Blues fans, you’re about to read something that will make you vomit a little, but I promise to make it up to you: As a hockey fan, I enjoy watching the Blackhawks. Their game is second to none when firing on all cylinders.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are must-watch and their defenders do a great job of consistently cycling the puck back into the offensive zone. There’s a reason why they’re the NHL’s closest thing to a dynasty.
Now let me earn a little of your trust back, Blues fans: The Note will win their playoff matchup with the Hawks. I’m actually quite confident despite the past four years’ postseason anguish.
I’ll tell you why:
1) The Hawks have a -0.3 shot differential, which is a telling statistic. Simply put, they’re allowing more shots on net than they’re generating. For comparison, the Blues rank 12th in the NHL with a 0.4 shot differential. That means more Blues scoring chances if those stats hold up, a good sign given how the Note has been scoring since February.
2) The Blues are healthy for once.
3) They employ more natural goal-scorers than in years past thanks to Robby Fabbri’s emergence.
4) Brian Elliott is the hottest goaltender in the league.
Conversely, Chicago has no idea what to expect from Corey Crawford (upper-body injury), who has played just one game since the middle of March (and promptly allowed three goals in the first period last Saturday against the Blue Jackets). He says he feels more like himself, but we’ll see if he can shake off the rust for the playoffs. This is the Blues’ year…to get out of the first-round. After that, who knows. We’ll get to that when the time comes.
Jeremy Hazelbaker can literally do no wrong…
For Cardinal fans watching their team whiff what felt like 92 times in Pittsburgh (they actually “only” struck out 37 times), it’s been easy to enjoy what Hazelbaker has provided the past four games. He has 10 hits through 19 at-bats and has five extra base hits, five runs scored, and five batted in. His slash line (.526/.522/.1.053) is ridiculous and he’s played well defensively too, highlighted by Monday’s diving catch.
Hazelbaker is also easy to root for because he’s a self-made player. A fourth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2009, he was released by the Dodgers less than 11 months ago. The Cardinals were the only team calling, and he’s used the opportunity to thrust himself back into baseball relevancy.
In a somewhat ironic twist, Hazelbaker has made himself untouchable. If he’s hitting only .230 by the all-star break, well, that was expected from a 28-year-old rookie with one foot out baseball’s revolving door. He’ll be one baseball’s best stories if he carves out a starting role for himself. Either way, Hazelbaker can’t lose and neither can the Cardinals, who have already benefited from the spark he’s provided.
Roberts made the right decision to remove Ross Stripling…
I, like many baseball fans, lobbed a few “are-you-blanking-kidding-me’s” at the television when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled rookie starter Ross Stripling in Friday night’s eighth inning while Stripling was no-hitting the Giants.
I changed my viewpoint on Roberts’ decision after the game. I was listening to one of the Dodgers’ analysts question Roberts’ move and I came to realize those of us who wanted Stripling to stay in were being self-serving. I wanted to see the no-hitter. I wanted to see history. I wanted to see something that still seems rare in baseball, even if MLB now produces multiple no-hitters every year.
I wanted to see perfection, but Roberts was looking out for the only person that mattered in that situation: Stripling, who had not pitched above Double-A before making that start in San Francisco. Stripling had spent more than a year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and had not thrown more than 70 pitches in a spring game.
This wasn’t the platform to debate about pitch counts and the “wussification” of baseball. This wasn’t about one night and most importantly, this wasn’t about you, me, or any other baseball fan watching. This was about a 26-year-old’s career, which is why Stripling’s dad thanked the manager for watching out for his son’s best interest after the game.
It was unfortunate how the game ended from there. Giants backup catcher Trevor Brown hit a two-run game-tying homer off Stripling’s replacement, followed by Brandon Crawford’s 10th inning walk-off home run this end result only intensified fans’ water cooler debates.
But in a couple of days Stripling will pitch again knowing that his manager has his best interest at heart. Maybe the baseball gods will reward both Stripling and Roberts with another no-hit opportunity down the road. And maybe this time, Stripling will have built up his arm enough to break the 100-pitch wall.