MLB Top Weekend Series + NFL Quick Hitters Cont'd

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!!! NOW HERE’S A LOOK AT THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND’S TOP SERIES IN EACH LEAGUE AS WE CHECK OUT BREWERS-REDS AND BLUE JAYS-A’S…

OUR NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES ROLL ON WITH THE COLTS, DOLPHINS & RAMS UNDER OUR JIM SEZ MICROSCOPE

By Jim Hurley

Remember that old baseball bromide…

You know, the one about the team(s) leading their divisions on the 4th of July usually are the ones that wind up winning their divisions?

Well, if that’s true than come October we should expect Detroit, Oakland and Milwaukee to be part of the post-season action while there’s a mad scramble right now for first place in the National League East, the NL West and the AL East.

And if you believe that the best teams come July 4th should be the ones squaring off in the World Series come late October, then how does a Oakland A’s versus Milwaukee Brewers battle in the Fall Classic grab ‘ya? Hmmm.

Somehow the TV ratings might not shoot through the proverbial roof for that one!

In any event, we’ll touch on both the Brewers and the A’s here as we check out the 4th of July weekend’s best series in the bigs…

In the National League, it’s…

MILWAUKEE (51-35) at CINCINNATI (43-41)—Fri, Sat & Sun
Say this for the 2014 Brewers:

They may be coming into this set on a three-game losing streak, but everything else about this Milwaukee team screams winner… the Brew Crew is 24-18 at home and an even-better 27-17 away, plus they sport winning marks against all three NL divisions and they’re 9-6 in Interleague play, and so hats off to manager Ron Roenicke, who may get less national publicity than any first-place manager we’ve ever known!

This weekend the Brewers are banking on some major long-ball in home-run friendly Cincinnati—note Milwaukee ranks second in the NL in dingers (with 88) and keep in mind 1B Mark Reynolds has been in a major home run funk as he hasn’t poked a homer in his last 26 games.

On the flip side, the Reds are back home after a whacky road trip where Cincy swept San Francisco four in a row and then got swept three straight in San Diego. The Reds’ bats accounted for just two runs in the three-game series in SD and hard to believe but Cincinnati ranks only ninth in home runs in NL play (71).

P.S., Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto hasn’t homered since May 10th, and the Reds aren’t gonna be making any post-season run without Votto delivering some dingers… and soon!

In the American League, it’s…

TORONTO (47-39) at OAKLAND (51-33)—Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun
This nifty four-game weekend set started with a Thursday night game after the A’s returned home limping after getting swept three in a row in Detroit—hey, that sort of stuff is gonna happen even to a team that’s playing .600-plus ball but can we cool this talk about Oakland closer LHP Sean Doolittle having to “prove himself” after he surrendered that walk-off grand slam to Detroit’s Raji Davis this past Monday night?

We actually heard MLB Network’s Chris “Mad Dog” Russo question Doolittle after that yard shot, but the fact remains this dude has 57 Ks and 2 BBs in 39.1 innings and he’s saved 11-of-14 games so far… and you just know you’re gonna have a time or two this weekend when he’s facing righthanded-hitting sluggers Edwin Encarnacion (26 HRs) and Jose Bautista (17 homers) with games on the line. Fun stuff!

One thing to watch is a Blue Jays team that leads the AL in home runs with 113 but can they scratch out runs in other ways at cavernous Oakland Coliseum?
Look for one-time All-Star Game MVP OF Melky Cabrera (.301 BA and 106 base hits) to be the make-or-break guy for the North of the Border crew.

And now hear this…

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are banging outs lots of winners in Major-League Baseball these days and all you need to do is check in either right here online at www.jimhurley.com or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 any time after 1 p.m. Eastern time for the weeknight action, after 11 a.m. ET for weekday games and after 10 a.m. ET for Saturday/Sunday/Holiday Winners.

Plus, the Football Season isn’t that far off as NFL Preseason action swings into gear on August 3rd with the NFL Hall of Fame Game between the New York Giants versus the Buffalo Bills—can’t wait!

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NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES
It’s summertime and that means the annual "Jim Sez" report on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins and the St. Louis Rams… and check out our quickie pointspread ditties here too:

INDIANAPOLIS—So how does an NFL team go about winning its division by four games?

If you were the 2013 Indianapolis Colts, you sweep a sad-sack group of divisional foes in the AFC South and that 6-and-oh mark gets you an 11-5 SU (straight-up) record and an easy divisional crown.

Now, if this year’s Colts wishes to have a repeat performance, then this defense must take a step in the right direction:

Note that last year’s stop unit finished 30th in overall defense (and next-to-last in the league in passing defense while surrendering 363 yards passing per game) and so things are not exactly panning out this summer.

The Colts already have cut a few defensive players that they believed would add depth to this roster and back in mid-June there was Indianapolis DE Fili Moala getting placed on injured reserve after suffering a partially torn ACL after a collision with a teammate in OTAs.

Moala started six games last year and accounted for 21 quarterback hurries and so—even before summer camp begins—the Colts are scouring for more bodies on “D” or else even more of the team’s burdens will be heaped on the shoulders of third-year QB Andrew Luck.

Pointspread Notes—The Colts have experienced some modest success in a few different spread categories during this "Luck Era" as Indy’s registered an 11-8 ATS (against the spread) mark as underdogs the past two years and the “Horseshoes” are a composite 20-13-2 ATS overall during this time frame. P.S., the Colts are 3-1-2 spreadwise in their last six showdowns against the rival Tennessee Titans.

MIAMI—One of the major storylines that will be coming out of summer camp this year is can QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Mike Wallace finally get on the same proverbial page?

Last year the duo—albeit in their first season together—combined for only five pass plays worth 40-or-more yards and many times it appeared Wallace grew increasingly frustrated when Tannehill didn’t look his way. It’s a problem that first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will attempt to rectify this summer camp although in-the-know folks claim there was better chemistry between the two in the recently held OTAs.

Note that this is only Tannehill’s third year on the job, but if he isn’t able to be a big-play maker to Wallace, then you wonder how this reshaped offensive line will fare when facing lots of seven- and eight-men-in-the-box alignments.

Keep in mind the post Bully-Gate offensive line already is missing Pro Bowl C Mike Pouncey who is out for the start of the season following recent hip surgery.

Pointspread Notes—Let’s just say the Dolphins have turned the beat around in their own backyard. Miami’s covered 14 of its last 21 home games dating back to the midway point of the 2011 season and that’s pretty special when you consider the Fish were 18-46-1 ATS at home from 2003 thru the end of 2010. In case you hadn’t yet snuck a glance at the Miami sked for this season, then note Miami’s non-AFC East home schedule includes Kansas City, Green Bay, San Diego, Baltimore and Minnesota—the first three of those non-divisional foes all made it to the post-season a year ago.

ST. LOUIS—Okay, so last year’s Rams were the only NFC West team to not win double-digit games (they finished 7-9 SU) and to make a breakthrough in a division that sports the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the three-years-in-a-row NFC Championship Game participant San Francisco 49ers this St. Loo squad must perk up a passing game that last year ranked 25th in the NFL (195.3 yards per game) and—obviously—must keep QB Sam Bradford healthy.

The summertime reports say Bradford claim his surgically repaired knee feels really good and he was an active member of the team’s recent OTAs but the $64,000 question going forward is can Bradford’s array of pass-catchers step it up this season?

Former first-round draftee WR Tavon Austin out of West Virginia is being counted on to get a handful-or-more touches per game this year, and the Rams would like to see the Bradford-to-Austin tandem hit on more deep balls in the Brian Schottenheimer-coached offense while there’s major optimism that former Tennessee wide-out Kenny Britt can get an integral part of this attack.

One stat note from a year ago:

The Rams had just 41 pass plays that covered 20-or-more yards last year and with this downfield speed you can be sure that more “home run” balls are in the game plan.

Pointspread Notes—Remember that last year’s Rams started off the season on a four-game ATS losing streak and so that 7-9 spread mark at year’s end doesn’t look quite as bad as one might think, but keep in mind that St. Louis is a solid 9-6 ATS at the Jones Dome in head coach Jeff Fisher’s two years on the job. Hey, what really killed Rams backers a year ago was the fact Fisher’s crew failed to cover five-of-six games played against fellow NFC West opponents and that included 35-11 and 23-13 setbacks against 3½- and 7½-point favorite San Francisco—a team that had lost five of the previous six head-to-head spread showdowns versus the Rams.

NOTE: More NFL team-by-team quick hitters in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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