How are ya?
1) The Blues are 2-5-1 in their last eight games. And if you want to roll it back to Oct. 28, they’ve gone 4-6-2. Vegas is in town for Monday night’s game, and so it’s welcome back to Alex Pietrangelo in front of a packed-house audience — as opposed to welcome back Alex Pietrangelo with a few thousand observers in the house, as was the case last season. Here’s an idea for the Blues: win the game and reestablish consistency. Oh, yeah. Before I forget: welcome back Alex Pietrangelo. See, I’m not so crabby, after all.
2) Respect for Mizzou football. I was pretty fed up a few weeks ago, and no, I don’t apologize for that. There were no excuses for putting such a horrendous defense on the field, and quarterback Connor Bazelak was regressing. But Eli Drinkwitz has shown his coaching chops by using the bye week to refocus his team, keep the players motivated to perform better, and pull together to salvage the season. And that’s something I don’t take for granted at a time when players are quitting on sad-sack college football coaches from coast to coast.
The Tigers have won two in a row, and three of their last four. There’s no need to make it more than it is. It’s forward progress. The Tigers beat a team they should have handled at home (South Carolina) and caught a break in the schedule by having Florida come to town after the Gators had already quit on the season. As you know, Florida coach Dan Mullen was fired on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that Mizzou dumped the Gators in overtime. But MU should have won without this game being so much of a struggle. Florida had little interest in competing, and the Tigers didn’t exactly jump them. I was surprised that Florida went home without leaving Mullen on the tarmac.
3) Bazelak played hurt again, and wasn’t effective, and the SEC Network crew was surprised Drinkwitz stayed the course instead of making a quarterback change during the Florida scrum. First of all, they were right. If Brady Cook isn’t better than a physically weakened Bazelak, I’m not sure what that tells us. Second: admiration for Bazelak for being a tough competitor until the end; his game-winning pass on the two-point conversion was one helluva play.
4) According to Pro Football Focus, which graded every college game, Bazelak’s grade for passing ranks 34th among the 39 Power 5 conference quarterbacks that have dropped back to throw at least 300 times this season.
5) Looks like Mizzou defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will keep his gig. The Tiger defense had its two best performances of the season (according to Pro Football Focus) in the last two weeks against South Carolina and Florida. In that order.
6) The Blues have some issues, which is why they’ve leveled off to 9-6-2 overall, which technically puts them in the lower half of the NHL. Their points percentage, .588, ranks 18th among the 32 teams. The special teams have lost their sharpness. During their 2-5-1 stretch the Blues have allowed nine power play goals in 15 attempts, a weak kill rate of 60 percent. And their own power play is sputtering, having been burned for two shorthanded goals in Dallas on Saturday night.
7) Our Town’s Jayson Tatum is returning to form after a slow start to the season. In his last three games for the 9-8 Boston Celtics, Tatum has averaged 34.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. And his shooting percentage is improving, and that’s right on time. In his past two seasons, Tatum had a .455 shooting percentage overall, including .394 from three-point distance. And his effective field-goal percentage over the past two seasons was .529. But through 17 games this season Tatum is shooting only .409 overall, .347 from three range, and has an effective field goal percentage of .476.
Tatum scored 34 points against LeBron and the Lakers on Friday night.
8) One theory in Boston and among NBA media: Tatum and co-star Jaylen Brown can’t play well together. They have no issues personally, but professionally their styles don’t mesh and they’re incompatible on the floor. Maybe a coincidence, but Tatum’s offense has ignited with Brown out with an injury. But Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, the Celtic great, dismisses the theory. The Celtics, he said, need both All-Stars out there.
“I never believed that (it’s right to separate to star players),” Pierce said via podcast with Sports Illustrated. “I truly believe it’s about putting the right pieces around your great players. They’ve proven they can be All-Stars in this league. In order to win in this league you have to have star talent around the perimeter. That’s what the Celtics have and that’s something you need to build around it.”
Pierce added: “My theory proves right because when you look at all the top players and all the Finals MVPs year in and year out, who are you looking at? Top-tier perimeter guys like Kawhi Leonard, the Kobe Bryants, the Kevin Durants, the LeBron James’s, these are the guys that lead their teams to championships. You need those type of players. The Celtics have to find a way to build around those guys (Tatum and Brown) so they can reach that next level.”
9) The Blues gotta get more scoring from some key personnel at five-on-five. During the current 2-5-1 streak heading into Monday night, consider this:
David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Pavel Buchnevich, Oskar Sundqvist, James Neal and Klim Kostin have no goals at five on five despite playing a combined 600 minutes. And over the same seven-game phase the Blues have only one goal at five on five from a defenseman — Robert Bortuzzo. C’mon, do better.
The Blues have scored only 44 percent of the goals at five on five in their last seven games. And the team has a glaring shortage of high-danger chances (from the slot and crease) over that time. Since Nov. 11 at five on five the Blues rank 27th in the league in share of high-danger chances at 45.7 percent. And they are 27th in share high-danger goals at 38.4 percent
10) I didn’t mind the Cardinals’ decision to sign former Tigers and Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan to a minor-league contract. Why? Because he’s a lefty with a career 57 percent ground-ball rate — and had a 63.6% GB rate vs. LH bats last season. He’s never been a strikeout guy, but that isn’t as important when backed by the Cardinals’ fantastic defense. One problem: huge walk rate over the last two seasons, including an awful 13.8% walk rate against LH bats. Unless Ryan can fix that he’ll just be passing through 2022 spring training.
11) A Name From The Past: Former Mizzou hoopster (briefly) Michael Porter Jr. is dealing with another serious injury. According to the Denver Post, Porter has a nerve issue in his troublesome back that could shut him down for the remainder of the season. Porter has missed the Nuggets’ last eight games. At 23, he’s already undergone two back surgeries — one at Mizzou, and the second after he was drafted by the Nuggets in 2018. (He did not play at all as an NBA rookie.) Porter will still collect plenty of Anne and Stan Kroenke money; the Nuggets foolishly signed the vulnerable, injury-prone Porter to a five-year maximum contract extension last offseason that included $145 million in guaranteed money.
12) Our State’s Kansas City Chiefs have won four in a row to improve to 7-4. And while Patrick Mahomes and the offense has greatly reduced the number of turnovers and is playing much cleaner football, the KC defense is making most of the difference. During the 3-4 start the Chiefs allowed 29 points per game, forced only seven takeaways, had just eight sacks and were burned for a passer rating of 104.1. And opponents converted 49 percent of third-down plays against the Kansas City defense in the first seven contests. But in the four-game winning streak coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has allowed 11.75 points per game, forced eight turnovers, bagged 11 sacks, given up a 79.9 passer rating and permitted a third-down success rate of 25 percent. Way to go Spags!
AS OTHERS SEE US
Here’s our friend Ben Clemens of FanGraphs, who offered an assessment of the Cardinals’ primary and secondary needs for 2022. He went with pitching as the top priority, and hitting as a secondary concern.
“I don’t mean to make light of the Cardinals’ situation, but while they cobbled together an excellent run prevention season, it didn’t look sustainable,” Clemens wrote at FanGraphs. “Jon Lester and J.A. Happ are no one’s idea of elite pitching, but the team needed them for their bulk. With those two and Kwang Hyun Kim gone, the pitching staff needs reinforcements.
“Some of that will come internally. Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson should all pitch more innings in 2022 than they did this year. That’s worrisome, though: one of the best predictors of future pitching health is present pitching health. Even assuming health, that puts Jake Woodford in the rotation, and while he’s serviceable, he’d be better suited as a seventh option than someone you plan on giving 30 starts. Signing Marcus Stroman — a natural in front of a good defense — and another veteran pitcher would ease the pressure on the rotation.
“Some batters would also do the team good, but only if they’re stars. There’s not much use to replacing Tommy Edman or the Edmundo Sosa/Paul DeJong tandem with an average player; I’d be okay with signing someone who can back up the outfield and DH, but the team seems to lean towards internal options there, and a Lars Nootbaar/Juan Yepez platoon seems more their speed. For the most part, they should just get some pitching.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store. Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz