A Look at the MLB Division Leaders - NFC North Pointspread Notes



By Jim Hurley:

Hey, we'll be glad to fill up this Jim Sez space with NBA News & Notes once things really start movin'-and-shakin' in the world of free agency.

Meanwhile, Day One of the free agency proceedings saw LeBron James meet with both representatives of the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks - neither will be a "player" in the King James Sweepstakes when all is finally said and done, trust us! - and we do applaud the news that Phil Jackson will return in the 2010-11 season to coach the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers but let's make this column a Baseball/Football thing and give the hoopsters their share of "ink" another day.

Okay with you?

In fact, as we head into this Fourth of July Weekend, we thought it would be a good time to fire out some quick-hitter comments regarding some of the divisional leaders in both the National and the American League - and then ask out loud whether they should expect to wind up on top at year's end.

And so - without any further ado -- let's get things revved up with some Major-League Baseball Divisional Leader opinions ... holiday-style.



ATLANTA BRAVES (46-33) - The pitching's been wonderful in the final year of the Bobby Cox Era and don't underestimate how important born-again closer Billy Wagner has been for this crew. Wagner (5-0 with 16 saves in 18 opportunities) has given the Braves a dependable backbone on a team that sports only two complete games on the year. Toss in the fact veteran RHPs Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe have combined for 17 wins at the mid-way point of this 2010 season and that RHP Jair Jurrjens is back from injury and the Braves may well be the class of this division.

Will They Still Be There at Year's End? ... Maybe a wild card spot is possible but the gut feeling here is that Philadelphia (four games behind Atlanta following Thursday's games) will win the NL East late by a couple of games even though the Phillies will be without 2B Chase Utley for the next 8 or 9 weeks.

CINCINNATI REDS (45-35) - Dusty Baker's team owned a 1 ½-game lead over St. Louis in this division following last night's results and you have to be impressed with Cincy's snappy 23-14 record inside the NL Central and the fact that this club has a whole bunch of key RBI men including 1B Joey Votto (55 RBI), B Scott Rolen (53 RBI) and OF Jonny Gomes (51 ribbies).

Still, if the Reds are gonna win the division or at least grab hold of a wild card berth, than that oft-scrutinized starting pitching must stay sharp - did you realize RHP Johnny Cueto had 8 wins already or that kid righty Mike Leake was throwing to a tidy 3.30 ERA?

Will They Still Be There at Year's End? ... Something tells us the Reds will have a really fun summer run deep into September but that one-two punch at the head of the Cardinals rotation (see Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter) will beat 'em out at the wire.



NEW YORK YANKEES (48-30) - The defending champs sport the best winning percentage in baseball right here and right now (see .615) but they can't seem to shake their closest competitors in the AL East. Both Boston (47-32 and 1 ½ games back) and Tampa Bay (46-32 and 2 games back following Thursday's 5-4 extra-inning win in Minnesota) have played exceedingly well in spurts this 2010 season while the Yanks have stayed the course despite the fact 1B Mark Teixiera simply hasn't hit (see .231 but with 13 HRs) and despite the fact righty A.J. Burnett hasn't won in his last five starts while heading into the Friday home matinee against the now-fading Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yanks have more than enough ammo to beat up on the bad teams ahead and the troika of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte have combined for 28 wins and we are not even at the halfway point yet for the Bombers - but can Hughes and Pettitte (and Burnett) be trusted to win a bunch of games in the second half with more head-to-head battles with Boston and Tampa Bay on deck?

Will They Still be There at Year's End? ... The Yanks should be able to hold off any/all comers and could even open up a gap in the standings should 3B/DH Alex Rodriguez get into one of his summertime hot streaks. Press us for a firm answer and we'll say the Yankees win this AL East by 5 or 6 games.

AL WEST     

- No doubt that Ron Washington's crew wanted to open up some space between them and the second-place Los Angeles Angels but the Halos won two-of-three in that just-completed series and so Texas heads into the holiday weekend with a 3 ½-game lead.

Still, who thought you would be saying that with a week-and-change before we get to this year's All-Star Game?

The Rangers know DH bopper Vladimir Guerrero (18 HR and 68 RBI) has lots of life in his bat at the tender age of 35 and he showed off his straightaway power with a two home-run game against the Angeles this past Wednesday night (including a grand slam bash).

No doubt Texas OF Josh Hamilton (.340 with 18 dingers and 58 ribbies) is enjoying an MVP-caliber season and it's possible that the Rangers will hit like this all year long and so the question remains whether or not the starting pitchers will wilt in the heat of summer or show part owner Nolan Ryan they're ready for the long haul.

Will They Still be There at Year's End? ... Count us among the folks ultra-impressed by this current Rangers team but simply don't think it will last. Texas just doesn't have enough quality starters (unless they go out and add LHP Cliff Lee and that ain't happening with this club's payroll problems) and should fade sometime in September but could win the division "by default" if the Angels show some slippage on offense.
And now hear this:

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The National Football League Training Camps are just around the bend with all 32 NFL teams hunkering down by the end of July and so let's go 'round the league with a Division-By-Division look at some Pointspread News/Notes. Today, it's the NFC North:

CHICAGO - Last year's Bears staggered to a 6-10 ATS (against the spread) record which happened to be the team's worst single-season spread mark since 2002 (see 5-11 ATS). In fact, Chicago lost seven consecutive spread results in 2009 before notching pointspread "W's" on the final two regular-season weekends.

You'll note that last year's Bears produced a shoddy 3-7 ATS mark in non-divisional games and so that makes the Chitowners 6-11-2 spreadwise in their non-NFC North games dating back to early in the 2008 season. Also, the Bears are 4-11-1 versus the vig as underdogs the past two years and that includes an 0-3 ATS mark as pups against archrival Green Bay.

If you're looking for a positive spread stat, then how about the fact the Bears have covered 13 of their last 22 spread verdicts against the Minnesota Vikings.

DETROIT - Quickie quiz time here, folks ... When is the last time the Lions registered a winning spread season?

The answer is 2003 as Detroit's been a collective 38-54-4 against the odds ever since (that's a .413 winning rate) and that includes last season's rotten 4-10-2 ATS log. In 2009, the Lions never did cover back-to-back games - they went 0-3-1 vig-wise whenever coming off a spread win - and wound up an ugly 0-5-1 ATS in divisional duels.

Overall, Detroit's a shabby 5-15 spreadwise in its last 20 home games and the Motowners are 2-7-1 ATS as betting favorites while dating back to the start of the 2006 season. P.S., last year the Lions were home favorites just twice and the results were as follows:

A 17-10 loss to 3-point pup St. Louis in Week 8 play and a wild 38-37 non-cover win against 3-point underdog Cleveland in a Week 11 affair.

GREEN BAY - One of the great NFL pointspread stories from a year ago was the Packers' riveting 7-0-1 spread run to close out the second half of the regular season. Okay, so maybe folks focused on Green Bay's 51-45 overtime loss at 3-point dog Arizona but the fact of the matter is the 2009 Pack sizzled spreadwise with an 11-5-1 ATS log that included a 5-2-1 ATS mark at home and a 6-3 ATS record on the road - and what bettor wouldn't take that for a complete season of pigskin results?

Note that G-Bay has covered seven of its last eight head-to-head showdowns with divisional rival Detroit plus the Packers have notched spread wins in each of their last three season-opening games (versus Philadelphia, Minnesota and Chicago in that order).

In the Mike McCarthy Era that began back in the 2006 campaign, the Packers now are a collective 39-26-2 overall (that's good for a nifty .600 winning rate).

MINNESOTA - Here's another NFC North crew that thrived spreadwise a year ago as the '09 Vikings generated a healthy 11-6-1 ATS mark (.647) and note that Brad Childress' crew started off the season covering four of its first five games and ended it on a three-game pointspread winning streak.

Maybe the best thing about the Vikes last year from a spread standpoint is that they turned the beat around as the 2006-thru-2008 teams managed just a 20-27-2 ATS log that included zero playoff covers (last year's team covered both post-season games against Dallas and then that OT loss-but-cover thriller at New Orleans).

Let's dig a little bit deeper with Minny's recent spread history and you'll find that the Vikings are 15-22-2 ATS as underdog sides the past five seasons while the purple gang is an electric 6-2 spreadwise in its last eight season openers and you do know that Minnesota opens the 2010 NFL season with that Thursday Nighter at New Orleans ... double hmmm.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Vikes went 6-2-1 ATS at home last season in QB Brett Favre's first year as a team member:

Minnesota was a collective 10-15 ATS as hosts in the team's prior three seasons. Wow!

Guess that #4 guy did make a real difference for the Vikes!

NOTE: Catch our holiday weekend Baseball coverage plus there's more NFL Pointspread News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez. Next up is the SFC West - so don't miss out!


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