BERNIE BITS: 

It’s been, oh, about 90 seconds since I last wrote something about the Cardinals’ outfield, so I must tend to my springtime obsession here, OK? 

Here’s a progress report, going into Friday’s baseball activities: 

Three Good Things 

1–Tyler O’Neill is smacking the ball to all fields, batting .333 with a .600 slugging percentage in 16 plate appearances. Tops the leaderboard with six RBI. And compared to the other outfield campers, O’Neill’s .975 OPS is shocking to look at. Can Bro’Neill keep this up? We’ll let you know around Memorial Day. 

2–Justin Williams: hey — not bad sir. He has a homer and two RBIs with two walks. The .412 slugging percentage is second to O’Neill among outfield candidates in Jupiter. And same with the .728 OPS. Second to O’Neill. 

3–Lane Thomas is doing OK; don’t blame him for the hype. He got off to such a hot start, I was waiting to read the columns comparing Lane to Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, etc. Alas, Thomas went 0-for-7 in his next three games with three strikeouts. But overall it’s been a decent start for Thomas, at least in batting average (.284) and onbase percentage (.368.) Gotta power up on the .353 slug. 

Three Not So Good Things

1-Strikeouts. Buncha strikeouts: The six outfield contenders have combined for 31 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. That’s a K fate of 32.3%. Check out these strikeout rates: Austin Dean 47%, Lane Thomas 42%, Dylan Carlson 35%. 

2–Power shortage. I know, I know … we’re supposed to blame it on the ballpark and those hitter-hatin’ winds at Roger Dean Stadium. Whateva. The six candidates have connected for two homers in a combined 87 at-bats. Williams and O’Neill each have one. 

3–Dylan Carlson: I’m telling y’all right now … I plan on being a Carlson apologist all season, or for as long as it takes for him to turn into the star of the STL outfield. But I would also like to see a warming trend; the Cards’ top prospect is batting .200 with a .494 OPS. Plus, the strikeouts. 

READING TIME 5 MINUTES 

Miles Mikolas: he won’t throw for the next seven to 10 days? “Shoulder inflammation” is the latest spin on the Mikolas ailment. On a related note, I’ve been thinking about a couple of things. The identity of the Cards’ 5th starter really doesn’t matter much. John Gant is in line for that assignment but we’ll likely see the Cardinals use seven, eight or more starters along the way. Clearly this pitching staff is being set up to be a bullpen-heavy force with substantial firepower. On many days the plan will be all about getting what you can out of the starter and then pivot to a strong bullpen — with most of your talented pitchers (save for starter Jack Flahetrty) waiting in reserve to give the Cardinals strong punchers at the back end of games. 

Brewers or Cardinals? Who has the NL Central’s best defense? A while back I wrote a column here at “Scoops” on the Cardinals’ legitimate potential to field one of the best team defenses in modern franchise history. 

The Brewers believe they can field with any team, including St. Louis. With the signing of outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The Crew now has four Gold Glove winners to support their vastly underrated pitching staff: outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Bradley Jr. — plus former Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. 

“One of the ways we’re going to prevent runs this year is with defense,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve invested in that this year. There is scoring runs and there is preventing runs. We’re going to try to be really good at preventing runs this year.”

The Brewers ranked 23rd among the 30 MLB teams in defensive runs saved last season according to The Fielding Bible.

“We weren’t a good enough defensive team last year,” Milwaukee president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “Part of that improvement needed to come through some personnel change, and part of it needs to come from players who were here last year having better defensive years. And then part of how the offseason unfolded, the best opportunities for us to improve our team largely revolved around defensive-oriented players.”

As for the Cardinals defense, this is part of what I wrote on Feb. 11: 

“The 2020 Cardinals led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. They were fourth overall, and second in the NL, for DRS in 2019. And while the Brewers will benefit by STL management’s decision to decline Wong’s option for 2021, the Cardinals made a stupendous upgrade by trading for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.  

“The 2021 Cardinals will have four Gold Glove winners on the field: catcher Yadier Molina (9), Arenado (8), first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (3) and left fielder Tyler O’Neill (1.)  That’s 21 career Gold Gloves. You can make it 22 on days that Adam Wainwright pitches.  And five Cardinals — Molina, Goldschmidt, shortstop Paul DeJong, center fielder Harrison Bader, and pitcher Jack Flaherty — were Gold Glove finalists at their position in 2019.”

I also offered some info that should make you feel optimistic about Tommy Edman’s defense at second base:

“Since the start of the 2019 season Edman is one of only 26 MLB players to have at least 17 DRS, and over the same time period, Edman is tied for 12th among MLB infielders with 14 DRS. And Edman has played fewer innings — by a significant amount — than most of the fielders ahead of him … over the last two seasons Edman’s 7 DRS at second base is  tied for sixth at the position in the majors — even though he’s played only 256 innings at second.” 

Mizzou in the SEC Tournament: I was happy to see that Xavier Pinson was in the mood to play some basketball last night, and he gave Mizzou a few packets of energy in their 73-70 win over Georgia in the SEC Tournament tipoff. I’ll overlook Pinson missing all six shots from the floor and turning the ball over three times in the second half. He did make all five free=throw attempts over the final 20 minutes. Overall, the Tigers outscored Team Crean by 10 points with Pinson in the game. 

Big Man Needs To Get Rolling: Now if coach Cuonzo Martin can just get Jeremiah Tilmon going. In his three games since returning from his grandmother’s funeral, Tilmon is averaging 9.3 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 turnovers per game. According to the KenPom metrics, Tilmon has delivered an above-average offensive performance only once in his last six games. 

Tilmon vs. Smith: Tonight Tilmon and Arkansas big Justin Smith will actually face each other for the first time this season. Smith was out with an injury when Mizzou won (81-68) at Fayetteville on Jan. 2. Tilmon was the KenPom MVP of the game after scoring 25 points with 8 rebounds. Tilmon had a 136 offensive rating in the victory; that means he was 36 percent above average. But when Arkansas traveled to CoMo to beat the Tigers 86-81 in overtime, Tilmon wasn’t around to prevent Smith from scoring 19 points. And this time Smith was named KenPom MVP of the game. 

The Tigers will play in the NCAA Tournament, but: Obviously a win over No. 2 seed Arkansas would improve MU’s position in the NCAA bracket. The Tigers need to be a heck of a lot better in the quarterfinal match with Arkansas — a fast-rising team that’s won 8 in a row and 11 of its last 12. The Razorbacks are ranked 23rd nationally in defense by KenPom. The Hogs block shots and steal basketballs. Mizzou can’t play a dumb game. 

Brackets: As of Friday morning Missouri was a No. 8 seed in Joe Lunradi’s bracket projection at ESPN; Jerry Palm (CBS) had Mizzou as a No. 6 seed. Palm also offered hope to Saint Louis U and fans; the Billikens were in his “first four” grouping and a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Will that hold? I hope so. 

A few words about Illini guard Andre Curbelo as Illinois plays Rutgers tonight in the Big Ten tourney: Curbelo wasn’t much of a factor when Rutgers upset the Illini 91-88 on Dec. 20. The freshman played only 16 total minutes before fouling out, scoring four points with five assists. Curbelo has been a very good player for Illinois in most games. But in the last five games … simply dynamic. While averaging 24.6 minutes, Curbelo has scored 15.5 points per game, making 58% of his shots from the floor. But that’s not all; the stretch includes averages of 7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest. 

Happy talk in Cubs camp: New Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson wants you to know that he is a total hitter, and not just a platoon hitter. Pederson, who bats LH, recently discussed why he wanted to sign a one-year deal with the Cubs for $7 million after leaving the Dodgers. 

“When this offseason came around, I’ll tell you what: I had some nice offers,” he told reporters at the Cubs training site in Arizona. “There were teams willing to give me pretty great money to be a part of their outfield platoon — a role I’ve had success in. Any one of them would have been a comfortable choice.  But as tempting as it was, I knew one thing in my heart: If I took that money, then that would be me accepting a part-time role as my identity as a baseball player. That would be me confirming ‘part-time player’ as the ceiling of my career. And I wasn’t ready to do that.”

Wait, what? Did the Cubs promise Pederson that he would play every day? Even when the opponent goes with a LH pitcher? David Ross apparently offered such assurances. At least for a while. 

“He told me about what I could expect my role to be,” Pederson said. “He was like, ‘You’re going to be our guy in left field, save for the occasional rest day, same as anyone. But if we’re at the All-Star break and you’re hitting a buck fifty, you know….. we’re going to reassess. We’ll probably have to make a change.’  ”

Yeah. Probably so. 

In 385 career plate appearances vs. LH pitching, Pederson has a .191 batting average with a .310 slugging percentage and .576 OPS. He’s 41 percent below the league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) against lefties, with a strikeout rate of 29%. 

TLR is grumbling! Why? Well, losing baseball games still does that to Tony La Russa. Even at age 76. He will never change. After the Chicago White Sox endured another loss on Thursday, La Russa didn’t want to hear any “it’s only spring training” talk from the media. Not when the CWS were sitting with a 1-7-3 record through the first 11 games. 

“Each time that we’ve been losers, it has messed up the rest of the day,” La Russa said. “You try to draw some positives because work got in, all that stuff, but you’ve just got to manage better. [It has been] bad managing. Because the guys are trying hard, so I’ll manage better. Or try to.”

Bad mood?

“Professionally, the game dictates how you feel,” TLR said.

But … it’s only spring training! 

La Russa would have none of that. “I was always taught — my dad said — ‘You get confused, keep it simple.’ Our team plays their team, and they’re keeping score,” he said. “So the people that pay you to manage or coach or play, they want to win the game.”

Alas there is hope. 

“At some point,” La Russa said, “based on what I’ve seen, we’re going to improve and improve, and I believe we’ll be tough to play. We’re going to win our share. More than our share, hopefully.”

AS OTHERS SEE US 

Here’s Zach Kram (The Ringer) putting the blast on the sorry NL Central:

“The NL Central will be bad this season. How bad? So bad that even the complete heist of Nolan Arenado—who ranks third in Baseball-Reference WAR since 2014, has won a Gold Glove every season of his career, and is still just 29 years old—can’t even compensate for the rest of the mess the division is in.

 

“This isn’t just an issue with Arenado’s new team, the Cardinals: The schedule-agnostic version of FanGraphs’ projections places all five NL Central clubs below .500 this season. The division’s combined World Series odds are just 3.8 percent, across all five teams—easily the worst for any group in the majors.

 

“Other than the Arenado trade, the entire NL Central joined in a largely lethargic offseason, collectively sitting on their hands or trading away their best players in a sort of reverse arms race: As the Dodgers and Padres one-upped each other to build superteams out West, all the NL Central teams apparently figured they had no mandate to improve, because none of their rivals were improving much either, never mind how far behind it leaves them in the World Series chase. The result is a division that looks like the worst in decades, at least before the season has begun.”

Thanks for reading The Bits, and have a swell weekend…

-Bernie 

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. 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.