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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Friday, July 17, 2015 at 10:00 AM

DODGERS, NATIONALS IGNITE "SECOND HALF" OF THE MAJOR LEAGUE SEASON FRIDAY IN WASHINGTON

It's fairly unanimous in analytical circles that the "big four" of St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to represent 80% of the final National League playoff brackets. (It will be those four plus an additional Wildcard.) The "first half" of the 2015 Major League Baseball season wrapped up before the All-Star Break with the Cardinals visiting the Pirates. The "second half" begins Friday with the Nationals and Dodgers going head-to-head in the nation's capital. Great to have these potential playoff previews!

We should note up front that there are a few teams who believe they have a chance to disrupt what the market is saying. The New York Mets only trail Washington by two games in the NL East. Given the strength and depth of the Mets' rotation, compared to the lack of certainty for the Nats regarding their "phenom" Steven Strasburg, things could certainly get much more interesting in that division than Futures prices are suggesting. Also, the Dodgers' clearance from the pack out West has been aided by a 50/40 split in home games played to road games. If LA struggles as things even out...the San Francisco Giants could become a factor.

So...this Dodgers/Nats series is a potential playoff preview involving teams who haven't yet earned enough margin-for-error. The series loser will have something to sweat! Let's run some numbers...

OFFENSE
LA Dodgers: 4.18 runs per game, .329 on-base, .428 slugging
Washington: 4.28 runs per game, .320 on-base, .401 slugging

Both of these teams have great offenses...which is hidden to a degree by their home ballparks. Washington's stadium is actually the fourth best pitcher's park this season....so their scoring volume is impressive in that light. Chavez Ravine is historically a pitcher's park, but has been neutral in the short sample size of this season. Elite offenses...and probably the best offenses in the NL brackets come October given the lack of pop from other contenders.

Normally at this point we'd run through the pitching matchups. As of publication time, Washington hasn't yet set its rotation. And, even if they make an announcement, that's subject to change on the first weekend back. The All-Star Break allows managers to re-set if they wish to. Different managers handle that in different ways. Let's just run the full rotation numbers for the Nats...

Max Scherzer: 2.11 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 10.2 K-Rate, 7.3 IP-per-Start
Jordan Zimmerman: 3.22 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.5 K-Rate, 6.2 IP-per-Start
Gio Gonzalez: 3.99 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 7.9 K-Rate, 5.9 IP-per-Start
Doug Fister: 4.08 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 4.4 K-Rate, 5.8 IP-per-Start
Steven Strasburg: 5.16 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 9.3 K-Rate, 4.7 IP-per-Start

The market is clearly expecting Gonzalez and Strasburg to improve off of disappointing starts. Those are horrible WHIPS for NL pitchers getting to throw in a pitcher's park. And, Fister's numbers aren't promising even though he's seen as a back-end guy because of his low K-Rate. Frankly, that's NOT a championship staff based on the numbers. This is why the NL East is still up for grabs. Scherzer is a Cy Young candidate. Zimmerman is effective. The rest need to pick things up quickly.

FRIDAY'S PITCHERS
Clayton Kershaw: 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 11.7 K-Rate, 6.8 IP-per-Start
Undecided

It would be something to see Kershaw vs. Scherzer in this opener that will be televised by the MLB Network. Anyone else, and Kershaw rates the edge for the Dodgers in the series opener. If you've been watching LAD games this season, you get the sense that he's been pacing himself for the pennant race. Wonder if he'll go into a higher gear form this point forward.

SATURDAY'S PITCHERS
Mike Bolsinger: 3.08 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.5 K-Rate, 5.6 IP-per-Start
Undecided

Bolsinger needs to go deeper into his starts to be seen as a truly scary threat. Nice WHIP and K-Rate though...and certainly a guy who can win on the road if he draws one of the vulnerable arms from the Nats.

SUNDAY'S PITCHERS
Zack Greinke: 1.39 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 7.7 K-Rate, 6.9 IP-per-Start
Undecided

This will be the Sunday afternoon game on TBS. Greinke's been unscored up on for five straight games...with 35.2 scoreless innings in those outings alone. With those stats above, it's a crime he only has an 8-2 record through 16 starts! Hopefully the layoff won't mess with his momentum. Arguably an edge for the Dodgers over anyone the Nats could throw here, even Scherzer.

You can see why many in the markets rate the Dodgers as the team to beat in October even if St. Louis has the better record right now in the NL ledger. Who can top Kershaw and Greinke as a one-two punch in a short series?!

The man with the strongest 1-2 punch in Las Vegas sports betting is JIM HURLEY. You can purchase his KNOCKOUTS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service for baseball or Fall Football, please call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back to college football this weekend in the NOTEBOOK as our summer series of conference previews continues. Please check the archives if you missed the Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American, and Sun Belt previews. We transition to the big boys this weekend with a look at defending National Champion Ohio State and the Big 10.

Saturday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "West"
Monday: MLB Series Preview...Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...Baltimore at the NY Yankees
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview...to be determined
Thursday: MLB Series Preview...Washington at Pittsburgh

The electric MLB pennant races are ready to resume. That means YOU should be ready to resume winning! Go get your BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!