1) I hope manager Oli Marmol follows through with what he says. As we all know, action is more meaningful than talk. But in the category of “You Gotta Pick A Closer,” the rookie manager refuses to play the game.

“For me, that’s just not the ninth,” Marmol told reporters in Jupiter. “You have to be able to close out the seventh, eighth, and ninth, and we’ve got guys that, honestly, can do all of it. I, at the moment, will not commit to any guy being our ninth inning guy all the time.”

What, does this guy think it’s 2022 or something? Marmol is right in his thinking. It makes little sense to shut off your brain and manage by rote. I’ve come to believe that these inning-specific roles – designated 7th inning reliever, designated 8th inning reliever, closer only in the 9th – are there to protect the manager. Managers have always pointed to the relievers, claiming that the late-inning guys are more comfortable if they know their role and can count on it. Nah. It’s more comfortable for managers who can just point to the way it’s always been – assigning relievers to a precise inning if possible. That way, if the bullpen blows the lead, the manager can turn to, “Hey we’ve done it that way all season.” Or he may go on a riff about how every other manager has a chosen closer …

In other words, the manager finds protection in being a robot and thinking like all of his peers. And no one will question the manager on it and ask why there’s only one rigid way of running a bullpen. Which is silly, of course.

I don’t want to get into weeds by mentioning a hundred examples, but let’s take Giovanny Gallegos. He’s been very good when it matters most, and if the Cardinals are in a dangerous situation with the outcome on the line in the 8th inning, why hold Gallegos in the bullpen until the 9th? The lead may be gone by then. And all relievers should be conditioned to think like a “closer” instead of being cast as a 7th or 8th inning dude – which is the same as saying, “We don’t think you have the guts to close it out in the 9th.”

How ludicrous is that?

Part of this is also managers sucking up to closers to get them their saves and pad their statistics – even if it isn’t helpful to the overall team. That way, the manager can keep the closer happy and feel more secure in his office. Have to score points with the players by making them happy. I mean, managers can’t possibly make an against-the-grain decision that offends a key member of the team, right? (For more information see: Mike Matheny, Mike Shildt.)

If Marmol is serious about this – and I believe he is – then he’ll be sticking his jaw out there. As soon as the “unorthodox” bullpen maneuvering goes wrong, Marmol will be blasted by fans and media that have extreme allergic reactions to new and different tactics. If at some point Marmol goes back to the olden-days way of hanging a “closer” title on a reliever, I’m sure he’ll have his reasons. But when the Cardinals changed managers, this is one of the areas that seemed to invite a more forward and intelligent way of thinking.

2) And just like that: New Mizzou basketball coach Dennis Gates lands the top JUCO player in the nation, Mohamed Diarra. He’s 6-10 and 215 pounds and plays for Garden City Community College in Kansas. He was named Jayhawk Conference player of the year after averaging 18 points and nearly 13 rebounds per game. The native of Paris, France was a four-star recruit for his high school team in New York.

Speaking to Power Mizzou, Garden City coach Bill Morosco said Diarra was offered scholarships by Georgetown, Mississippi State, DePaul, New Mexico, UCF, Loyola-Marymount and other programs.

“He was the most heavily recruited juco prospect in the country,” Morosco told Gabe DeArmond. “You name it, they called.” According to DeArmond, ranks Diarra as the No. 1 junior college player in the country in the Class of 2022. He will have four years to play three seasons at Mizzou; the 2020-21 season didn’t count toward eligibility for JUCO players because of Covid-related issues.

Thanks to Gabe DeArmond for filling in key details, and that’s why you should join me as a subscriber to Power Mizzou.

3) According to the annual Forbes valuations of MLB franchises, the Cardinals rank 7th among the 30 franchises with a value of $2.45 million, up 9 percent from last season. The late-1995 purchase of the Cardinals represent one of the sweetest deals in sports history. Anheuser-Busch sold the team to a group led by Bill DeWitt and Fred Hanser at a discount rate of $150 million. A year later, the owners sold the two downtown parking garages at the old Busch Stadium that were included in the original purchase of the team. The garages were bought by a Nashville-based company for $75 million. Do the math, and the DeWitt group purchased the Cardinals for a net price of $75 million. And now the franchise is worth $2.45 billion.

4) The Milwaukee Brewers are awfully pleased with themselves as they prepare to battle the Cardinals for first-place in the weak NL Central.

This, from Brewers owner Mark Attanasio: “I can tell you, 1,000 percent, that this is the best group of athletes we’ve had in 18 years,” Attanasio said Thursday to media that covers the team.

Expanding on the comments, Attanasio cited a conversation with Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, who moved into the role in 2015. Stearns told the owner that this may be the best Brewers team of Stearns’ tenure.

“Which would mean for me, other than 2011,” Attanasio said, “it’d be the best team I’ve had.”

He added, “we have a lot of hope this year with our club.”

The Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central in 2011 but fell to the Cardinals in a six-game 2011 NLCS.

The Brewers have done very well in recent seasons – making it to the playoffs for four years in a row – despite spending less on payroll than the Cardinals.

“I think it’s fair to say we construct our teams a little differently,” outfielder Christian Yelich said to reporters last week. “But they always give us what we need to compete. Our teams are always very competitive. We have pretty good players. I think we have more than enough to accomplish the goals we want to accomplish. We have to play the season and get in the playoffs, and once you get in the playoffs there’s no telling. There are short series and you play the games and see where it lands. The more times you get in, the more opportunities you have to take it to the finish line. That’s still our goal, and we believe in our group. The guys they draft, develop, trade acquisitions, savvy free-agent signings. … We’ve got a great group and we’re definitely not discouraged.”

5) The loss of defenseman Torey Krug is a serious blow to the Blues. He’s listed as “week to week” with a hand or wrist injury after being slashed during a 5-2 win at Washington earlier this week. The defensive pairing of Justin Faulk and Krug was recently referred to as “solid” by The Athletic.

Well, they’re much better than that. Among defensive pairings that have played at least 600 minutes together at five on five this season, here are the three best in the NHL based on the bottom-line – the share of goals scored when the defensive tandem is on the ice.

– Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen, Washington: 36 goals for, 15 against. The Capitals have 70.6 percent of the goals with that strong pairing in action at five on five.

– Cale Makar and Devon Toews, Colorado: 42 goals for, 18 against. The Avs have scored 70% of the goals at five on five when that dynamic duo is working.

– Justin Faulk and Torey Krug, St. Louis: 46 goals for, 20 against. The Blue have scored 69.7% of the goals at five on five with Faulk and Krug teaming up at five on five.

6) There’s no mystery, no magic, to explain Jake Woodford’s September success last season. Simple explanation: heavy usage of the sinker. Through the end of June, Woodford had thrown the sinker on only 27.5 percent of his pitches. After getting roughed up in two of three appearances in July, Woodford was sent to Triple A Memphis for a time. He returned with a sharper, better sinker. Why not take advantage of the Cards’ infield defense, right? In September Woodford threw the sinker on 43.7 percent of his pitches and got a 48.8 percent ground-ball rate. The results: hitters batted .229 with a .271 slugging percentage, and Woodford had a 2.51 ERA in 28.2 innings. (Which included five starts.)

Thanks for reading …


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