4th Of July Weekend Potpourri

EXTRA, EXTRA: OUR JULY 4TH HOLIDAY WEEKEND SPORTS POTPOURRI COLUMN INCLUDES BASEBALL'S POTENTIAL PLAYOFF "GATE-CRASHERS" (WE'RE TALKIN' THE MARLINS, ROCKIES & WHITE SOX) ...

PLUS, CATCH THE LATEST NFL DIVISION-BY-DIVISION POINTSPREAD UPDATE AS WE ZOOM IN ON THE AFC WEST

By Jim Hurley:

It's one of the oldest axioms in Major-League Baseball:

Teams that are in first place on the Fourth of July usually are in first place at year's end.

Okay, that may or may not be the case in MLB this year - as we enter the holiday weekend you'll note that in five of the six divisions the first-place team holds a 2-game (or less) advantage over the second-place team and only the Texas Rangers (up 3 ½ games over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West) holds any sort of "big" advantage as we get set for all the weekends' fireworks, barbecues and beach parties.

The goal for us in today's holiday edition of Jim Sez is to uncover a few teams that can be potential "gate-crashers" to this year's playoff party - in other words, teams that right now are not in first or second place in their division but ones that have a serious shot to be playing mid-to-late October baseball.

We'll get to that trio of teams in just a moment plus we offer up our next installment of NFL Division-by-Division Pointspread Updates but first this 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 when you go right here online. Make sure you're with Jim right through the month of July with a batch of Major-League Baseball Winners and remember that NFL Preseason play begins August 8th when the Cincinnati Bengals play the Dallas Cowboys in this year's edition of the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. The daily check-in times are as follows: Anytime after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday afternoon Baseball games and note there's lots of matinee tilts all during this holiday week; After 1 p.m. ET for all weeknight games; And after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. Go ahead and pile up your summertime Baseball profits with America's #1 Handicapper ... Mr. Jim Hurley!

MLB'S POTENTIAL "GATE-CRASHERS"

Is this a season in which one (or more) teams come from back-in-the-pack to swipe a playoff berth in the bigs?

You never know ... but here we have our eyes on three different teams that could well crash the playoff party this autumn. Note all records below are while entering this weekend's games:

In the National League, it's ...

FLORIDA MARLINS (37-41) - Okay, so no one's gonna sit here and tell you that the 2010 Fish are a picture of stability.

The NL East crew recently axed capable manager Fredi Gonzalez and wooed former big-league skipper Bobby Valentine before "settling" on interim manager Edwin Rodriguez to run the show for the rest of the year and we believe this will have a settling effect on the Marlins who sport plenty of live young arms including ace Josh Johnson (8-3, 1.83 ERA heading into his Friday night start in Atlanta) and they still have one of baseball's best players in SS Hanley Ramirez (.296, 12 HR, 51 RBI). Yes, Mr. Ramirez already is showing a little more hustle in his game than he demonstrated under the Gonzalez regime.

The key for the Marlins in getting over the .500 hump (and beyond) is getting the defense tightened up - maybe you saw that four-error game in Puerto Rico earlier this week against the New York Mets - and also getting the bullpen straightened out in terms of seventh- and eighth-inning guys. No doubt closer Leo Nunez (16 saves in 20 opportunities) is one of the best in the business even if you don't hear a whole lot about 'em from the TV "experts".

Keep in mind the NL East is a bit wobbly these days and there's no powerhouse team in the Senior Circuit - the Marlins could make a run for it either for divisional honors or the wild card spot.

COLORADO ROCKIES (42-37) - This NL West crew entered the holiday weekend four games back of the division-leading San Diego Padres and some 1 ½ games back of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers and yet Jim Tracy's team has plenty to feel good about a week before we get to this year's All-Star Game break.

Consider that SS Troy Tulowitzki (broken left wrist) is expected back right after the aforementioned All-Star Game and that will lend a real emotional (and statistical) boost to this Rockies lineup while it would appear to be a matter of time before some of Colorado's starting pitchers not named Ubaldo Jimenez (14-1, 1.83 ERA) get things cranked up as both RHP Aaron Cook (3-5, 4.66 ERA) and LHP Jeff Francis (2-3, 4.67 ERA) should be counted on for big second halves.

And that's a major part of the deal here - the Rockies have shown over the years that they are a great second-half team and it appears to be just a matter of time before the likes of 1B Todd Helton (.250, 2 HR and 15 RBI) start to put up numbers resembling what's usually on the back of their bubble gum cards. One key factor here for Colorado is it should own the biggest home-field advantage down the stretch among NL West clubs - watch for the Rockies to rev it up at home in August and September.

In the American League, it's ...

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (40-37) - The Pale Hose entered this holiday weekend a mere two games back of NL Central leaders Minnesota (and one game back of second-place Detroit) and so maybe this potential "gate crash" won't be quite as pronounced as the two teams listed above here in today's Jim Sez but the fact of the matter is Ozzie Guillen's gang started this little spurt a couple of weeks back (see 11-game winning streak that was longer than any in recent Chisox history while dating all the way back to 1961) and sure looks as if they have the goods to keep on rollin'.

The Sox thrived in Interleague Play - they registered a brilliant 15-3 mark against NL clubs - and now must show they can master the teams in the junior circuit over the course of the next three months. No doubt that the White Sox starting pitchers have been better than what their records state - LHP Mark Buehrle (6-7, 4.58 ERA) and RHP Gavin Floyd (3-7, 4.66 ERA) both can be counted on for big second halves - and you know always-active GM Kenny Williams will do his very best to add a big-time bat to this lineup that is getting an MVP-like season from veteran 1B Paul Konerko (see .295, 20 HR and 56 RBI).

If the Sox can pluck a power-hitting outfielder at the Trade Deadline (maybe Houston's Carlos Lee) than it could well be gate-crashing time for this Windy City bunch.
          
Editor's Note: The 2010 MLB season is just about at the midway point - so here's a clip-and-save Jim Sez column that we'll likely refer to again come October (that's if any of these three teams make it to the playoffs!).
 

NFL DIVISION-BY-DIVISION SPREAD STATS

The National Football League Training Camps are just around the bend with all 32 NFL teams hunkering down by the end of this month 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 AFC West:

DENVER - The Broncos now have not been to the post-season for the past four years but at least the 2009 edition was able to scratch out a winning pointspread mark at 9-7: Note that the three prior Denver teams combined to go 14-33-1 ATS (a wobbly .298 winning rate). Last year's Broncos actually busted out of the starting gate with six consecutive season-opening spread "W's" - quite a contrast from the club's 0-5 ATS mark to begin the 2008 season.

Still, Denver's so-so 4-4 spread mark at home last year means the Broncos are a collective 9-22-1 versus the vig as hosts since the start of the 2006 season. Dig a little bit deeper you see that from the start of 2000 through the end of '09 the Broncos registered a 34-45-3 ATS log at home (a .431 winning percentage) and isn't that a far cry from decades past!

If you're looking for a positive spread spin here, than take note that the Broncos are a heady 6-2-2 vig-wise in their first home game of a season the past 10 years.


KANSAS CITY
- Can you say less-than-mediocre?

The KayCee Chiefs are a collective 30-34-1 against the Las Vegas prices since the start of the 2006 season and that includes last year's 7-9 spread log that featured outright upset wins at 6-point favorite Washington, 11 ½-point fav Pittsburgh and 9-point chalk-eater Denver.

One strange spread fact relating to the Chiefs is that they are 9-3 ATS when facing fellow AFC West foes in the last two "even" years (2006 and '08) and just 4-8 spreadwise in the past two "odd" years (2007 and '09).

In keeping with one long-ago spread stat, the Chiefs do seem to know how to finish a regular season as KC's covered six of its last nine campaigns and note that includes a 3-and-oh spread mark when finishing up at home - and this year it closes out the 2010 season at home versus archrival Oakland. You have been forewarned!
 

OAKLAND - The Raiders have lost double-digit games SU (straightup) the past seven years in a row and, predictably, the against-the-odds record during this down time hasn't been too shiny either: The silver-and-black is a dreadful 41-70-1 spreadwise since the start of the 2003 season (a putrid .369 winning rate) and that includes last year's 8-8 ATS mark.

In fact, last year's Raiders never did tack together back-to-back spread wins after the Week 1 and Week 2 covers against San Diego and Kansas City, respectively, and you might be interested in knowing that the last time Oakland covered three consecutive games in the same season was back in 2006 during the Art Shell  Era ... remember him?

No doubt you can pick-and-choose a slew of terrible pointspread stats for this AFC West crew but here's a couple that stick out for us:

The Raiders are 0-11 ATS as betting favorites while tracing back to midway of the 2005 season and this dysfunctional team is 3-11 spreadwise in its last 14 head-to-head games with archrival San Diego ... and that includes covering both of last year's games (a 24-20 loss-but-cover as 10 ½-point dogs in Week 1 and then a 24-16 loss-but-cover at 16-point fav San Diego in Week 8 play).


SAN DIEGO - The '09 Chargers were one-and-done in the AFC Playoffs and the 17-14 home loss as 8 ½-point favorites against the New York Jets meant this AFC West crew had to settle for a .500 spread log for the year at 8-8-1. After four consecutive seasons of winning spread football - that's 45-21-3 ATS from 2004-thru-2007, the Bolts now are a collective 16-17-2 versus the vig the past two seasons.

Part of San Diego's problem last year is that Norv Turner's team registered just a 5-7-1 spread mark as betting favorites (the Chargers went 5-7 ATS as favs in 2008) and so keep an eye on this club in 2010 and see if maybe Las Vegas is "overrating" it early in the year. Interestingly enough, San Diego now is a composite 21-7-3 versus the vig as point-grabbers while dating back to the start of the 2004 campaign (that's a slick .750 winning rate, folks).

Finally, note that the Chargers are 22-10-4 ATS in divisional play the past six seasons and that includes last years mediocre 3-3 spread log against fellow AFC West foes.

NOTE: More Baseball News/Notes and NFL Divisional Spread Stats in the next edition of Jim Sez - so don't miss out!

20
Aug

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