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Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Friday, August 11, 2017 at 3:24 PM

EXCITING RACES ON TAP IN BOTH MAJOR LEAGUES AS WE APPROACH THE FINAL TURN

We're about to transition from a baseball-heavy summer to a football-heavy fall here in JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. So, instead of previewing a big weekend series (and there are a few of them!), we're going to outline the pennant races from this point forward. Then, we'll be talking football for the for-seeable future.

NL EAST: Washington looks to have shorn up its bullpen issues, which will make them even more dangerous in the postseason. We know they'll win this division…but can they beat the LA Dodgers in the playoffs if the teams go head-to-head. Assuming full health for Scherzer, Strasburg, and Harper, the Nats match up better with LAD than anyone else in the league. NETWORK will likely be on Washington strong in the first round vs. whoever survives the NL Central.

NL CENTRAL: This race was thrown wide open when Wilson Contreras pulled his hamstring. The Cubs led the division largely because he gave them such a big edge over the other teams at a key position. Without him, Chicago's just another "decent" team that may have trouble outlasting the likes of St. Louis, Milwaukee, or even Pittsburgh if somebody else doesn't step up. Watch this weekend's series in Arizona for clues about the team's mindset. And, keep fading the Cubs vs. quality because they have a losing record vs. good teams even with Contreras is healthy. Unless Contreras can come back at full strength by October, this divisional winner will be a clear dog to Washington in the first round.

NL WEST: The Dodgers aren't just the class of the division, or the league, they might be the class of the decade, the new century, or the last 50 years! They only question now is if they can dodge some of the coin flip endings in projected playoff pitcher's duels. For now, they're still a steal for investintg on almost a nightly basis because the market won't accept this level of greatness. Arizona and Colorado are legit playoff teams (either would lead the NL Central right now). But, a tough draw will limit what they can do under the spotlight. Be aware that neither of those two offenses is as good as you were thinking, because the park effects of their home stadiums inflate offense.

AL EAST: Boston got hot recently, and has pulled away from the pack for the time being. Chris Sale is going to win the Cy Young. The bullpen is better than people realize. And, now the offense is starting to produce more consistently. The Yankees have a playoff caliber roster, but if Aaron Judge is going to be a black hole of strikeouts the rest of the way, their lives just got more complicated. Tampa Bay is supposed to be a Wildcard team. But, their bats keep disappearing in pressure situations. Given the depth of arms, either Boston or NYY could win the AL as long as they can get into the brackets. And, any Wildcard with arms could give Houston trouble in the first round.

AL CENTRAL: Cleveland is finally starting to get some distance. They have a championship caliber roster, which is why the market keeps pricing them like champions even without 2017 results to back that up. Neither Kansas City nor Minnesota has a starting rotation that should scare people. If you rearrange the divisions (with their division-heavy schedules), both might have been out of the playoff picture already. The Royals really disappointed in their rivalry series vs. St. Louis. KC or Minnesota would be a big road dog to an AL East Wildcard in the play-in game.

AL WEST: Houston's amazing offense will get them into the playoffs easily, but may not be enough to win in October. Great pitching tends to beat great hitting in the postseason. Smart bettors will be looking to fade Houston when the leaves turn. Can Seattle or the LA Angels crash the Wildcard party? A lot of iffy, inconsistent teams right now. The market isn't impressed with either one. Either would also be a big road dog to an AL East Wildcard entry.

JIM HURLEY knows that picking winners in the most important games involves understanding each team's skill sets, each team's mindset, and each team's poise under pressure. That's true in any sport…but particularly baseball. He's ready for the stretch run, and you can tell he already has his playoff plans mapped out! Even if you mostly bet football from August through October…please consider adding baseball your arsenal so you can GET THE MONEY even more often!

Whether it's football or baseball, you can always purchase BEST BETS from NETWORK right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, please call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 to take care of business. Ask about combination packages that get you the best of both sports at a very reasonable price.

Back with you Monday to review lessons from the first week of NFL Preseason action, and look ahead to opportunities in Week Two and the dress rehearsals. It's time to FOCUS ON FOOTBALL in the NOTEBOOK. Let PROVEN WINNER and HANDICAPPING LEGEND JIM HURLEY show you how it's done!