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Thursday, July 20

   by Larry Ness - 07/20/2006

MLB's hottest teams lost on Wednesday while the majors' coldest teams won. Steve Trachsel, who was attempting to win his eighth consecutive decision, settled for a 'push' (no decision), although the Mets lost to the Reds. Meanwhile, if you visit your local bookstore or newsstand, you can't help but realize that America's real pastime (college and pro football), is right around the corner!

I said I 'loved' yesterday's card and I delivered a perfect 3-0 day! Although I don't have a free play for the second straight day (I will on Friday, Saturday and Sunday), I am book-ending Thursday with a 15* Afternoon Delight and then a 15* Evening Clincher. Be sure to grab them BOTH!

Starting with Steve Trachsel, the Mets' hurler was staked to an early 4-0 lead but he was not the same after returning from a rain delay and did not get out of the fourth inning. Cincy's three-run eighth, gave them a 7-4 win. Speaking of weather delays, the Braves and Cards survived a severe storm that produced 80 mile-per-hour winds and a more than two hour stoppage of play.

The Cards beat the Braves 8-3, ending Atlanta's seven-game winning streak, as well as the team's streak of having scored 10 runs or more in each of its last five contests. Earlier in the day, the Indians ended John Lackey's scoreless streak at 30 2/3 innings with a five-run fifth, as Cleveland snapped the Angels' ML-best eight-game winning streak. The win ended Cleveland's losing streak at five straight, leaving Tampa Bay with the majors' longest active losing streak (six straight).

In a battle of the game's only active 300-game winners, Clemens and the Astros bested Maddux and the Cubs, 4-2. The Rocket's win (his 343rd) moves him into sole possession of eighth place on the all-time wins list. As for Maddux, the loss drops him to 2-11 over his last 15 starts. In Detroit, the Tigers used a five-run 6th (helped by Craig Monroe's grand slam) to beat the White Sox 5-2, just the Tigers' second win over Chicago in eight tries this year.

Thursday's 10-game schedule includes five day games, as well a three national TV contests. The White Sox and Tigers meet on ESPN at 1:05 ET in the rubber game of a series that pits MLB's two-best records. Jose Contreras (9-1, 3.48), who had his team-record 17-game winning streak snapped Friday by the Yankees, goes for the White Sox while Detroit's ageless Kenny Rogers (11-3, 4.10) is on the mound for the Tigers.

The Cubs host the Astros at Wrigley on WGN (2:20 ET), as Carlos Zambrano goes his seventh consecutive win. Zambrano (9-3, 3.23) is 6-0 over his last eight starts and owns exactly 25 percent (nine of 36) of the Cubs' wins this year. His 131 Ks and .197 opponents batting average are tops in the NL.

TV action concludes tonight on ESPN (7:05 ET), when the Yankees and Blue Jays open a four-game series in Toronto. It's hard to get a much better pitching matchup, as Mike Mussina (11-3, 3.30) squares off against Roy Halladay (12-2, 3.06). Halladay is unbeaten in his last eight starts at home, going 6-0 with a 2.93 ERA plus is 6-1 with a 1.61 ERA in his last seven starts against New York.

Mussina has already clinched posting double-digit wins for the 15th straight year. If you don't think that's special, think again. He's just the 12th pitcher in MLB history to have accomplished that feat. Of the other 11, nine are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are Greg Maddux (a sure-fire HOF selection) and Jim Kaat (who with 283 lifetime wins, should be in).

After Wednesday's results, the Thursday afternoon game between the Devil Rays and the Twins at Minnesota (1:10 ET) features the two longest active winning and losing streaks in MLB. The Devil Rays have lost all six games since the break. Last night's 7-2 loss to the Twins was their 11th straight loss to Minnesota, dating back to the 2004 season. The Twins, who now own a six-game winning streak, have won 18 of 23 overall and 19 of their last 20 at home.

The pitching matchup features rookie James Shields of Tampa vs Johan Santana of Minnesota. Shields won his first four decisions in his major league career but hasn't won since June 21. He's 0-3 in his last four starts, with a 8.59 ERA. Santana opened the year 0-3 in his first four starts (4.81) but has gone 9-2 in 15 starts (team is 13-2) since April 27, with an ERA of 2.53. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span is 120-15! Guess which team is the $3.00 favorite?

As mentioned earlier, the football season is just around the corner. Preseason magazines are everywhere and all NFL teams will be in camp by the end of the month. The earliest reporting date for veterans in the NFC is July 23 (Eagles) and in the AFC it's July 24 (Raiders). The latest veterans can be in camp is July 30, the reporting date of the Cards, Colts, Redskins and Vikings (depending on their charter-boat plans!).

The college football season opens on August 31 and it will once again have Labor Day weekend all to itself. In each of the last two years, only five conference games were scheduled on CFB's opening weekend. However, this year, 14 Division I-A teams will play league games on the opening weekend. More CFB notes tomorrow.

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET.

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