THE BERNIE BITS
The Blues are full of surprises this season, often to their own detriment. But this was not the case on Saturday at Enterprise Center, when the home team recovered for a 5-3 win over Colorado after getting zapped for two goals in the game’s first three minutes. The Blues rallied again after relinquishing a 3-2 lead in the second period.
What to make of this?
–The Avs lost their predatory mindset after seizing the early 2-0 lead. They got lax with the puck, were outworked, and let the Blues get back in it. When the Avalanche slowed for a brief mental vacation, The Note took advantage of the deceleration.
–The Blues finally got as mad at themselves as the fans/media usually are with them. With captain Ryan O’Reilly (three goals, and an assist) and mates matching the fans’ early-game disgust, the Blues found the fusebox and flipped the electricity on.
–In retrospect a Colorado letdown was predictable. Coming into Saturday’s afternoon match the Avs were 18-1-2 during a high-speed sprint that lasted six scintillating weeks. They had three key players out of the lineup again. They had won at St. Louis on Thursday night. They hadn’t lost to the Blues since the season opener, winning five in a row. Should Saturday result in a loss, the Avs knew they could make it up in the subsequent encounter with the Blues at Enterprise on Monday night. Was the middle game the vulnerable spot for Colorado? Maybe. We’ll learn more when the teams clash again later today at 6 p.m.
–All of that said my letdown theory is easily punctured … starting, oddly enough, with me. Truth is, Colorado muffed a game it dominated. In 48:19 of play at even strength the Avs had 61 percent of the shot attempts, 54% of the shots on goal, 68% of the scoring chances, and 82.5% of the high-danger shots.
—The difference? The Blues were finishers. Putting the puck in the net has been an ongoing struggle for the Blues since early February. Too many scoring chances were wasted along the way. Too many scorers struck out. Saturday the Blues deposited three even-strength goals on 23 shots. Colorado goaltender Devan Dubnyk had an even-strength save percentage of .870, and allowed a goal on a medium-danger shot, and let in another score on a low-danger shot.
—Example of the finishing touch: The top St. Louis line of O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn (two assists) and Jordan Kyrou defied the expected-goals metric by outsourcing the Avs by two goals. Based on the volume and quality of shots, the O’Reilly line had a low expected-goals percentage of 31% at five-on-five. In reality, the line scored 100% of the goals while on the ice at five-on-five. Why? The easy explanation: O’Reilly was a closer.
–Oh, and this: the Blues went to the net with enhanced frequency and scored three times that way.
–Going into Monday’s game the Blues (45) are a point behind fourth-place Arizona (46) in the scramble for a playoff spot. The Blues’ Playoff Odds are all over the place. The Athletic metrics give the Blues a 70% chance to make it to the postseason. At Hockey Reference, it’s 58.9%, and at MoneyPuck it’s 50.4%.
READING TIME, 3 MINUTES
Impressive sweep by the Cardinals over the weekend, with the Redbirds winning three games despite scoring a modest 12 runs overall. Pitching. It’s mostly about the pitching. But yes, scoring runs is necessary and the Cardinals did that enough to make their terrific starting pitching stand up. More on the Cardinals later today in The Redbird Review.
Speaking of the Reds: there isn’t much flexing going on when the Reds take their “swag” out on the road, away from the safe house known as Great American Ball Park. After the lost weekend in STL the Reds are 2-7 on the road this season, averaging only 2.66 runs per game and batting .195 with a passive .328 slugging percentage. At home the Reds are 7-5, average 7.75 runs per game, and are batting .295 with a .534 slugging percentage.
Early-season surprise: Manager Mike Matheny and the Kansas City Royals have the American League’s best record at 13-7. The Royals were viewed as a competitive, respectable team coming into the season — with perhaps a better chance of winning in 2022. But the Royals are trying to get there ahead of schedule. The Royals are solid, ranking 12th in runs per game (4.55) and 16th in runs allowed power contest (4.40.) It helps that they’ve played 13 of their first 20 games at home. They’re also 5-0 in one-run games; that isn’t sustainable. But Kansas City is playing an effective style of so-called small ball. They lead the AL with 22 stolen bases/ They’re ranked fifth in the majors with a +17 net gain when running the bases. The Royals are among the MLB leaders for most infield hits (24), and their percentage of productive outs (37.5) is No. 1 overall. Starting pitcher Danny Duffy has a 0.39 ERA through four starts, and the KC bullpen is fourth in the majors at preventing inherited runners from scoring. The Royals should be 10-10 accordion to the Pythagorean model that’s based on runs scored and allowed. Fine. But Matheny and his team are on a positive track.
In Saturday’s win the Blues’ line of Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak and Vladimir Tarasenko played 8:49 at even strength and had only four attempted shots to Colorado’s 16. Tarasenko has three goals in 21 games this season and only one goal in his last 10.
Another early-season surprise: After stumbling out of the chute with a 1-6 record, the Pittsburgh Pirates have won 10 of their last 15 games and are 11-11. And this is kind of a big deal; the Pirates were 5-17 through 22 games last season. The Bucs just completed a 6-3 road trip, taking two of three games at Milwaukee, Detroit and Minnesota. Pittsburgh hadn’t won all stops in a three-city roadie since September 2015. During the 10-5 stretch the Pirates have a 3.28 team ERA and have allowed only three unearned runs. “We played well, all the way around,” manager Derek Shelton said after Sunday’s win at Minnesota. “It’s a testament to how we have to play. We have to play fundamental baseball. We have to do the little things.”
Brutal Sunday for the Atlanta Braves: In the first game of two seven-inning games, Arizona’s Zac Gallen one-hit Atlanta in a 5-0 complete game victory. In the second game, Madison Bumgarner threw a seven-inning no-hitter, facing the minimum 21 batters in a 7-0 win. The Braves went 1 for 42 in the doubleheader, striking out 13 times and grounding into two double plays. “It wasn’t our day, that’s for sure,” manager Brian Snitker said. The Braves were outscored 12-0 and became the 11th team since 1901 to be held to one or no hits in consecutive games. They’re off to a disappointing 9-13 start.
FINALLY … FANTASTIC!
If more teams could go at it with the fever-pitch drama produced by the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB wouldn’t have such a challenge in attracting fans to an increasingly dull sport.
This sizzling rivalry has it all. The champion Dodgers being stalked by the aggressive, roaring-underdog Padres. An intense and colorful competition featuring big stars, big egos, immense talent, huge moments, skirmishes and comical sniping on social media.
The teams just completed an abundantly entertaining stretch of playing each other seven times in 10 days, with the Padres coming out of this SoCal baseball turf war with a 4-3 edge. The battle began with the Dodgers prevailing in a 12-inning lollapalooza at San Diego on April 16. It ended Sunday night with the Padres erasing a late 7-1 deficit to smite the Dodgers 8-7 in 11 innings.
Over seven games the teams were separated by only two runs, with the Padres on top 32-30. They sparred for 68 total innings, with no margin greater than two runs in 61 of the 68. There were 10 ties and five lead changes.
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. was the main attraction. After a relatively quiet evening in Thursday’s series-opener at LA, he went off over the final three games for seven hits, five home runs, six RBIs, two stolen bases and eight runs scored.
Tatis conquered future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw for two homers Friday in a tribute to his father Fernando Sr. on the 22nd anniversary of the elder Tatis rocketing two grand slams in the same inning for the Cardinals in a crazy, memorable night at Dodger Stadium.
On Saturday, Tatis Jr. slammed two homers off Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer and trolled him during the home-run trots.
Moments before the second homer Tatis Jr. sneaked a peek at catcher Will Smith’s positioning. Or was he looking for the pitch sign? Or was it just to see where Smith was setting up? When Smith set up outside, Tatis leaned in that direction and drove an outside-corner slider over the center field wall. He definitely seem to know what was coming.
Bauer issued a warning on a video that he posted on Sunday afternoon. This was a follow-up to their Twitter exchange late Saturday, with Bauer referring to Tatis stealing signs and Tatis responding by posting a photo-shopped piece showing him holding a Bauer-faced toddler.
As for the video…
“Either be good enough to not have to look at the signs, and then you can celebrate,” Bauer said. “Or if you do have to look at the signs, I don’t know about the celebration, man. It’s a tough one.
“Now this brings up the question of unwritten rules. Am I mad about the celebrations and the bat flips and all that stuff? No. However, if you start looking at signs, if you start pulling this, like, bush-league stuff, that’s when people get pissed off. I mean, a lot of people get pissed off about the celebrations and whatever. They’re just soft. But that’s the type of stuff that would get you hit in other games. Now, I’m mild-mannered about it, and I’m gonna send a message more this way and say, ‘Hey, that’s not OK. If you keep doing it, something will have to happen.’
The teams don’t meet again until the third week of June. Can’t wait.
“The whole baseball world was watching these games, was locked into our series, and I think they know we can compete with these guys,” Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.