Bernie Bits: STL And MLS, Schwartz-Tarasenko Hypocrisy, Cubs’ Distress, Cards Need LH Reliever

Here’s your dish of Bernie Bits for Jan. 18, 2019 …

(As Always, Pardon My Typos)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who turns 29 today. The two-time NHL All-Star has played 652 regular season games for the Blues, which ranks 9th in franchise history. Only one defenseman, Barret Jackman, has competed in more games for the Blues than Pietrangelo… unbelievable, but retired NHL great Mark Messier is 58 (sorry; earlier I typed in the wrong digits and had Messier listed at age 61)  … “Field of Dreams” star Kevin Costner is 64.

BORN ON THIS DAY:  St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Curt Flood (b-1938, d-1997.) Flood was an outstanding center fielder and generator of offense for the Cardinals from 1958 through 1969. His all-around skills were paramount in the Cards’ World Series championships in 1964 and ‘67. In baseball history, Flood will always be remembered, and admired, for his courage in challenging MLB’s reserve clause after he refused to accept a trade to the Phillies before the 1970 season. Flood’s antitrust case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though the high court ruled against Flood, his willingness to sacrifice his career in pursuit of fairness for all players inspired the MLB Players Association to take up the cause, keep pushing, and change the industry. Flood’s character and unselfishness opened the door to free agency. …

And on a lighter note, every brain-weary sportswriter’s best friend was born on this day in 1779: Peter Mark Roget, the dude who came up with Roget’s Thesaurus. In my newspaper days, I never left home without it.

DIED ON THIS DAY: Let’s start with Jerome “Curly” Howard, the best of the Three Stooges, who passed on back in 1952 . He was too young; only 48. (Reported) last words: “I guess I’ll never be able to make the children laugh again,” … and John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, who died in 1862. It was a peaceful passing. Just beyond midnight, Tyler sipped from a glass of brandy and informed his doctor, “I am going. Perhaps it is best.” 

I say it’s a tie; both of these great Americans were dignified and eloquent in a tough spot.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS HISTORY: In 1938, pitcher Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander was elected to Baseball Hall of Fame. In the 1926 World Series, Alexander had two complete-game victories and a critical save in Game 7 as the Cardinals defeated the Yankees. Ol’ Pete may or may have not been extremely hungover — or possibly still buzzed from the night before — when he unexpectedly got summoned to finish off the threatening Yankees.

TRENDING UP:  St. Louis U. guard Jordan Goodwin,  who ranks second in the Atlantic 10 Conference in assist rate, and is in the Top 50 nationally in steal rate. Goodwin has averaged 16 points, six assists and nine rebounds over his last two games. The Billikens, 4-0 in the A-10, host St. Joseph’s at 6 p.m. (STL time) tonight at Chaifetz. The game is on 101ESPN, or if you prefer, ESPN2… 

TRENDING DOWN: Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, who has only 3 goals in 33 games this season. But as always, Schwartz gets a free pass from most of the STL media and too many fans. Put it this way: if the eternal scapegoat Vladimir Tarasenko only had three goals at this point of the season, fans and media would file charges and seek prosecution. The hypocrisy is amusing.  Here’s a stat from the always informative STL Blues History  account on Twitter: “Since 1987-88 there have been 137 St Louis Blues forwards with 80 or more shots in the Blues 1st 45 games of a season … 136 of them had 4 Goals or more in the 1st 45 games; Schwartz is only player to have less than 4 Goals.” 

 (Bernie comment: Must be Tarasenko’s fault, of course. For instance, I blame Tarasenko for all of the problems associated with the Delmar Loop Trolley.) 

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Who wins the Conference Championship games on Sunday? Answer: Saints over Rams in the NFC; Chiefs over Patriots in the AFC.  Reason? In the NFC, the Saints are the pick because they rule at home … and also because they have the league’s No. 3 rush defense … and because coach Sean Payton can exploit LA’s weakness in covering receivers, including Michael Thomas, who line up in the slot.  I think the Patriots go down because they’ve been a shaky group on the road this season. And also because Patrick Mahomes is at his best in close games. When it’s a one-score game, Mahomes has completed 70% of his passing attempts for 15 touchdowns two interceptions and a 126.8 passer rating. And this should be a tight game. Hard to go against New England. But the Chargers set up in a stupid defense that made it easy for Tom Brady to do whatever the hell he wanted. The Chiefs have an ‘ugh’ kind of defense, but coordinator Bob Sutton will come up with something to slow the Patriots. Best hope for both road underdogs? Run the ball. Many times. 

MLS / ST. LOUIS UPDATE: 

When the MLS awarded its 27th franchise being awarded to Austin, Tex., the move had absolutely no impact on the St. Louis bid for an expansion team. The Austin  decision was made months ago as a payoff Anthony Precourt, owner of the Columbus Crew, who sought to move the team from Ohio to Austin. The MLS intervened and agreed to give the Precourt the expansion team in Austin; he agreed to sell the Crew to the family that owns the NFL Cleveland Browns.  St. Louis was NEVER competing with Austin for that 27th club. And once the local effort was revived in St. Louis by the most excellent Carolyn Kindle-Betz , the Taylor family and Jim Kavanaugh, St. Louis was competing for the 28th team and a number of markets that want in.

Goal.com handicapped the race for No. 28, and ranked the cities/candidates accordingly.

Soccer writer Ives Galarcep put St. Louis at No. 1 on the list of 10 competing markets.

Here’s what he wrote about STL’s chances:

A market once thought dead as an expansion option, St. Louis has been revived after the recent emergence of a new expansion group with the financial muscle to push the mid-western city back into a prime contender position.

A group made up of family members of the founder of car rental powerhouse Enterprise have joined forces with Jim Kavanaugh, part-owner of USL side St. Louis FC and a member of the group that tried to bring MLS to St. Louis in 2017 only to have a stadium measure defeated by a public vote. The new expansion group is focused on a stadium project that wouldn’t require public funding, which is a game-changing development.

It is no secret that MLS has long viewed St. Louis as an important market due to the historical significance of one of the country’s longest-serving soccer hotbeds, and now with no other clearcut frontrunner, St. Louis is suddenly well-positioned to jump to the front of the line.

Here is Goal’s Top Ten ranking of the competing markets:

  1. St. Louis
  2. Sacramento
  3. Phoenix
  4. Detroit
  5. Raleigh
  6. Tampa
  7. Charlotte
  8. San Diego
  9. Las Vegas
  10. Indianapolis

READING TIME FIVE MINUTES:

»»»  This question was posed to several baseball analysts on ESPN.com : “If Bryce Harper surprises by signing with a team not considered one of the primary suitors, who do you think it could be?” Writer David Schoenfield chose the Cardinals. “They actually have a lot of payroll flexibility in upcoming years and will need a big bat in 2020 and beyond if Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna depart as free agents.”

»»»   Could the Blues trade defenseman Jay Bouwmeester? The well-connected Elliott Friedman — of Sportsnet in Canada, and NHL Network Insider — thinks it’s possible:  “There were rumors earlier this season that Bouwmeester might be put on waivers,” Friedman wrote. “He was battling to get back from hip surgery and really struggling. His minutes fluctuate quite a bit: In his first 20 games he didn’t play a ton, but in the next 12 his low was 19:27. After that he was held down for four, then ramped up in the last five. He’s a rental, and he’s been playing better, although there are physical limitations. I’ve heard a few teams have watched him to see if he’s a fit,”  …

»»»  Friedman also offered an amended view of the Blues’ outlook leading into the league’s Feb. 25 trade deadline, writing: “One of those who might choose to wait is St. Louis. Missing the playoffs in 2017–18 was very hard on their ticket renewals, and this was supposed to be a rebound season. Instead, it’s been a nightmare. That said, they’ve crept within four points of Minnesota currently in the final playoff position,” … 

»»» The Bleacher Report posted its rating of MLBs top starting rotations (as of now), and the Cardinals were deemed fourth-best on the list, behind Cleveland, Washington, and the Los Angeles Dodgers … and ahead of Houston, Boston, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia and the NY Yankees.

»»» The Cubs, up against he MLB luxury-tax threshold, aren’t spending much money this offseason. They’ve stayed out of the chase for the biggest free agents. Chairman Tom Ricketts has taken exception to the media-and-fan characterization of the Cubs being cheap, or overly cautious. Ricketts pushed back by doing a sports-radio tour in Chicago this week. Among other things, Ricketts said, “We like our club. And we’re among the very top spenders. I think that stuff is just kind of misguided.” He added: People have to realize, money doesn’t win championships, players do.”  Ricketts is catching heat for another reason. The Cubs are having their annual fan convention this week, and Ricketts is breaking a tradition. He won’t be taking questions from the team’s fans as part of an annual Q&A session.  Draw your own conclusions. But I’ll go with Chicago-Sun Times columnist Steve Greenberg, who said this when he wrote of Ricketts’  decision to bail out of the Q&A at a time that the chairman is absorbing criticism: “That’s a bad look.”

»»»  And Cubs manager Joe Maddon took some mild swipes at grumbling Cubs fans. After all, the Cubs have MLB’s best record since the start of the 2015 season. They’ve averaged 97 wins, made the postseason four consecutive years, won the World Series in 2016 (for the first time since 1908) and are still viewed as one of the top contenders in baseball for 2019.

“I really don’t understand why anybody would be jaded about this group,” Maddon said. “If you’re a Cub fan, and having gone through what you’ve gone through for so many years, I think you’d kind of like this group right now. I’m talking from ownership right down to the players and everybody among the group. It’s a well-rounded organization — a lot of good young players, a lot of good people and a very successful group on the field. So it’s hard to imagine what else you could possibly want. We want the championship as much as anyone else does, but you’ve got to be somewhat pleased with what’s happened over the last four years, I would think.”

CLOSING TIME AT BERNIE’S PLACE …  HAVE  A SEAT. 

Three shots, drink up all you merry people …  and let’s talk about the Cardinals bullpen. 

1. Two “name” relievers were pulled off the free-agent market Thursday: RH Adam Ottavino (Yankees) and RH Cody Allen (Angels.) The Cardinals could use more bullpen muscle. But the market is thinning.

2. As I type this, two lefty free agents are still available: There’s the click Tony Sipp (former Astro) and Oliver Perez (former Indian.) Both are clearly superior to any left-hander in the Cardinals’ bullpen except recent free-agent purchase Andrew Miller. But here’s the deal: Miller won’t be used exclusively as a closer or ninth-inning specialist. Manager Mike Shildt will move him around, using Miller earlier in games when the Cardinals face a make-or-break situation.

3. Let’s just say that Miller is called into the sixth inning, or seventh inning, to dispose of a serious hazard and preserve the Cardinals’ lead. But what if you need to get dangerous LH batters  Joey Votto, or Anthony Rizzo, or Christian Yelich out in the eighth or ninth inning? What, the Cardinals would rather have Brett Cecil, Austin Gomber, Chasen Shreve or Tyler Webb handle the emergency instead of Sipp or Perez? (No offense to the young Gomber, but’s he’s better as a starter at this stage.) If the Cardinals won’t zoom in on a quality lefty to buttress the bullpen … well, here’s to rookie reliever Genesis Cabrera. The kid will have to get ready — ahead of schedule.

Thanks for reading… have a wonderful weekend.

-Bernie