Weekend Baseball Previews - New NFL Head Coaches (July 22, 2011)

WEEKEND BASEBALL PREVIEWS

GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT - IT'S BASEBALL'S KEY WEEKEND SERIES FROM PITTSBURGH, SAN FRAN & CLEVELAND

By Jim Hurley:

The temperatures outside are rising - heck, some of the nation's sidewalks are hotter than a Lady Gaga outfit - yet even in late July there's a buzz in both Pittsburgh and Cleveland and, of course, there's still lots of good stuff going on in San Francisco too where the defending World Series champions are making it known that they are indeed baaaack!

In today's hit-and-run edition of Jim Sez, we'll examine what we believe are the three hottest series in Major-League Baseball this next-to-last weekend in July ... so enjoy.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers release Major-League Baseball Winners each/every day and you can be part of all the action -- just remember to call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and make sure you're all aboard for a summer filled with all our MLB winners! The calling/check-in times are after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays; anytime after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday Baseball action; and than anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the weeknight action. Now go ahead and pile up all your summertime Baseball winners!

Editor's Note: The National Football League inches closer to a resolution with its silly lockout and be reminded that - according to in-the-know-sources - the NFL Preseason schedule is expected to go on as planned although the August 7th Hall of Fame Game between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears does figure to get scratched (although that could change). We'll keep you posted and than make sure you're all aboard for the NFL Preseason slate this summer as there will be plenty of Side & Totals winners for sure.

BASEBALL'S HOTTEST WEEKEND SERIES

In the National League, it's ...
ST. LOUIS (51-47) at PITTSBURGH (51-45) - Fri, Sat & Sun
When it comes to this here-and-now edition of the Pittsburgh Pirates, there are pleasant surprises all around but how about the fact that Clint Hurdle's Buccos are an electric 24-14 against fellow NL Central clubs this season?

The Pirates - fresh off winning two-of-three games against archrival Cincinnati (and note both wins were shutouts) haven't missed a beat while coming out of the recent All-Star Game break and now igniter CF Andrew McCutchen (.277 batting average with 14 HR and 59 RBI) will look to energize the PNC Park fans this weekend with his glove, bat and legs. Hey, don't discount the notion here that St. Louis catcher Yadina Molina will have a "one-track mind" in this series and that's keeping McCutchen from stealing bases and revving up the home team.

Here's something else to watch for this weekend in Pittsburgh:

The Cards are looking to get 1B Albert Pujols untracked - note he hit into a pair of double plays in Tuesday's 4-2 loss at the New York Mets and then popped out as a pinch-hitter while going 0-for-2 in Wednesday's 6-5 extra-innings loss - but he proved he can bust out the long ball at any time as evidenced by Thursday's two-run, first-inning bomb off LHP Jonathon Niese en route to a sweaty 6-2 win. And so Pittsburgh lefty Pat Maholm (6-9, 3.06 ERA) best be aware that this is an angry Pujols that treks into town. Maybe a steady diet of off-speed stuff to cool Pujols' heels here?

MILWAUKEE (53-47) at SAN FRANCISCO (57-42) - Fri, Sat & Sun
Maybe it's not "man-bites-dog" news stuff that the SF Giants are riding high in first place in the NL West but it's the way Bruce Bochy's guys have gotten here really - the club still doesn't hit and now even GM Brian Sabean is "calling out" his everyday lineup guys while stating earlier this week that the current group "isn't getting it done" ... and that was prior to the epic 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon.

The Jints are a rock-solid 26-13 in one-run games this season but the likes of recently-injured bats 3B Pablo Sandoval (quad) and 1B/OF Aubrey Huff (back) better have some offensive answers this weekend or the hard-hitting Brewers - 14-10 against the NL West this season - could explode here and remember no start here for San Fran RHP Tim Lincecum who lost that aforementioned 1-0 tilt to the Dodgers.

Hey, underrated Milwaukee stat of the day: There are seven Brewers with 30-plus RBI this year and there's a good chance 1B Prince Fielder (team-leading 73 RBI) could have one of those 125-RBI type seasons - nice free-agent year, right? Still, Milwaukee was shut out 4-0 at Arizona last night and managed just six hits ... hmmm.
 
In the American League, it's ...
CHICAGO (47-51) at CLEVELAND (51-46) - Fri, Sat & Sun
Both of these teams got yesterday off to rest their bones but still there was Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen "in the news" with more negative comments regarding what he's seen from his team: What, Ozzie doesn't like the fact that the third-place Pale Hose have scored a grand total of 16 runs in their last five games including back-to-back losses in Kansas City this past Tuesday/Wednesday nights?

 If the Sox are gonna make some type of run in the AL Central than winning this road series is important but Guillen's gang needs a few long balls as OF Carlos Quentin's solo shot marked the team's offensive production in Wednesday's 2-1 extra-innings loss (otherwise the White Sox had four singles and that was it!) and now power threat Adam Dunn - a major flop this year after coming over from the Washington Nationals - is limping around with a bad knee and he might miss a couple of games here.

On the flip side, things are much rosier for the Indians despite losing back-to-back tough games at Minnesota following that day/night twin-bill sweep at Target Field this past Monday. The Tribe's got its own health woes as CF Michael Brantley was diagnosed with a case of heat exhaustion after playing both ends of the doubleheader in Minny and remember he's replacing Grady Sizemore who is on the DL for a third time this year.

Cleveland enters the weekend a half-game back of NL Central-leading Detroit and with some real question marks concerning starting pitching aside from star RHP Justin Masterson who is a 8-6 with a dandy 2.64 ERA. Masterson figures to get the Sunday start but there is a chance he will get an extra day and might not start till Monday's game against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.

NOTE: There's more MLB and NFL News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez ... so don't miss out!


NFL'S NEW SIDELINE BOSSES

By Jim Hurley:

Maybe by the time you're reading this edition of Jim Sez, the National Football League Lockout - one of the worst-led, management-steered misadventures in the history of professional sports - will be over and done with.

Right ... we can only hope.

The fact of the matter is this 125-day (give-or-take) lockout has really put everyone in the league behind the proverbial eight-ball and - as one management source told a New York City radio sports talk show host earlier in the week - it's now like a case of cramming in six months worth of work in about three or four days when in comes to the free-agent matters and the like.

Hey, just how do you think the NFL's new head coaches are feeling right about now?

In case you lost track, there are brand-new head coaches in Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and Tennessee and the "interim" bosses eventually were hired in both Dallas and Minnesota (remember?) and the tasks are tall there for all of the above considering there's less time than usual to get to know their players - yes, we know we're not the first ones to think it (or say it) but you can pretty much expect some slowish starts this 2011 season from many of the teams with first-year head coaches and you gotta wonder whether the Las Vegas oddsmakers will factor that in come early-to-mid-September. Stay tuned, of course.

Okay, so let's stay on this theme of NFL new coaches and get you the roll call along with some "pluses" and "minuses" for each of'em:

NFL'S NEW SIDELINE BOSSES

RON RIVERA, Carolina Panthers - This once-proud franchise has no place to go up following last year's miserable 2-14 SU (straight-up)  season that also "featured" a rotten 4-12 ATS (against the spread) campaign and now the Panthers are pining their hopes on this former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator.

No question that Rivera has been "around the block" for a guy in his first head-coaching job - reports state he interviewed for eight different head-coaching jobs the past few years before finally landing this one inside the NFC South - and so that might lead one to believe that he'll be less conservative on both sides of the ball than originally believed although with this ground attack you gotta feel Rivera still will run it 60-to-65 percent of the time.

Count Rivera'a overall patience as a "plus" here while a "minus" could well be how he handles losses - say this for former Carolina head coach John Fox (see below) but he was exceptional in getting his club to bounce back from losses prior to last year's fiasco season.

PAT SHURMUR, Cleveland Browns - Following back-to-back 5-11 SU seasons, the Browns decided to wave bye-bye to Eric Mangini and so in steps this West Coast offense proponent who will serve as the team's offensive coordinator and play-caller. Hmm, that sounds like Shurmur might be biting off more than he can chew in Year One although all reports claim the long-time Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach is extremely bright and flexible.

Consider that Shurmur told one media outlet that he's "a Colt McCoy guy" and that would appear to make for a happy on-field marriage between the coach and quarterback although it behooves the new head coach to keep the playbook on the simple side at season's start so that second-year pro McCoy doesn't get zonked with too much playbook X's and O's jargon.

Among the "pluses" for Shurmur: He's the handpicked choice of team president Mike Holmgren (and the son of Holmgren's long-time defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur who starred in Green Bay and later succumbed to cancer) and so he won't have a whole lot of heat on'em but a major "minus" is that the Browns figure to turn over approximately one-half its roster from the 2010 season and so that could be a major distraction.

JOHN FOX, Denver Broncos - Maybe the best thing about the Broncos hiring a guy that just finished serving a nine-year stint in Carolina is that they really/truly know what they are getting: A no-nonsense approach to the game with defense at the forefront, Fox appears to be the perfect tonic for a Denver club that capsized last season while going 4-12 SU and 6-10 ATS.

True, there's lots of personnel changes in store for this AFC West crew but Fox will take the "baby steps" along with QB Tim Tebow and Company and no doubt a defense that ranked dead-last in the league (390.8 yards allowed per game and 471 points yielded) will get Fox's major attention as he will allow offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to work out the kinks on that other side of the ball.

A major "plus" for Fox: He's been there and done that in this league while once-upon-a-time turning around a 1-15 sad-sack Panthers team and soon thereafter leading'em into the Super Bowl.

A "minus" for the Broncos' new head man: He really won't know who to "trust" and so here's an example of the lockout really putting a dent into the chemistry of a team. Don't be shocked if the Broncos stagger around for the first four or five weeks of play.

HUE JACKSON, Oakland Raiders - Last year's Raiders managed to go 8-8 and thus steer clear of an eighth consecutive losing season but that wasn't enough to save Tom Cable's job and so in steps the club's offensive coordinator from that 2010 squad.

It's worth noting that the silver-and-black last year ranked sixth in the league in scoring at 25.6 points a game and so you're inclined to believe Jackson was one of the many positives on the Raiders' side but note the team's passing game ranked 22nd among 32 NFL teams and Jackson couldn't always keep his quarterbacks from making silly/stupid reads.

No doubt it helps Jackson's cause that he knows what plays work and which ones don't but might he try too hard to impress irascible owner Al Davis who still loves that vertical passing game that this AFC West crew hasn't exactly perfected in recent seasons. Hey, if Jackson is really smart than he should let PK Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler "determine" a handful of games for him instead of going for it on fourth-down plays.

JIM HARBAUGH, San Francisco 49ers - The most coveted first-year coach out there came from the college ranks as reports filtered out that the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos had major interest in this former Stanford boss man but instead he stayed "close to home" and grabbed the big bucks. Now the $64,000  question is whether or not the ultra-aggressive Harbaugh will be so hell-bent on passing the ball two-thirds of the time without knowing full well who is his best quarterback on the roster ... is it oft-disappointing Alex Smith or perhaps someone else (see rookie Colin Kaepernick)?

One thing about Harbaugh is that he comes into the pros with a guns-blazing mentality and so it's incumbent to crank out more points than last year's 49ers squad that ranked 24th in league (only 10.1 ppg) and to do that you might see some flea-flickers, halfback passes and the like just to move the ball in chunks.

Hey, Harbaugh comes into the NFL coaching ranks with a Mr. Fix-It reputation but he - like the other first-year coaches - really is hurt by this lockout that didn't allow quite enough time to have this team jell and he could get easily frustrated by the lack of chemistry early on.

MIKE MUNCHAK, Tennessee Titans - It's hard to believe the Jeff Fisher Era finally did come to an end after 16-plus seasons in Houston/Nashville but this AFC South club has turned the page while leaving this long-time offensive line coach in charge.

The knee-jerk reaction is to believe that Munchak - who has hired Chris Palmer as his new offensive coordinator and Jerry Gray as his new defensive coordinator - will stay with an ultra-conservative approach this year with lots of running plays but does Munchak really wish to "wear out" Pro Bowl RB Chris Johnson (316 carries and a team-high 44 receptions last year)?

A major "plus" for Munchak is that he knows the team's personnel (as much as a coach can know personnel during this pre-free agency period) and won't be afraid to let the team's veterans take on a larger role while a "minus" is he has been part of the team's recent decline - no playoff wins since 2003 - and so he's been unable to play a part in stopping the backwards fall.
 
Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) both got their wet feet last year while coaching eight and six games, respectively, for their teams a year ago and so they have a bit of a "head start" on these aforementioned first-year head coaches but there's some major questions how both will run their first camps and so be sure to follow their plans of attack this summer.


 

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