
SAN DIEGO -- Part of the Chargers' mindset this year is to get younger while going forward as a serious potential Super Bowl team.
Note that this AFC West crew only had two draft picks in the top 100 this past April but both first-rounder RB Ryan Mathews (Fresno State) and third-rounder LB Donald Butler (Washington) are expected to give the Bolts an instant jolt although Butler did arrive at the team's recent OTAs a bit late because his college class graduated later than other non-Pac-10 schools. Butler said it was a relief to finally be in camp but no question the late start stalled some of his early progress.
One veteran player who needs to be a star again in 2010 is tight end Antonio Gates (79 receptions and 8 TDs last year) who has been bothered by a sore foot in recent days/weeks and may wind up taking it slow once training camp gets into full broil next month.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints were early-summer noise-makers with the trade this past weekend of OT Jammal Brown to Washington for a future draft pick that's tied to the Redskins' acquisition of QB Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia (don't ask!).
Brown missed last year's glorious Super Bowl-winning run with a hip injury and a sports hernia and insiders claim there was no way he was going to beat out Jermon Bushrod for the left tackle spot this year. Bushrod started 14 games last season for the Saints and was a key component in keeping QB Drew Brees upright for most of the time.
In fact, the Saints are confident that this year's offensive line will be better and deeper than the one that powered the way to a Super Bowl XLIV crown as the NFC South club spent a second-round pick (#64 overall) on menacing OT Charles Brown from USC.
CINCINNATI -- In case you didn't remember, the Bengals have not won a single playoff game in this century (0-2 since the start of the 2000 campaign) and yet here's WR Chad Ochocinco again missing out on the club's OTAs -- for a third straight year, we might add -- and QB Carson Palmer claiming he needs more and more reps with all his wide receivers. The Bengals say Ochocinco will be ready to roll come training camp the end of next month and Palmer's excited about the prospects of also tossing the football in the direction of WRs Antonio Bryant, rookie Jordan Shipley (Texas) and vet Andre Caldwell.
Just recall that Cincinnati's aerial attack last year produced only 21 touchdown passes -- Ochocinco did score 9 of 'em -- and really withered in some key games last year with the AFC Wild Card loss to the New York Jets a particular rotten aerial showing.
NOTE: Catch our exclusive Jim Sez NBA Mock Draft in the next edition of Jim Sez!
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