1) I find it interesting that all but one coach from Mike Shildt’s staff were committed to staying on and working with new manager Oli Marmol. True, multiple coaches were under contract for 2022 including pitching coach Mike Maddux and batting coach Jeff Albert. But let’s be real here: if any coaches believed Shildt got a raw deal and didn’t believe Marmol was ready for the job, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak wouldn’t force them to stay against their will. If the coaches disliked or didn’t respect Marmol, I don’t think we’d see all but one guy — assistant batting coach Jobel Jimenez — stay and show implicit loyalty to the rookie manager. This just reinforces my view — expressed here on multiple occasions — that there were problems behind the scenes between Shildt and his staff.
2) Welcome back Oskar Sundqvist! He hits. He’s physical. He punishes. He annoys. He shoots. He scores more often that we expected; in his three previous seasons with the Blues 11.5% of his five-on-five shots found the back of the opponent’s net. And that’s really good. He plays hard. He’s hard-headed. He’s hard-wired. He can get a dirty job done, and he can score a wonderful goal. He can play on any line and fit the assigned mission. He’s not just a “glue” player — he’s a super-glue player.
Oskar is a center by title, but really he’s in the center of everything. If “Sunny” isn’t delivering hits, he’s taking them: 6.8 hits per 60 minutes as a Blue at five-on-five — and 6.9 hits absorbed per 60 minutes as a Blue at five-on-five.
This dude is tough; after his especially rugged games, his face looks like a road map of Boden, Sweden — his home town and site of the largest garrison of the Swedish army. And the famous Fällkniven knives are made in Boden, and Sunny was made in Boden, and this is all rather appropriate.
3) We were treated to more posturing and fibbing from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones over the weekend. Appearing on Friday’s “Back on the Record” show with Bob Costas on HBO, Jerrah defended Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Yeah, again. This time the guard-dog act concerned Kroenke’s threat to wriggle his way out of a signed agreement that would indemnify the league’s other owners from responsibility to share in the cost of damages should St. Louis prevail in the ongoing lawsuit that’s clearly going STL’s way.
“Let me say this about Stan,” Jones told Costas. “He doesn’t back away. He’s made a tremendous, a huge contribution to sports and to the NFL. And so we’re into the issues of contention here, and obviously it’s litigation and so I’m not going to be able to comment specifically about it. But make no mistake about it. Just as St. Louis is a fabulous, great city, Stan Kroenke is a man of principle.”
Well, what do you expect? Jones, who owns Legends Hospitality, reaps substantial profits from his company’s contract with Kroenke’s SoFi stadium in Los Angeles.
4) The Cardinals made a good hire to bring in Turner Ward as the assistant hitting coach. As a player, he was part of two World Series champions in Toronto. As a coach in the Arizona system he helped develop a minor-league prospect named Paul Goldschmidt, and then coached Goldy at the big-league level there. With Turner serving as assistant batting coach for the Diamondbacks (2013-2015) the team dramatically lowered its strikeout rate, bumped up its walk rate and finished fifth in the NL in runs over the three seasons.
Turner’s best work came as the lead hitting coach for the Dodgers from 2016 through 2018; LA set club records in homers, extra-base hits and slugging percentage in consecutive seasons. He made a huge difference by transforming hitters like Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy and Kiké Hernández. The Dodgers’ young hitters — including Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager — did well under Ward. Tempestuous outfielder Yasiel Puig liked Ward so much that he’d kiss Ward’s cheek after hitting a homer. Ward took to wearing a PUCKER UP WITH PUIG shirt.
Ward left the Dodgers after 2018, receiving a more lucrative contract to join the Reds. That lasted only a year, and Ward was let go before David Bell took over as manager in 2019. “As we reflected on this season, it became clear that we lacked the alignment we were seeking with our offensive approach,” Reds baseball executive Dick Williams said in announcing Ward’s departure. Yeah, well, the Reds’ offense got a lot worse in 2020. Hopefully there will be no more philosophical differences between Ward and the Cardinals. Just kidding.
5) Looking forward to watching smooth-skating defenseman Scott Perunovich make his NHL debut for the Blues in Tuesday night’s home game against Arizona. He should make the team better. Hopefully this won’t be a short stay. Will Perunovich partner with Robert Bortuzzo? As a place to start, that makes sense. Bortuzzo is the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman which gives Perunovich more freedom to push it offensively — and that’s the rookie’s primary attribute.
Here’s why this could work: Bortuzzo has teamed with Jake Walman for 88 minutes this season at five-on-five, and the combination clicked for a 57.4 percent Corsi For rating. The Blues had nearly 64% of the five-on-five shots on goal with the Walman-Bortuzzo defense duo on the ice. I’m not saying Walman and Perunovich are the same player, but there are similarities in style. Walman was typecast as an offense-oriented defenseman as he developed on the way to St. Louis.
6) Shildt is a finalist for NL Manager of the Year, which will be announced Tuesday night; the winners from each league will be announced at 5 p.m. STL time on MLB Network. The other NL finalists are Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler. In alphabetical order, here’s the case for each NL manager:
Counsell: He used a franchise-record 61 different players in leading the Crew to 95 wins, the NL Central title, and a fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Milwaukee had as many as 18 players on the IL at one point during the season (in May) and had to work around a balky offense personified by Christian Yelich’s glaring drop in power for a second consecutive year. Counsell cobbled together a vast mix of lineups, and the Brewers finished No. 6 in the NL in runs per game. And no manager runs a bullpen better than Counsell.
Kapler: the Giants were projected for 75-to-80 wins in 2021, and ended up setting a franchise-record 107 victories to capture their first NL West title since 2012. Kapler’s astute handling of platoons at multiple positions gave his team favorable matchups all season; the Giants had the NL’s best performance vs. RH pitching and were fourth-best vs. LH pitching. The same applies to Kapler’s flexible bullpen maneuvers. The bullpen had the best fielding independent ERA against LH batters and were No. 4 in FIP against RH batters.
Shildt: He led the Cardinals to the postseason for the third consecutive year, and 2021 was the most challenging of them all. Burdened by a wiped-out rotation and a front-office that failed to provide the necessary depth for the pitching staff and bench, Shildt held things together the best that he could until receiving rotation help at the trade deadline. The Cardinals erupted for a stunning and historic 17-game winning streak in September, reached 90 wins, and snatched the league’s No. 2 wild-card spot. Shildt’s emphasis on defense and baserunning made a positive difference — again. The Cardinals were the NL’s best team defensively, as symbolized by their five Gold Glove awards.
Prediction? I’d give it to Kapler — but Counsell is long overdue for this award. Shildt will receive good support, and ends his Cardinal stint with Manager of the Year votes in a fourth consecutive season. And he won the award in 2019.
7) Our Town’s Bradley Beal is a very happy man. The Wizards’ superb guard — who has played to exhaustion for a chronically unsuccessful franchise — is a big part of his team’s stunning 10-3 start to the season. And the Wizards are being transformed defensively. Over the past three seasons Washington ranked 27th, 29th and 20th in the NBA in defense. So far this season, the Wizards are the No. 4 ranked team in defense.
The 10-3 is the franchise’s best record through 13 games since Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld Sr. and Phil Chenier opened the 1974-75 season by winning 11 of the first 13 en route to the Eastern Conference Championship.
Maybe it’s the Unseld Factor? Wes Unseld Jr. is Washington’s first-year coach, and he’s doing a spectacular job. As a bonus, Wes Jr. has one of the best cousins ever in St. Louis U basketball radio analyst Earl Austin Jr.
8) Is starting pitching devalued? Not if you go by the two agreements reached within the last 24 hours. The Angels gave RH starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard a one-year deal for $23 million.
That one-year pillow contract makes sense for both sides. There’s limited liability for the Angels, and an opportunity for Syndegaard to prove he’s fully restored after a lengthy recovery from elbow surgery. In a move that put some media types in a tizzy, the Tigers signed LH pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year deal worth $77 million.
Next: after receiving $14 million in each of 2022 and ’23, Rodriguez has an out to become a free agent or can accept the remaining three years and $49 million from Detroit. The money is reasonable for a starter that has the Rodriguez profile. The only surprise is the potential five-year length of the contract — which would become a possible issue only if Rodriguez pitches all five seasons for the Tigers.
9) How do the signings impact the Cardinals? I’m not sure that it impacts them at all. If they wanted to rush in and spend money on starting pitching, they’d be close to finalizing a deal with a free agent. If the Cardinals were determined to go big for a big-name free agent starter, they could get a deal done in an hour. If the Cardinals are serious about securing a very good starting pitcher, they’ll do so. The decisions made by other teams don’t matter. For the Cardinals it should work like this: identify the preferred upper-level starter, then make a choice. (A) pay the man, or (B) go head to the aisle where they can find the low-hanging fruit.
10) I’ll go at this another way: is starting pitching devalued? In terms of innings supplied, yes. In 2011 starting pitchers worked 29,299 and ⅓ innings for the season. That’s been dropping through the years — in fact, the number of innings provided by starters has gone down every season since the start of 2015. In 2021 starters threw a total of 24,402 and ⅓ innings — a decrease of 4,897 innings from the 2011 total.
In 2011, MLB starting pitchers covered 67 percent of the total innings pitched.
In 2021, MLB starting pitchers covered 57 percent of the total innings pitched.
11) Let’s talk about three outfield prospects that grew up in the Cardinals’ system:
— Dylan Carlson finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. Which is fine. I’m already looking forward to 2022 — in part because of how Carlson finished 2021. In the final two-plus months he batted .301 with a .364 onbase percentage and .503 slug for a .867 OPS. The performance was 34 percent above league average offensively over that time based on park-and-league-adjusted runs created.
— After Tampa Bay outfielder Randy Arozarena won the AL’s Rookie of the Year, he said he was sharing the award with another former St. Louis outfield prospect, Adolis Garcia. The Texas slugger finished fourth in the voting after slamming 31 homers and driving in 90 runs for the Rangers in ‘21.
“The friendship and support that we have for each other is just amazing,” Arozarena said via interpreter. “We know this game is hard. We know there’s a business. We know there’s a way to grow in this game. Ever since we were together in the minor leagues, he helped me through that. He helped me kind of have a feel of how everything works, the routines of a day-to-day basis. He did come up a little bit before I did, so he was able to teach me some things. We’re always there to support each other. Even during the season, I support him, he supports me. The fact that we were able to both be (up) for this award is also very special, and it’s very special that I’m able to share it with him.”
12) Missouri’s hideous 80-66 loss to Missouri-Kansas City (aka UMKC) was scary for many reasons. Start with this: how bad is Cuonzo Martin’s team, how is this even possible to be so terrible, and is there a reason to watch MU hoops this season? What’s the marketing pitch? My goodness. After two games the Tigers are ranked No. 206 nationally offensive rating and No. 273 in defensive rating.
True words from Power Mizzou’s Mitchell Forde: “That was bad. Like, really bad. Like, it would be my vote for the worst loss ever in Mizzou Arena. Because it wasn’t just that Missouri lost a “buy” game. That does happen from time to time. But the Tigers got blown off their home floor. UMKC led for nearly 38 minutes and led by as many as 22. If you didn’t know anything about either team, you would say without hesitation that Missouri was the Summit League team that was getting paid to provide a tune-up game for a high-major opponent.”
AS OTHERS SEE US:
+ ESPN’s Jesse Rogers on Dodgers’ free-agent starter Clayton Kershaw: “How about a sleeper team? St. Louis is looking for pitching and they don’t need front-end guys, necessarily. Joining his playoff nemesis would make for a good story and he can punch his ticket to October today if he signs there. Add a pitching-friendly ballpark, a congenial fan base and a veteran catcher in Yadier Molina and it could work.”
+ Mike Axisa, CBS Sports: “Will the Cardinals sign a top free agent? Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are returning for one more season and it would make sense for the Cardinals to go all-in on 2022 and try to get them another ring. You could envision them signing one of the top shortstops (Paul DeJong has fallen out of favor and Edmundo Sosa is a nice player who shouldn’t stand in the way of an upgrade) or a top starting pitcher (hello St. Louis native Max Scherzer). Heck, why not both? The sheer numbers indicate one of those top free agent shortstops will get squeezed into a one-year contract. How about reuniting Trevor Story with Nolan Arenado on a one-year “prove yourself” contract, and bringing Scherzer home as well? That would be fun.”
+ Will Leitch, MLB.com, on the Cardinals: Will they upgrade at shortstop? The Cardinals have an obvious hole during the best shortstop market in years. But comments from the front office seem to imply they’ll stick with Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa. Will they really sit this one out when there are so many good shortstops out there?”
I’m finished typing now.
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.
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* Stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Natural Stat Trick, or Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.