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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Saturday, June 20, 2015 at 11:12 AM

THE BASEBALL REPORT: WE'RE TRACKIN' THE TOP SERIES THIS FATHER'S DAY WEEKEND INCLUDING GIANTS-DODGERS & CUBS-TWINS

THE NBA DRAFT IS LESS THAN A WEEK AWAY AND WE'LL LET YOU WHO ARE THE "SLEEPERS"

NFL NEWS & NOTES: YOUNG WIDE RECEIVERS GET OUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION

Oh, daddy! There are some real great series this Father's Day weekend in Major-League Baseball and here's some of what we'll be watching ...

In the National League, it's ...
PITTSBURGH (38-27) at WASHINGTON (34-32) - Fri, Sat & Sun
If the 2015 season ended today, the Pirates would be in the playoffs, the Nationals would not ... but is there anyone out there that really believes the D.C. gang will be playing .500 ball all year long? Not us!
It's true that Matt Williams' squad has been the epitome of mediocrity so far this season even though RF Bryce Harper (hitting .344 with 22 HR and 52 RBI and with an electric .478 on-base percentage through Wednesday's game) has flashed MVP-like numbers but the supposedly pitching-rich Nats right now rank just eighth in the NL in team ERA (3.94) and now comes word that both RHP Max Scherzer and LHP Gio Gonzalez are having their starts pushed back a day to Saturday/Sunday so both can snag an extra rest day.
Meanwhile, the Pirates entered last night's game at the Chicago White Sox riding a seven-game winning streak and might we remind you that Pittsburgh's a healthy 13-3 against NL East teams this year. No doubt CF Andrew McCutchen (.379 on-base percentage and team-leading .296 batting average) is starting to heat up after an abysmal start to this season but Scherzer and Gonzalez - among others - better hope they can contain underrated LF Sterling Marte who leads Pittsburgh with 12 HR and 45 RBI.

SAN FRANCISCO (35-32) at LOS ANGELES DODGERS (37-29) - Fri, Sat & Sun Nite (ESPN)
The funny thing about this old-time rivalry series is that the following starting pitchers won't be in action this June weekend:
No LHP Madison Bumgarner for the Giants (he just lost 2-0 in Seattle this past Wednesday night);
No LHP Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers (he just lost 5-3 versus Texas on Wednesday night) and no RHP Zack Greinke either as he started last night's game against the Rangers).
So, you might think "advantage Giants" here and you might be right - consider that San Fran's won 7-of-9 games against LA so far in 2015 and here we'll see if some "surprises" this year can make an impact as we're talking about Giants 3B Matt Duffy who entered yesterday's action hitting .333 in his last 36 at-bats with three dingers and on the Dodgers' side we'll pay particular attention to do-everything CF Joc Pederson who entered yesterday's action with a .390 on-base percentage and a .537 slugging percentage - both of 'em are Dodger bests thus far.

In the American League, it's ...
DETROIT (34-32) at NEW YORK YANKEES (35-30) - Fri, Sat & Sun
Hey, the toughest things to dodge this weekend in The Bronx might not be the pitches thrown by suddenly-hot Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez (see back-to-back shutout wins) or the ones by Yankees righty Masahiro Tanaka (fresh off back-to-back great starts against Miami and Washington) but rather the rain drops as foul weather is forecast for much of Saturday/Sunday - here's hoping we can get in a full three-game set with a reminder the Yanks are still without ace closer LHP Andrew Miller (17 saves) but there's always flame-throwing RHP Dellin Betances ready/willing/able to close the deal now in ninth innings where the Bombers hold a lead.
Note that Detroit says DH Victor Martinez is expected back in the lineup come Saturday's night game and manager Brad Ausmus hopes "V-Mart" can hit the ground running to team with 1B Miguel Cabrera who entered last night's game in Cincinnati with four homers in his last 10 games and with 15 dingers and 51 ribbies on the year.
Here's a stat that you might not believe: The Tigers rank 11th in the AL in home runs with 53 ... we had to look twice at that stat before we comprehended it!

In Interleague action, it's ...
CHICAGO CUBS (35-28) at MINNESOTA (36-30) - Fri, Sat & Sun
Solid NL vs. AL showdown series at Target Field where the Twins just "held serve" with that home-and-home split with the potent St. Louis Cardinals (both clubs won their two home games there) as solo homers yesterday afternoon by Minny's Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas (the latter a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning) and now Paul Molitor's better-than-you-think club entertains another NL Central squad and note the Cubs have plenty of mashers that will look to make this pitcher-friendly park a little smaller.
Both Cubs' 1B Anthony Rizzo (12 HR and a .422 on-base percentage) and kid 3B Kris Bryant (team-leading 39 RBI) likely will get their shots at last year's All-Star Game closer Glen Perkins (23 saves) here and their success or lack thereof figures to determine who wins two-of-three in this set.

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 Saturday/Sunday/Holiday Winners. Plus, the Football Season isn't that far off as NFL Preseason action swings into gear in early August - can't wait!

THE NBA DRAFT

No question that the mass media has been pounding it over everyone's heads - and we've been "guilty as charged" too - with all this discussion regarding just who will be the top handful of picks in Thursday's NBA Draft.

Meanwhile, as we noted in yesterday's edition of Jim Sez, the newly-crowned champion Golden State Warriors just cashed in with guys picked #7, #11 and #35 overall in recent drafts (see Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, respectively) and so the lesson learned is you can mine plenty of gold throughout the two rounds of draft action and so here let's check on some potential sleepers and where they might go:

TREY LYLES, PF, Kentucky - One of the gazillion (or so it seems) players from the UK Wildcats that probably never really got a full shot to be a major member of last year's Final Four/almost unbeaten team, this 6-foot-11 scorer projects as a better pro than a college player and there's plenty of chatter that he could be a top 10 pick when all the dust settles at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this Thursday night. Lyles generally has been forecast as a top 15-to-20 pick but do not be surprised if he slips into the top 10 with the Charlotte Hornets at #9 (or possibly a team trading into the top 10) making a move for Lyles.

R.J. HUNTER, SG, Georgia State - One of the darlings of "March Madness" a few months back (along with his dad, of course), this rather lanky 6-foot-6 sharpshooter likely saw his stock rise with the importance of the three-point shot in this year's NBA Playoffs. Hunter - rated as this draft's 23rd-best prospect according to one well-respected web site - probably will be a borderline lottery selection with the Utah Jazz at #12 said to be interested in his services.

DELON WRIGHT, PG, Utah - One issue that's pushed this 6-foot-5 point guard towards the final third of the Draft's opening round is the fact he's already 23 years old, but in a day-and-age of "potential" this Los Angeles native already is a man and thus we believe he'll go higher than #26 where he's currently slotted. Could see Wright - who is also a defensive demon - could be a great fit with the Houston Rockets at pick #18.


NFL NEWS & NOTES

Let's go 'round the league for some quick-hitter developments as it pertains to wide receivers ...

The Buffalo Bills have not been a playoff team since the 1999 season - that's the longest non-playoff drought in the league as Bills' fans well know - and if Year One of the Rex Ryan Era is gonna produce a post-season berth then WR Sammy Watkins must be a major factor in this offense that last year scored more than 24 points in just two of the team's final eight games. Watkins claims he'll be healthy for training camp later next month after undergoing off-season hip surgery. Watkins caught 65 passes worth 982 yards (a 15.1 yards-per-catch average) with 6 TDs in his rookie year with the Bills last season but Ryan and Company are hoping for a closer-to-100 catches mark in 2015 but the $64,000 question remains who'll be throwing him the ball deep? ...

Meanwhile, there's annoyance emanating from the Carolina Panthers' camp after second-year WR Kelvin Benjamin showed up overweight by eight-to-10 pounds for the team's mini-camp and then Benjamin (1,008 yards receiving and 9 TD last season) promptly pulled a hamstring muscle that will set him back a few weeks. The Panthers claim Benjamin should be ready to roll come late July when camp opens but head coach Ron Rivera decried, "He (Benjamin) is too good a player to have on the sideline (because of weight-related issues)." ...

Finally, as long as we're on the topic of young wide receivers, let's take a quick refresher course to remind y'all that six wide receivers were nabbed in the first round of last spring's NFL Draft - here's the list and what we expect: Note the draft selection in Round I that precedes the player's name here:

#4 Amari Cooper, Oakland - Think the late Al Davis is smiling as the "vertical passing game" could very much be a major part of the Raiders' offense once again.
#7 Kevin White, Chicago - The Bears need a game-breaker in the worst way but will QB Jay Cutler have the time/protection to get 'em the ball?
#14 DaVante Parker, Louisville - Foot woes could keep this former Louisville star stalled at the start of his pro career.
#20 Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia - The Eagles have a whole bunch of new playmakers but we say Chip Kelly's crew must get the ball in the USC rookie's hands 75-or-more times.
#26 Breshad Perriman, Baltimore - Did the Ravens "reach" for this former UCF pass-catcher? We'll see.
#29 Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis - This speed demon could be the "missing link" piece for QB Andrew Luck this year and beyond.

 

 

THE BASEBALL REPORT: WHAT MANAGERS DESERVE AN "A+" GRADE SO FAR

THE NFL ODDS TO WIN IT ALL: WE'RE TAKING A LOOK AT SOME OF LAST YEAR'S PLAYOFF TEAMS

Okay, so depending on where you/your family reside, the school year already may be over for summertime or it might well be ending sometime this week.
In any event, it's never too late to hand out grades as we head towards the "mid-term" of this here-and-now 2015 Major-League Baseball season and right now we'll concentrate on the very short list of big-league managers who - we believe - deserve an "A+" grade - the best of 'em all:

KEVIN CASH, Tampa Bay - The former bullpen coach of the Cleveland Indians has been a superstar in the profession nearly three months into this baseball season as the 37-year-old had the Rays playing 38-30 ball (that's a .559 winning rate) while entering this weekend series against the host Indians. Cash - who replaced the ultra-popular and successful Joe Maddon in Tampa/St. Pete - has gotten the Rays to play their best ball on the road (20-13, the best in the American League) and he gets more high marks for keeping this pitching staff intact and on top (second in league in ERA at 3.38) despite some major injuries to the likes of LHP Matt Moore.

PAUL MOLITOR, Minnesota - Go ahead and raise your hand if you believed the Twins would be playing .545 ball nearly halfway through this MLB season. Molitor - another rookie field general - has Minny at 36-30 heading into the hyped Interleague weekend set against the visiting Chicago Cubs and whether it's been squeezing every bit of life from a rather non-descript offense or getting the most from starting pitchers Kyle Gibson (1.25 WHIP) and RHP Mike Pelfrey (team-leading 2.97 ERA) the fact of the matter is the Twins were supposed to be cellar-dwellers again in the AL Central and instead are in the thick of a pennant/wild card race.

A.J. HINCH, Houston - Hey, Astros fans, do you remember the days of Tom Lawless, Bo Porter, Tony DeFrancesco and Brad Mills? They were the team's managers since the start of 2010 and they - as we all know - didn't meet with much success but the Hinch Era that started in April has been a real blast thus far. The former short-lived manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks has steered this team to a 40-28 record (best in the AL West) thanks to the league's numero uno power squad with 97 homers but Hinch has been aggressive with steals, hit-and-run plays and the like and he's been a perfect fit so far.

MIKE METHENY, St. Louis - How do you not recognize this fourth-year manager as an "A+" performer as the Cardinals have darted out to a 43-23 season (MLB-best .652) despite the fact they've lost key team members such as RHP Adam Wainwright and 1B Matt Adams (and, more recently, LF Matt Holliday) and don't dismiss the matter that St. Loo is 19-8 when playing fellow divisional foes ... and aren't those teams taught that divisional games are the ones that matter most?
 

NFL ODDS TO WIN IT ALL

This won't be the last time we check in with the Las Vegas numbers-crunchers to discuss the "Odds to Win it All" come Super Bowl 50 (no Roman numerals, remember) but here we'll deal with just six NFL teams that made the playoffs a year ago:

ARIZONA (30-1) - It's hard to believe that last year's Cardinals started off 9-1 SU (straight-up) before injury woes at quarterback piled up and turned 'Zona into an anemic offensive team. If QB Carson Palmer can stay in one piece all this year, then maybe the Redbirds can be considered "bargains" at this whopping win-it-all price tag.

BALTIMORE (28-1) - Here's another hefty price for a team that's made it to the playoffs in six of the last seasons that head coach John Harbaugh was calling the shots but you can't ignore the fact last year's Ravens allowed 25-or-more points in six of their final 11 games and that wobbly "D" was one of the reasons the post-season journey ended in the divisional round at Foxboro.

CAROLINA (45-1) - We know that the Panthers' organization is counting on a real break-out season for QB Cam Newton but is there enough ammo on hand and will second-year WR Kelvin Benjamin avoid that "sophomore jinx" with recent weight issues already plaguing his summer start. Keep in mind that Carolina did make the playoffs a year ago as a losing team (7-8-1) and this season must play non-divisional road games in Seattle, in Dallas and at the New York Giants ... think Carolina can win two-of-three here?

CINCINNATI (34-1) - Hey, as every football fan knows the Bengals have made it to the playoffs in each of the last four years (and five of the last six seasons) but they can never win once they get there and so go ahead and grab this monstrous win-it-all price at your own risk. The fact of the matter is QB Andy Dalton and mates may just need that one playoff "W" to get the ball rollin' and there's no question this Bengals' bunch is one of the NFL's deepest teams.

DALLAS (12-1) - You may not remember the Cowboys' overall dominance but last year's club outscored opponents 467-to-352 and save for that sketchy catch-or-no-catch play by WR Dez Bryant in the divisional playoff game in Green Bay that 2014 Dallas team might have been Super Bowl-bound. Well, the 'Boys get another shot at the Packers come Week 14 and - who knows - maybe that one determines home-field advantage come the NFC Championship Game. Hey, the price is right here even without RB DeMarco Murray on the Dallas side anymore.

DENVER (12-1) - By all accounts this will (finally) be the QB Peyton Manning Farewell Tour but is anyone out there really expecting these 2015 Broncos to score 482 regular-season points (or 30.1 ppg)? Note that this AFC West gang will play four of its first six games on the road including away tilts versus Kansas City, Detroit, Oakland and Cleveland. Gotta feeling this win-it-all price will go up once everyone sees the Broncos' overall talent level (especially on offense) ain't what it used to be.

NOTE: Remember the NBA Draft is set for next Thursday, June 25th and we'll have previews/coverages all through the next several days plus there's more Baseball News/Notes comin' soon in these Jim Sez columns. Our Jim Sez NBA Mock Draft comes your way in Wednesday's column, so don't miss out!