Snapshot of Division Leaders

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

MIDWEEK MATINEES FEATURE FIVE DIVISIONAL LEADERS

A quirk in the Wednesday schedule saw FIVE different divisional leaders (out of six MLB divisions) in action early in the day. The Philadelphia Phillies (East), Pittsburgh Pirates (Central), and San Francisco Giants were all in afternoon matinees in the National League. Boston (East) and Cleveland (Central) were out on the summer heat over in the American League.

This gave us a great chance to check in on almost every division leader during this time of big excitement in the pennant races long before publication deadlines would be an issue. Let's crunch some numbers from Wednesday action and see how various contenders are handling the heat!

We'll start in the National League where Pittsburgh held a half game lead in a crowded NL Central race entering their matchup with divisional rival Cincinnati...

CINCINNATI 3, PITTSBURGH 1
Total Bases + Walks: Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 9
Starters: Cueto 6 IP, 1 ER, Karstens 7 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Line: Cincinnati -135, total of 7.5
Notebook: Not exactly a thriller. Two of Cincinnati's runs came on sacrifice flies. Two of their runs were unearned. The right team won based on offensive base production. It was another pitcher's duel in a series where the bats never really got going.

Pittsburgh 2, Cincinnati 0
Pittsburgh 1, Cincinnati 0
Cincinnati 3, Pittsburgh 1

There are some 4-3 games that are pretty boring. The Reds and Pirates just played 4-3 over 27 innings! It would be one thing if we were talking about elite pitching staffs. But, these teams continue to put up good pitching numbers with arms that you have to wonder about. Maybe the Pirates have solved whatever was ailing most of their staff throughout their prior careers. Maybe Bud Selig legalized the spitball but kept it a secret from the media! We are impressed with Pittsburgh's pitching this year. We're still skeptical that they can keep it going for six full months.

We were looking at this as a litmus test series for both teams. Pittsburgh was dealing with media pressure about being in first place for the first time in decades. Cincinnati really had to shine if they wanted to get back into the NL Central race. We showed you yesterday that the Reds had the numbers to compete even if the wins weren't there yet. A win for Cincy here was nice, but they still went backward in the series. Pittsburgh's offense looks to be gagging under pressure a bit, but their pitching bailed them out anyway.

Big matchups for both this weekend when Pittsburgh hosts St. Louis and Cincinnati hosts Atlanta. The litmus tests for both will continue.

PHILADELPHIA 9, CHICAGO CUBS 1
Total Bases + Walks: Philadelphia 28, Chicago 8
Starters: Worley 8 IP, 1 ER, Dempster 3 IP, 6 ER
Vegas Line: Philadelphia -125, total of 11
Notebook: Great hitting conditions at Wrigley Field...with the game time temperature at 95 degrees and the wind blowing out a bit to right field. That's why the Vegas total was 11. And, that's why the Phils had five runs by the top of the second inning! It was 7-0 through four, and both teams kind of went through the motions after that with a day off beckoning. Neither plays Thursday. The Cubs stay at home for a weekend series, and Philly heads home to face the Padres. So, this was basically half a game, with a few innings of exhibition work after that.

Another strong outing for Worley, whose ERA is now down to 2.02 for the season even though hardly anyone had heard of him entering 2011. Roy who? The Cubs fall to 5-12 in June, continuing a full season of moribund play. Though they did manage to steal a win in this series, which the Phils have to be embarrassed about.

Tough to see anyone in the NL catching Philadephia from behind if Worley continues to pitch this well. The "big three" of Halladay, Hamels, and Lee are already dynamic enough. Not fair at all that a fourth titan has joined that mix from out of the blue.

LOS ANGELES 1, SAN FRANCISCO 0
Total Bases + Walks: Los Angeles 16, San Francisco 4
Starters: Kershaw 8 IP, 0 ER, Lincecum 7 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Line: San Francisco -140, total of 5.5
Notebook: The Dodgers could only turn 16 offensive bases into one run. And, that came on a solo home run by Dioner Navarro (just his 3rd of the season!). They drew six walks and had a few doubles, but it all came to naught outside of the dinger. Great outing for Clayton Kershaw, who allowed only three hits in eight innings while striking out 12. Note that the Dodgers are now 13-8 this year in games started by Kershaw, 30-47 with all other starting pitchers.

San Francisco wins the series two games to one even if they can't finish off the sweep. The Giants now get a sustained respite before playing at home again Friday Night vs. Milwaukee. Tough to see anyone catching them from behind in the NL West unless there's a major injury in the rotation.

In American League games involving pennant race teams Wednesday afternoon...

BOSTON 4, BALTIMORE 0
Total Bases + Walks: Boston 23, Baltimore 8
Starters: Miller 5.2 IP, 0 ER, Arrieta 7 IP, 3 ER
Vegas Line: Boston -135, total of 10.5
Notebook: Baltimore was on the verge of getting to Miller, who allowed six walks in less than six innings. But, they could only add two hits, neither of which came at the right time. Boston's bullpen threw 3.1 innings of no-hit ball to slam the door shut.

The Red Sox take two of three in the series, which isn't a sweep, but is pretty good considering this was a letdown spot on the schedule after that huge series in Tampa Bay. You'll recall that Boston had to go well past midnight Sunday to win in 16-innings against an AL East contender. They could have been flat as a pancake in Baltimore, but took care of business in a way that wasn't going to hurt much given that the two teams right behind them in the standings (Yankees and Rays) are playing each other.

Since their long forgotten 2-10 start to the 2011 season, Boston is a fantastic 57-27. That's a .679 clip, which is the equivalent of 110 wins over a full season schedule. The Red Sox are still the class of the AL by quite a good bit over the past few months. Will they have enough frontline pitching in the playoffs? They still have time to resolve that issue.  

MINNESOTA 7, CLEVELAND 5
Total Bases + Walks: Cleveland 15, Minnesota 16
Starters: Tomlin 6 IP, 4 ER, Blackburn 6 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Line: Cleveland -115, total of 9
Notebook: An unseasonably warm 92-degree day may have helped out the hitters. Not often you see temps get that high in Minneapolis! The score kind of overstated the offense though, as the offensive production is more consistent with a 4-4 tie rather than a 7-5 shootout. Both teams clustered their bases well in the first half of the game.

Cleveland had to be happy with a double header sweep back on Monday. But, all it got them was a four game split when it was all said and done. Very little separates the top four teams in the AL Central right now in terms of true quality. Minnesota is back in the mix after getting past some injury issues during a horrible start. Chicago and Detroit are kind of treading water with various highlights and lowlights. Cleveland can't be trusted to string together success at this point either.

Did you realize that Minnesota had been playing the best ball in the group by quite a good bit over the last month?

LAST 30 GAMES BEFORE WEDNESDAY
Minnesota: 18-12
Cleveland, Detroit, CWS: 15-15

Make it 19-12 the last 31 games for the Twinkies, who now trail the Indians by only five games. If the Indians are going to keep playing .500 ball the rest of the way, that's a deficit that can be made up by the end of August, let alone the end of September.

The races in both Central divisions could turn out to be very exciting. Just remember that we're talking about parity battles in mediocre divisions rather than top teams playing elite baseball.

That wraps up our look at the pennant race teams who were playing some early Wednesday baseball. Philadelphia and Boston reminded everyone of their greatness. Some others reminded everyone of what they're lacking!

Back with you tomorrow to preview the Atlanta/Cincinnati series that will be prominently featured this weekend on FOX Saturday and ESPN Sunday Night. Saturday will bring us back to our college football conference previews. Those will run every weekend through July and August. The ACC is on the clock this weekend, where Florida State is getting a lot of preseason run. The final week of July will bring the shrunken Big 12 and the Big East. We'll cover the mid majors in August.

Don't forget that game day releases are available from JIM HURLEY right here at the website for credit card purchase. Be sure you take care of business before the day games start. There are five matinees on the card for Thursday, so BE ALERT! We have great rates for the rest of the season that offer the most bang for your buck. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Looks like we're in store for a great stretch of baseball before football gets here. Keep building your bankrolls with RED HOT JIM HURLEY!

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