Bernie Bits: Buzzing About Craig Berube, David Backes, Bradley Beal and Marty Brennaman

Bernie Bits for Jan. 17, 2019 … 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  Retired Cardinals pitcher Mark Littell is 66. He pitched for the Cards from 1978-82 … lefty reliever Jeff Tabaka is 55; he had a 5.78 ERA in eight appearances for the 2001 Cardinals … the beloved Betty White, “The First Lady of Television” is 97 … acclaimed actor James Earl Jones — “Field of Dreams” — is 88.

BORN ON THIS DAY: The great heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) …The late Darrell Porter, the Cardinals’ catcher from 1981 through ’87. He was born in 1952 and died –way to young — in 2002. Porter was the MVP of both the 1982 NLCS and World Series; in 10 games during the ’82 postseason, Porter batted .351 with a .442 onbase percentage and .568 slugging percentage… NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante (1929-1986), who played for the 1968-69 Blues and later served as a Blues goaltending coach … notorious gambler Arnold Rothstein (1882-1929) who fixed the 1919 World Series between the corrupted Chicago “Black Sox” and the victorious Cincinnati Reds.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS HISTORY:  In 1995, the Los Angeles Rams announced that they were moving to St. Louis. Sigh. Those were the good old days days …  In 1988, the Denver Broncos defeated the Cleveland Browns for the AFC Championship in a game best known for “The Fumble.” Trailing 38-31 with 1:12 left to play,  Browns running back Earnest Byner lost a fumble at Denver’s 3-yard line, and the Broncos recovered to clinch their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

TRENDING UP:  The Blues, who can complete a successful road trip with a point or two in Boston. So far on this four-game roadie the Blues have pocketed five of the available six points. It would be a shame to see them regress in the final game before coming home … also trending up is St. Louisan Bradley Beal, the Washington Wizards’ seventh-year guard who has thrived since backcourt mate John Wall went down for the season with a heel injury on Dec. 26.  Since Wall had to check out for surgery, Beal is averaging 29.3 points with 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists while clocking around 40 minutes per game. And as the Washington Post notes, Beal’s “Game Score” since the Wall injury is  21.7 — the sixth highest among NBA starters  that have played at least 300 minutes over the last 10 games.

TRENDING DOWN: Sorry to keep growling about Mizzou basketball, but Wednesday’s 70-60 loss to visiting Alabama was abysmal. It’s one thing for the Tigers to struggle on offense, but Cuonzo Martin teams are known for playing tough defense. And practically and factually speaking, Missouri has played awful defense during the 0-3 start in SEC play.  The Tigers have made it way too easy for opponents who are feasting on high-percentage shots. Alabama, for example, frolicked in the lane for 40 points Wednesday. And after three SEC games, the Tigers rank 14th (last) in the conference in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (56.5%), 14th in opponents’ two-point  field goal percentage (59.4%; national average 50%), are 14th in blocked-shot percentage, and are 14th in steals percentage. Bottom line: in conference play, the Mizzou Tigers have the worst defense in the SEC based on adjusted defensive efficiency rating. They’re 19.5 percent below average on the defensive end according to KenPom metrics. By the way, KenPom projects Mizzou to lose the next four SEC games — at Texas A&M, at Arkansas, home vs. LSU, and at Auburn. That would give MU a hideous 0-7 start in the SEC standings.

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Have the Cardinals done enough this offseason?  Answer: No.

Reading Time, 5 Minutes: 

It took some time for Blues’ interim coach Craig Berube to sort through the junk and refuse of a disastrous start to the season, and get lackadaisical players to refocus and respond. But Berube has made a difference. He’s leading the Blues to higher ground. He’s taken the team in a more positive direction.

Consider:

⇒  In 19 games under coach Mike Yeo, the Blues ranked 29th in the 31-team NHL with a .447 points percentage.

Under Berube (25 games) the Note’s points percentage ranks 14th overall, and fifth in the West,  at .538.

⇒ And in their last 19 games for Berube, the Blues are 11-7-1 for a points percentage of .605.

⇒  And the Blues have amassed some very telling  even-strength  stats over the last 19 games — a stretch that began Dec. 7.

⇒ The Blues are controlling the game, based on shots, more than any NHL team except San Jose. That translates into a the Blues Corsi for percentage of 54.5%, second to San Jose’s 58%.

⇒ The Blues rank 9th in even-strength goal differential during the 18 games, scoring 55.2 percent of the even-strength goals.

⇒  The Blues are  No. 3 in the NHL in scoring-chance percentage, at 55.7 percent. That’s a huge scoring-chance edge over their opponents’ 44.3 percent.

⇒  And check this out: in the last 18 games the Blues have a high-danger scoring chance percentage of 59.06 percent; that’s No. 2 in the NHL over that time. And this means Blues’ opponents have threatened Blues goaltenders with only 40.94 percent of the high-danger chances in the competition. That’s dominant.

 Finally, the Blues save percentage over the last 18 games is .923, which ranks 13th in the league.Does Berube have a chance to earn the full-time job and stay on as head coach?

Well, it’s too early to declare anything.

For now it’s fine to point out the progress and see how it goes from here.

Can the Blues sustain their success? Don’t know. I don’t trust them yet. But one would have to be willfully dishonest to ignore the Blues’ improvement under Berube.

Finally …

CLOSING TIME.

A VISIT TO BERNIE’S PLACE

Three shots, drink up merry people… 

1. Congratulations to Cincinnati Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman, the Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster who announced plans to retire after the 2019 season. The delightfully outspoken Brennaman has been the Reds’ primary broadcaster since 1974, when he entered the booth at age 31 to succeed Al Michaels. Brennaman, 76, is a Cincinnati legend. But he’s also enjoyed a prestigious career on a national level, with assignments that included 11 NCAA Final Fours (including the famous “Christian Laettner Game” with Duke shocking Kentucky on an improbable final-second shot. One of Marty’s first calls as the Reds’ play by play man was describing Hank Aaron’s career homer No. 714, which tied Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Marty is one of the all-time greats. And I’ve loved listening to him call games through the years. If you made a list of the most lovable — and amusingly cantankerous — sports personalities, Marty would be near the top.

2. Wishing the best for David Backes, the former Blues captain who is laboring in Boston, experiencing a rough year in his third season with the Bruins. Backes, 34, never has been a fast skater — but his pace on the ice has slowed noticeably. He’s had one goal and is a minus 6 in his last 14 games and was scratched from the lineup Wednesday when the Bruins hosted the Flyers. Until then, Backes never been a healthy scratch during his 12 NHL seasons. “It’s a . . . it’s a kick in the bag,” Backes told reporters that cover the Bruins. “But are you going to sulk and cry, or are you going to take it as a challenge to reset, get your butt going? If this means I sit tonight and I am fresh against my old squad tomorrow, then maybe we’ll find a silver lining there and we can be a big contributor tomorrow night.”

Backes signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Bruins in the summer of 2016. It was an idiotic contract to begin with, given his age and the tough-miles count on Backes’ body. This full-contact, hard-contact player had little chance to last five seasons at a high level. He was destined to run out of gas. But Backes is a proud and honorable man who will give his all. He’s expected to be in the lineup Thursday night when the Blues visit Boston.

3.  The LA Rams play at New Orleans for the NFC Championship, and this could be a problem for Rams quarterback Jared Goff. When Goff is playing at home, no problem. In his eight regular-season home games this season, Goff had a passer rating of 116.7 with a 68.3 completion percentage, 22 touchdowns and only three interceptions. But in eight regular-season road games Goff had a passer rating of 82.7, completed 60.8 percent, and had a poor TD/INT ratio with 10 touchdown passes and nine pickoffs. Goff’s 82.7 rating ranking 19th among 22 NFL quarterbacks who  attempted at least 200 passes on the road. The only three QBs from that list who performed worse than Goff on the road were Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (benched),  the hapless Blake Bortles (Jacksonville’s bust) and NY Jets rookie Sam Darnold.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie