Baseball News and Notes + Titans, 49ers and Packers Capsules

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES: IT’S THE FINAL WEEKEND BEFORE THE ALL-STAR GAME BREAK

AND SO THAT MEANS IT’S TIME FOR THE NL REPORT CARDS
(WE’LL HAVE AL REPORT CARDS TOMORROW!)…
MORE NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORTS
AS WE CHECK IN ON THE TITANS, 49ERS & PACKERS

By Jim Hurley

Don’t look now but we’re just a few days from Major-League Baseball’s annual All-Star Game break and not a single National League team is playing .560-or-better ball.

Call it shades of mediocrity, or maybe this is a case of some teams not yet having found their true “level”—after all, who’s to say the Los Angeles Dodgers can’t run off another 40-8 streak as they did a year ago en route to winning the NL West or perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals (whose over/under wins total was 89 ½ games prior to the start of this 2014 season) will be the ones to power up their record in the second half of the season.

In any event, it’s time to grab the red magic marker and grade the NL teams in this edition of "Jim Sez"… we’ll get to you American League teams in tomorrow’s column space:

Grade: A+
MILWAUKEE (52-41)—The one-and-only National League team to receive such a high mark, the Brewers were expected to be an 80 or 81-win team but monster years from CF Carlos Gomez and C Jonathan Lucroy plus some dandy pitching—did you realize RHP Wily Peralta’s 1.34 WHIP is the worst among this starting staff?—has really propelled Ron Roenicke’s club into the limelight. Yes, we noticed the “Crew” has lost nine of its last 10 games at press time.

Grade: A
MIAMI (44-47)—Don’t want to hear anything about giving these Fish such a great grade ‘cause they’ve been without ace RHP Alex Fernandez since mid-May and still Mike Redmond’s guys have been tough outs though we admit some of that home magic is starting to wear thin lately.

SAN FRANCISCO (50-42)—It’s rather amazing that the Giants have stayed at or above the .550 mark for much of this season considering RHP Matt Cain has won just two games and 1B Brandon Belt (10 HRs) missed two months of the season with a busted thumb… and we didn’t even bring up the fact the San Fran bullpen has blown 13 saves!

Grade: B+
WASHINGTON (49-41) —Hats off to the Nationals for regaining their footing after a slowish start and now it seems the biggest question mark for rookie manager Matt Williams is who’s gonna sit the most in this musical chairs game involving one-time-3B-turned-LF Ryan Zimmerman.

Grade: B
LOS ANGELES DODGERS (51-42)—It took two months or so for the Dodgers to “get their act together” but here’s Don Mattingly’s squad with a neat plus 50 in the run differential department and riding LHP Clayton Kershaw into immortality. Still, shouldn’t the Dodgers be a plus-.600 win team with this starting rotation that includes RHP Zack Greinke (11-5) and LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-5)?

CINCINNATI (49-43)—Take nothing away from the Reds but they were headed for disaster-land before turning the beat around in June and now they have fingers crossed that 1B Joey Votto will be back soon while 2B Brandon Phillips will be down for weeks following his thumb injury. Closer Aroldis Chapman is 19-of-21 in saves after having missed the first month… good for him!

ATLANTA (50-42)—The Braves have been a bit too streaky for our tastes but gotta give ‘em high marks for hanging in after all the spring training arm injuries as RHPs Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have been better-than-expected items off the discount rack.

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Grade: C
ST. LOUIS (50-43)—Let’s just say the Cardinals have struggled mightily for runs this year while ranking 13th in the NL in runs scored and 12th in home runs and so this has been an average year at best for Mike Matheny’s crew that may hit the 90-win mark yet, but probably needs LF Matt Holliday (5 HRs) to pop a few more long balls and now someone has to chip in after the expected eight-week loss of C Yadier Molina (thumb).

PITTSBURGH (48-44)—The Pirates had their world rocked in St. Loo this week till salvaging the four-game series with last night’s 9-1 win but overall manager Clint Hurdle has ‘em hanging in there… still, is Pittsburgh at least two arms too short to make a playoff berth in 2014? Let’s see if the Buccos will be dealing right out of the break.

Grade: C-
SAN DIEGO (40-51)—The anemic Padres rank 14th in team batting average, 15th (or dead last) in runs and 11th in home runs and so maybe being 11 games below .500 isn’t half-bad, eh?

NEW YORK METS (42-50)—The recent hot streak has breathed much-needed life into this franchise but it’s been a dour year overall without ace RHP Matt Harvey as runs have been hard to come by and the likes of 3B David Wright and OF Chris Young—among others—simply haven’t shined.

ARIZONA (39-54)—We’ll cut the Diamondbacks some slack because they did crawl back from a horrendous start but this qualifies as a “passing grade” in name only.

PHILADELPHIA (41-51)—No reason to change our tune that GM Ruben Amaro should have “gone young” two years ago and now he and this rag-tag franchise are paying for it and fully expect a “fire sale” any day now with injured LHP Cliff Lee and RF Marlon Byrd expected to be on the trade block.

Grade: D
COLORADO (39-53)—Nothing to write home about here ‘cept the fact SS Troy Tulowitzki (20 HR) is having a great and injury-free season.

Grade: F
CHICAGO CUBS (39-52)—The retooling of this franchise continues after last week’s multi-player swap with Oakland that sent RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Bay Area and all we’ll say is we like the bat and the fight of n1B Anthony Rizzo who’s Chicago tough.

Note…

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!

NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM GLANCES
Hey, it’s summertime and that means the annual Jim Sez reports on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Packers… and do check out our quickie pointspread ditties here too.

TENNESSEE—The Chris Johnson Era is over in these parts as the veteran running back these days is playing for the New York Jets, but the Titans believe they have the “next” great back in rookie RB Bishop Sankey (Washington).

The Titans’ second-round pick (and #54 overall pick in last May’s NFL Draft) may not have Johnson’s world-class speed—that simply ain’t what it used to be—but the former UW Husky star has his own style which is more brute force than it is sheer speed.

If Sankey—who ran a decent 4.49 time in the NFL Combine 40-yard dash—can be a 20-plus carry guy per game then Tennessee will take what he’ll give ‘em but keep your eyes on this bruising back that may be the key to Ken Whisenhunt’s first year as the Titans’ sideline general.

Pointspread Notes—Maybe it’s not the numero uno reason why the Titans axed head coach Mike Munchak following last year’s 7-9 SU (straight-up) season but the fact is Tennessee finished off the Munchak Era with a shabby 18-26-4 ATS (against the spread) mark that included an 0-4-1 spread mark to close out last year.

SAN FRANCISCO—One of the hot topics in/around 49ers-land these days is the expected workload this year of veteran RB Frank Gore, who has averaged 272 carries per season the past three years but is expected to carry 220 times or less this fall.

Okay, so maybe the 31-year-old Gore doesn’t wish to hear of a lightened load, but it sure appears the 49ers will spread the wealth more with RB Kendall Hunter slotted in to take a chunk of the Gore carries, and then there’s rookie Carlos Hyde (Ohio State) and even second-year pro Marcus Lattimore, who should be getting in on the fun-and-games.

It’ll be interesting to see if Gore-s per-carry average drops with fewer totes—maybe the NFC West team will change its tune if that should happen.

Pointspread Notes—The Jim Harbaugh Era has been a veritable gold mine for Niners’ backers as San Fran exited last year’s snazzy 11-6-2 ATS campaign with an overall spread log of 33-19-4 versus the vig (that’s a .635 winning rate). Note that the 49ers are 8-11 ATS in NFC West games and 25-8-4 ATS in non-divisional affairs during this three-year period.

GREEN BAY—The Packers managed to win the NFC North last year despite a wobbly 8-7-1 SU mark and keep in mind that Green Bay actually surrendered more points (428) than it scored (417).

If the Packers’ defense is counting on any young name here than it’s first-round draftee FS Hasean “Ha-Ha” Clinton-Dix (Alabama), who was nabbed with the draft’s 21st overall selection. Clinton-Dix sports great football instincts and that’s important because last year the Green Bay defense intercepted just 11 passes overall with CB Tramon Williams’ three picks actually leading the team.

Pointspread Notes—The Packers had their four-year run of double-digit spread wins ended with last year’s 6-9-2 ATS campaign but did you know Mike McCarthy’s club has covered six of its last seven head-to-head encounters with Chicago (including that 21-14 win/cover back in the 2010 NFC Championship Game). Green Bay last year finished just 1-5-1 ATS as underdog sides after having compiled a nifty 19-7 ATS mark as pups between the 2007-to-2012 seasons. 

NOTE: Our American League Report Cards are next along with more NFL team-by-team accounts… so don’t miss out!

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