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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Monday, July 6, 2015 at 9:17 AM



Do you happen to be old enough to remember that old rent-a-car commercial that claimed "We're No. 2, so we try harder"?

Well, that little ditty somehow found its way into our head last night when thinking about the 2015 version of the Pittsburgh Pirates (47-34):

The Bucs head into this week's three-game home series against the San Diego Padres (and then a monumental four-game home series against St. Louis) in a rollickingly good mood having won five-of-six games last week - first there was the clean three-game sweep of the host Detroit Tigers followed by two-of-three wins at home against the Cleveland Indians - and don't look now but Clint Hurdle's club has the best winning percentage (.580) of any second-place team in baseball and a better win percentage than all but two teams in the bigs ... only the Kansas City Royals (.582) and the National League Central-leading aforementioned St. Louis Cardinals (53-28, .654) are better.

And that there's the rub. The Cards sport a lofty six-game lead over the Pirates in that NL Central race and even a hot Pittsburgh team that's won seven of its last 10 games overall ain't making up much (if any) ground on St. Louis lately but the guys in white, black and gold sure try hard!

In fact, CF Andrew McCutchen just hit in his 12th consecutive game on Sunday while going 1-for-3 (a wall-banging, two-RBI double) with a walk in the 5-3 win against Cleveland and take note the slow-starting McCutchen is hitting a robust .366 during this current 12-game hit streak.

And let's not leave out a couple of lefty hackers as 2B Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to nine games in a row while going 1-for-3 with a walk in Sunday's game - Walker's batting a whacky .459 during his nine-game hit streak;

Then there's Pedro Alvarez who crushed a two-run home run in that Sunday victory that helped Pittsburgh close the gap at the time to 3-2 with the Indians in the lead. Alvarez has 12 homers and 37 runs batted in now for a Buccos bunch that ranks a middling sixth in the league in runs scored (323) but back-to-back 1-0 and 5-3 wins against the Tribe during the Fourth of July holiday weekend further cemented the fact that Pittsburg's a "for real" team that earned wild card playoff berths each of the last two years - the Pirates beat Cincinnati in the wild card game in 2013 and Pittsburgh lost to Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants last year - and so there's plenty of been-there, done-that vibes emanating from the Pittsburgh clubhouse.

Hey, it doesn't hurt matters that this pitching staff ranks second in the senior circuit in team ERA (2.90) and RHP Gerrit Cole (11-3, 2.20 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP with 108 strikeouts and only 25 walks) should be on the very, very short list for potential All-Star Game starters.

Still, we were surprised to learn the Pirates are "only" 16-13 this year when playing one-run games - we would have believed that record to be a whole lot better - but in case you were wondering the Cardinals are only 17-13 in one-run games this year.

And later this week when Cardinals-Pirates becomes all the rage in Major-League Baseball - yes, a truly great four-game series to take the sport into this year's All-Star Game break - we'll be paying close attention as to whether or not the Pirates can win the close ones against the Cards or whether "we're No. 2" is gonna have to be Pittsburgh's slogan for the rest of this season.

Okay, so we close out this "ode to the Pirates" with the following factoids following the just-completed holiday weekend:

Pittsburgh's 38-28 against righthanded starting pitchers and 9-6 versus lefthanded starting pitchers and, finally, the Buccos are 10-5 in Interleague games - that's easily the best won/loss mark by an NL team when playing an American League squad and so if Hurdle's crew does make it to the post-season for a third consecutive year you might look back at the Interleague success.

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 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 the baseball winners. Plus, the Football Season isn't that far off as NFL Preseason action swings into gear in early August - can't wait!


It is summertime and that means the annual Jim Sez report on all 32 NFL teams with our quick-hitter looks continuing today with the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco ... and check out our quickie pointspread ditties too:

CLEVELAND (7-9) - There is a touch of irony that the Browns tabbed three straight "in-the-trench" players at the top of their draft this past spring. After all, the Browns grabbed oodles of headlines last year for their oft-dysfunctional quarterback play that included part-time play from then-rookie QB Johnny Manziel.

Now, the lights are turned on bright to see what these top rookies have to show for themselves later this month in summer camp: Defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington) was the #12th overall pick in this year's draft, then there was C Cameron Irving (Florida State) picked later in Round I at pick #19 followed by the selection of DE Nate Orchard (Utah) with a second-round choice at pick No. 51.

Suffice to say all of the above draftees are expected to contribute right away and Irving - who suffered a minor undisclosed injury in recent OTAs - told reporters he'll be good-to-go for summer camp and he enters it gaining high praise from Tampa Bay rookie QB Jameis Winston who insisted Irving was his blind-side protector in college. Might Irving be the steal of Round I? Hmmm.

Pointspread Notes - One thing that bettors have learned in recent years is don't trust the Browns when in the role of the favorites as this AFC North crew is a collective is 6-15-2 ATS (against the spread) as chalk-eaters since the start of the 2010 season.

ATLANTA (6-10) - The modern-day NFL game may be all about throwing the football but, let's face it, you do still have to run the ball. The Falcons - who last year finished 24th in the NFL in per-game rushing yardage (93.6 ypg) - drafted one running back in Indiana's Tevin Coleman in the third round and new head coach Dan Quinn and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan believe Coleman will be in a spirited battle for the No. 1 spot with second-year pro Devonta Freeman (248 yards rushing and 227 yards receiving last year) and Antone Smith who missed most of last season with a leg injury.

Right now the "smart money" is on Freeman but the Falcons are said to love the way Coleman hits the hole and his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame (Freeman's just 5-foot-8) might sway the brand-new coaching staff.

Pointpread Notes - Since late in the 2012 season, the Falcons are just 8-13-1 versus the vig when playing non-divisional foes and that includes seven-of-eight spread setbacks when playing AFC foes.

SAN FRANCISCO (8-8) - Is there anyone out there that believes the SF 49ers will be a Super Bowl contender this year? The Niners had a turbulent offseason and not just because fiery head coach Jim Harbaugh vacated the premises. Three defensive players announced their retirements - LB Patrick Willis, DE Justin Smith and kid LB Chris Borland - and CBs Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver both flew the coop via free agency and so veteran WR Anquan Boldin tried to assure anyone listening that all's not lost.

"We hear the chatter outside," Boldin said. "It's coming from every angle."

Boldin also pointed out that San Fran will embrace the challenge and keep in mind one new face wearing Niners colors is oft-travelled RB Reggie Bush who chimed in by saying, "A championship isn't won in the offseason."

Pointspread Notes - The 49ers took a major step backwards last year in the wagering department as San Fran stumbled to a 5-10-1 ATS mark after compiling a 34-19-3 spread log from 2011-thru-2013.

NOTE: Lots more Baseball and Football coverage all this week right here at Jim Sez, so don't miss out!