Bernie Bits: The Cardinals in Spring, Blues Must Avoid Trap, Drew Lock No. 1 QB?

Bernie Bits for Feb. 12, 2019 …

Reading Time 7 Minutes:

The pitchers and catchers and 27,000 media people have reported to Camp Jupiter as the 2019 Cardinals get ready to launch their return to power in the National League Central.

It’s time to warm up. Loosen the keyboards.

Here’s my spring training for spring training.

Just soft-tossing a few things out there:

* Biggest concern: Starting-pitching health. But at least there’s plenty of depth.

* The biggest story: Dexter Fowler’s viability. It touches so many areas of the team.

* Most predictable story: All things Adam Wainwright … waves and waved of Waino feel-good stories on how good he feels.

* Most pleasant surprise: Fingers crossed on Alex Reyes.

* Unpleasant surprise: Cardinals fail to get contract extensions done with starting pitcher Miles Mikolas and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

* Biggest potential controversy: I’ll take a $5 trifecta box on Fowler, Carlos Martinez, Wainwright.

* Second-biggest potential controversy: final decisions on the 25-man roster. Assuming all relevant players are healthy, the Cardinals will have to make tough calls on bench jobs — and may send two young, talented and athletic players to the minors… Tyler O’Neill and Yairo Munoz.

* Third-biggest potential controversy: Bullpen size. Seven or eight relievers?? The former manager needed eight; that was a psychological crush. The current manager seems intelligent enough to handle the challenge of a running a seven-man ‘pen.

* Storyline that will be beaten into the ground repeatedly, and for good reason: Base running, defense, fundamentals.

*  The  “X Factor” pitcher: Carlos Martinez. One way or another — as a starter (likely) or reliever — this team needs a return to form and stability.

* The “X Factor” position player: Left fielder Marcell Ozuna. If fully healthy and ready to growl, the “big bear” could power his way to an exceptional season. And if the right shoulder is limited again, at least early in the season — well, the first 34 games offer little mercy. The opening 34-game stretch includes 19 vs. Central rivals (including 10 with Milwaukee) and eight combined against Washington and the LA Dodgers.

* The area where Shildt will make the most impact: making this team smarter.

* Who is “The Closer?” Answer: Is there a specific reason for worrying about a title? Seems kind of silly; LH Andrew Miller and RH Jordan Hicks will handle high-leverage duties. Does it matter who pitches the ninth?

* Player on the spot: Ozuna.

* Most likely trade candidate: Jedd Gyorko … but good luck moving that walk-year salary.

* Shildt’s biggest challenge: His response — action, not words  — if Fowler and/or Wainwright have troubling spring trainings.

If I left anything out, we have plenty of time to check back in on the Cardinals.

Moving On…

New Jersey (21-26-8) will play the Blues at Enterprise Center tonight. It’s a trap game for the Blues, who had a chance to briefly decompress on Monday after completing a grueling but smashingly successful stretch of play. Probably won’t be easy to crank it up and get to full speed right away against the Devils. Pounce and get the early lead …

Trending Up: Bob Costas.

Trending Down: NBC’s credibility.

Happy Birthday: Bill Russell — who should have been a St. Louis Hawk — is 85. He’s one of the greatest, and winningest, players in NBA history. Russell won 11 NBA championships as player and coach for the Boston Celtics, was an 11-time All-NBA selection, and five-time league MVP … St. Charles native Josh Harrellson, who played college basketball for Kentucky, is 30. After three seasons as a backup in the NBA for the Knicks, Heat and Pistons, Harrellson is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds this season as a forward for the Osaka Evessa in Japan’s professional league. One of his teammates, Xavier Gibson, competed in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments for Florida State … and St. Louisan Michael McDonald — the singer, songwriter and five-time Grammy Award winner — is 67 today.

The Blues just completed a wonderful stretch in which they played 10 of 12 games on the road, amassing a record of 9-2-1 and outscoring opponents 33-19 at even strength. And now it’s time for The Note to do some good housekeeping at Enterprise Center; their 13-13-2 home record ranks 26th among the 31 teams … that said, going into the tonight’s game vs. N.J. the Blues have four of their last six (including three straight) at home…

Moving On… 

In his updated 2019 NFL Draft rankings, Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports rates Missouri No. 1 among quarterbacks, ahead of Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) and Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State). Here is Trapasso’s evaluation:

“Lock is my top quarterback prospect for many reasons. He has loads of experience, and I noticed clear-cut improvements with his accuracy — which still needs some work — pocket presence, and decision-making in 2018, particularly down the stretch. Also, he has high-end arm strength for the NFL level and rarely is afraid to make a throw down the field through a tight window. Plus, he’s a good athlete. The fadeaway tosses need to be left in Columbia, Missouri though.”

Small sample and all … but among the 65 NHL goaltenders who have played at least 190 minutes in even-strength situations at home this season, Blues rookie Jordan Binnington ranks No. 1 with a .958 save percentage, having stopped 92 of 96 shots on net… and Binnington is No. 2 in high-danger save percentage at .895.

Moving On … 

This Day in Sports History: in 1878, Frederick W. Thayer patented the baseball catcher’s mask. …

Died on This Day: Tom Landry, the iconic head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, passed away on this day in 2000 at the age of 75. I covered the Landry as a Cowboys beatwriter for the Dallas Morning News in 1988. It was Coach Landry’s final season and a sad one at that, with the Cowboys going 3-13. Jerry Jones immediately fired Landry after completing his purchase of the Cowboys in Feb. 1989, and brought in Jimmy Johnson as coach. Landry was a gentleman, dignified but not haughty. He was always polite to me but gave up on pronouncing my difficult last name. So Coach Landry gave me a nickname that would take care of that; he called me “Mike.” I’ll never forget the experience of being around Landry for an entire season. And the day he cleared out his office at Valley Ranch — well, it was surreal.

Born On This Day: The late, great St. Louisan, Joe Garagiola, in 1926. We miss Joe, who earned vast prestige and affection as a Cardinals catcher and legendary baseball broadcaster. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 90 … the late Cardinals outfielder and Baseball Hall of Famer Chick Hafey was born in 1903; he batted .326 with a .568 slugging percentage for the Cardinals from 1924 through 1931 — and averaged 23 homers and 100 RBIs from 1927 through ‘31. Hafey died at age 70 in 1973 … Doors musician Ray Manzarek, born in 1939 (died in 2013) … and Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809; he needs no reintroduction.

Cruising toward the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline, will the Blues be buyers, sellers or something else? Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic puts the Blues in the “To Be Determined” category and writes: “It was another big weekend for the resurgent Blues. Two months ago, GM Doug Armstrong was listening on some big names on his roster. He never pulled the trigger. Now his team is back in a playoff spot. Crazy. Perhaps after all the massive changes last summer it took that long for this team to find chemistry. So what now? Not yet determined — that’s essentially the answer I got from a league source. Which makes sense. Ride it for now and see what another two weeks brings.”

Thanks for reading …