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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Friday, May 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM

IT’S A BASKETBALL-FREE SPORTS WEEKEND
ON THE COURT, SO LET’S CRANK UP
THE BASEBALL RUMOR MILL
PLUS THERE’S MORE MLB NEWS & NOTES …
OKAY, SO WE KEEP THE UPCOMING NBA FINALS
ON THE BACK-BURNER WITH FUN FACTS/FIGURES

If you happened to believe that the Houston Astros (30-18) were going to enter the last weekend in May with the largest lead among all first-place teams in Major-League Baseball, then bully for you!

The fact of the matter is the ‘Stros – sporting a solid 6-game lead over the Seattle Mariners while heading into last night’s action – have been the numero uno story in the “bigs” this season and not bad considering Houston’s pretty much been treading water in recent days while splitting its last 10 games dating back to May 18th.
Keep in mind that Houston ranks first in the American League in home runs with 66 dingers while the team batting average of .234 ranks ‘em 14th and next-to-last in the junior circuit but you know the deal as the Astros steal lots of bases, pitch well (the team’s 3.57 ERA is third-best in the AL) and gets timely hits every time you look up!

Now, here’s rumor mill time:
Yes, we know generally it’s early to be discussing trades as most MLB teams generally go a little deeper into June/July before making serious personnel moves but you gotta wonder if the Astros will be in the market for a starting pitcher in the coming weeks.

No doubt LHP Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP) is an All-Star who has allowed just three home runs in 72.2 innings and he’s the head-and-shoulders ace on this current staff while RHP Collin McHugh (5-2, 4.24 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP) has been a solid “second banana” these first two months of play but the likes of journeymen RHPs Scott Feldman (4.4, 4.80 ERA) and Roberto Hernandez (2-3, 4.77 ERA) – the designated #3 and #4 starters with 19 game starts between ‘em so far – ain’t gonna scare anyone and so the chatter’s begun as to whom Houston will acquire in the coming weeks.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman claims the ‘Stros could be hot for a Cincinnati Reds starter – either free-agent-to-be RHP Johnny Cueto or else teammate Mike Leake – but ask us and we believe that Houston could well be a genuine player for LHP Cole Hamels (if willing to part with a couple of high-level or mid-level prospects) or maybe even Oakland LHP Scott Kazmir.

Hey, if you’re looking for other possible “destinations” for the aforementioned Hamels and/or Kazmir then you might consider San Diego as the Padres (23-25) are just 8th in the National League in team ERA at 4.07 and there’s a semblance of panic setting in on this franchise that went for broke this past winter with a slew of trades – so why aren’t they a winning team two months into this baseball season? …
In other MLB News & Notes …

No surprise that the Philadelphia Phillies (19-30 and losers of four straight games) are right there at the bottom of all 30 baseball teams in the runs differential category with a minus 64 and it’s not helping matters that 1B Ryan Howard continues to strike out at alarming rates – Howard fanned four times in five at-bats in last Tuesday’s 5-4 extra-innings loss at the New York Mets and the Phils’ insiders say they can’t wait to trade away the one-time slugger who has 10 HR and 10 doubles while batting .256 so far this season. Would Howard really block a trade to an in-contention AL squad such as the Los Angeles Angels or Tampa Bay Rays? …
So, who are baseball’s most “underappreciated” closers?

How about Minnesota Twins LHP Glen Perkins who leads all of MLB with 18 saves to go along with a miniscule 1.19 ERA in 22.2 innings and San Francisco RHP Santiago Casilla (14 saves)?
The Giants’ quiet star is 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA with 21 Ks and 7 BBs in 20.2 innings this year and note Casilla has allowed just one home run this year.

Hey, you’ll remember last year Perkins closed out the AL’s All-Star Game win at Target Field in Minnesota last July – he could be in the same “save” position for this year’s Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati …
Finally, the “marquee matchup” for this late May weekend is the Los Angeles Dodgers (28-18) at the St. Louis Cardinals (31-16) with the scheduled pitching showdowns as follow:

Tonight it’s Dodgers RHP Mike Bolsinger (3-0, 0.71 ERA) at Cardinals’ RHP John Lackey (2-3, 3.18); on Saturday, it’s LA righty Carlos Frias (3-2, 5.34 ERA) at St. Louis right-hander Michael Wacha (7-0, 1.87 ERA) and Sunday afternoon’s series wrap-up game figures to feature a duel between Dodgers’ LHP Brett Anderson (2-2, 3.47 ERA) and Cards’ RHP Carlos Martinez (4-2, 3.54 ERA) but how about munching on some of these up-to-date stats:

The Dodgers lead the NL with 62 home runs and rank fifth in team batting average at .261 and third in runs scored with 209. The Los Angeles team ERA ranks third in the NL at 3.25.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank first in the NL in team ERA at a tiny 2.78 (thank you, Mr. Wacha!) while offensively St. Lou’s 39 homers ranks ‘em 8th in the senior circuit while the Redbirds rank 2nd in team batting average at .268 and 5th in runs scored with 202.
Maybe the most eye-opening of the St. Louis stats while heading into this three-game set at Busch Stadium is this:

The Cardinals have five everyday lineup regulars hitting .305 or better while the Dodgers do boast eight different pitchers with winning records but current ace RHP Zack Greinke (5-1, 1.48 ERA and an 0.87 WHIP) and last year’s Cy Young/MVP winner LHP Clayton Kershaw (3-3, 3.86 ERA) won’t start this weekend at the NL Central-leading Cardinals.

Note …
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to rock-n-roll through the post-season all through the weekend and right into the middle of June too!

Go online right here at www.jimhurley.com or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 each/every day and cash in with all the NBA Finals beginning Thursday night and remember there’s Major-League Baseball on tap every day too!

 

THE NBA FINALS
Much is being made of the fact the Cleveland Cavaliers have been part of the NBA Finals just once in the franchise’s 45-year history (see 2007) while the Golden State Warriors have not been part of the Finals since 1975 (see sweep over the then-Washington Bullets) – and gotta admit it’s a sense of “fresh air” after lots of San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers the past decade.

In fact, if you look at our accompanying 10-year NBA Finals chart, you’ll see that the Spurs/Heat/Lakers represented 12 of the last 20 teams to have played in the past decade of NBA Finals series and so – even though LeBron James is back for a fifth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals – this is a “new look” in terms of the title-hunting teams.

Hey, check out the fact that in the last 10 NBA Finals there’s been three go-the-distance/seven-game series, there’s been three series that have gone six games, there’s been three NBA Finals that were won in five games and then that aforementioned Spurs-over-Cavaliers sweep back in ’07.

YEARCHAMPIONGAMESLOSER
2014San Antonio5Miami
2013Miami7San Antonio
2012Miami5Oklahoma City
2011Dallas6Miami
2010LA Lakers7Boston
2009LA Lakers5Orlando
2008Boston6LA Lakers
2007San Antonio4Cleveland
2006Miami6Dallas
2005San Antonio7Detroit

Finally, the NBA Finals that will most certainly feature Cleveland’s James – averaging 27.6 points per game these playoffs – and Golden State guard Stephen Curry (averaging a haughty 29.2 ppg) includes some other key stat leaders including the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut with 1.9 blocks per game and Cleveland’s J.R. Smith who is connecting on 45.7 percent of his field-goal tries (only down a tad from Curry’s 46.1 field-goal percentage these playoffs).

Note: More NBA Playoff Reports/Previews plus Baseball too in the next edition of Jim Sez!