Cardinals … Blues … Mizzou football.
ST. LOUIS BLUES: The Note didn’t have much to offer Monday night in losing to the Dallas Stars, 4-1, at Enterprise Center. They had only 44 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, and only 38% of the scoring chances at 5-on-5 … that’s three losses in the last four games for St. Louis, which has settled into mediocrity with an 11-11 record on the season … only five shots in the third period for the home team? Where was the aggressiveness and desperation?
The Blues were outscored 3-0 with Jordan Kyrou and Brayden Schenn on the ice … Vladimir Tarasenko is a minus 9 this season, and has scored only one goal in his last 11 games … The Blues have scored only 38% of the goals at even strength with Tarasenko on the ice in his 20 games … with Monday’s defeat the Blues dropped to 5-9 against teams with a points percentage of .500 or better … and the Blues are 4-7 against opponents that would be in the playoffs based on Tuesday morning’s standings … rookie Jake Neighbours is struggling to adapt to the NHL. The Blues have been outscored 12-2 when he’s been on the ice at even strength, and 9-2 at 5-on-5. And he has an expected goal share of 37.8% at 5-on–5 …
Blues defenseman Calle Rosen continues to excel. In 13 games he has two goals, three assists and is a plus 10. The Blues have outscored opponents 11-1 when Rosen on the ice at even strength, and he has the team’s best expected-goals share (56.7%) among Blues that have logged at least 100 minutes of ice time. The fact that it took such a long time – and multiple injuries to defensemen – for Rosen to receive a legitimate opportunity to play raises questions about the Blues’ ability to evaluate their own personnel.
CARDINALS: Here’s Jim Bowden’s outlook on the Cardinals, written for The Athletic: “The Cardinals are working to land their starting catcher after the retirement of Yadier Molina. They’ve talked with the Blue Jays and A’s about their catching depth and will consider free agents such as Willson Contreras and Christian Vázquez. The Cardinals could use another hitter to replace the retired Albert Pujols, although I’m confident Jordan Walker will not only make the team out of spring training but also be a contender for NL Rookie of the Year. He has the ability to be an important bat for them next season. Another left-handed hitter would help, too. I also think the Cardinals need one more starting pitcher so that they’re better prepared for injuries or regression from their existing starters.”
MAKING A PREDICTION: This is two weeks old – my bad – but earlier this month Bowden predicted this trade for St. Louis: “The Cardinals find their catcher for the start of the post-Yadier Molina era: Sean Murphy, whom they acquire from the A’s for a package of prospects, beating out the Guardians, who also try to trade for him.” Bowden also mentioned young slugger Nolan Gorman as a potential centerpiece in a deal for Murphy.
ANOTHER CARDINALS PREDICTION: This, from native St. Louisan Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com: “Willson Contreras, Cardinals, four years, $76 million. The Redbirds need an everyday backstop to step into the sizable empty shoes of Molina, and Contreras is easily the best on the market as a player who fits the bill on the field and in the clubhouse.”
AND ONE MORE PREDICTION: From Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com, who slots free-agent starting pitcher and two-time NL Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom with the Cardinals: “Four years, $150 million,” Gonzalez wrote. “The Cardinals — venturing into a new era with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina gone and Adam Wainwright heading into his final season — have money to spend, needs to address and championship ambitions to pursue. DeGrom and his devastating stuff would be a perfect fit for what was mostly a pitch-to-contact staff last year.”
MIZZOU FOOTBALL: The 29–27 win over a distracted Arkansas team was a fine way to close the regular season, putting the Tigers at 6-6 to officially become eligible for a bowl game … of course you knew this already … so, what do we make of a 6-6 season in Mizzou’s third season under head coach Eli Drinkwitz? I have mixed feelings.
On the plus side: I appreciate the way Missouri kept grinding to go 4-2 in the final six games. I respect the way quarterback Brady Cook improved over those final six games. Other than the clunker at Tennessee, the Missouri defense played well enough to give the Tigers a chance to win more than six games. In the combined FEI and SP+ efficiency rankings at Football Outsiders, MU defense ended the regular season as the No. 22 ranked defense nationally among 131 teams.
On the down side: no matter how you parse it, a 3-5 conference record is disappointing. Missouri finished in a fourth-place tie with Kentucky and Florida in the SEC East, and the opportunity was there for a more successful showing – with a winning record overall, and in the SEC. The Tigers fell short in close defeats to Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky, losing the four games by an average of 4.5 points. The Mizzou defense allowed an average of just 22 points in the four close losses, but the Missouri offense failed to take advantage by sputtering to an average of 17.5 points in those games. Missouri’s offense ranked 74th nationally in the combined FEI and SP+ ratings. And that’s difficult to accept considering that Drinkwitz largely was hired because of his perceived strength as a creative mind in designing and directing an offense.
BOTTOM LINE ON COACH DRINK: I suppose we can be polite about it and say that he has a little momentum going. Three years into the job, with a bowl game to play to cap the current season, Drinkwitz is 17-18 overall. That includes an 11-16 mark in the SEC, a 11-17 record vs. Power 5 opponents, and a 3-13 ledger against winning FBS teams. Over the three years MU is 3-12 when playing outside of CoMo, and 1-9 vs. teams that were ranked at the end of a season. In his final three seasons as Missouri coach, Barry Odom went 21-17 overall and was 11-13 in the SEC. But just like Drinkwitz, Odom was pretty much wiped out in games against winning FBS opponents (2-16) and ranked teams (1-7) over his final three years. Is Missouri better off under Drinkwitz since making the coaching change? In some ways, maybe. (Recruiting). But based on records, the Tigers are just as mediocre now as they were with Odom as head coach.
And this is a key point: the industry has changed. There are no four-year, five-year rebuilding projects. Other coaches in the SEC East – Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer – have turned programs around in just two seasons. Drinkwitz will be entering his fourth season at Mizzou in 2023 and his program has lost ground. And Missouri may experience significant damage with players leaving the program to enter the unrestricted free-agent market. (Also known as the transfer portal.)
It’s imperative for Drinkwitz to replace his squad’s free-agent departures by landing equivalent talent during his own free-agent shopping expedition in the portal. If Missouri boosters want to win, it’s time to throw the money down to increase the NIL funding.
(Hey, Connor Bazelak is available! After bolting from Mizzou as a free agent following the 2022 season, the quarterback signed on with Indiana … and now he’s leaving Indiana after one season to re-enter free agency with two years of eligibility remaining. What a system.)
BRADY COOK: It’s been easy to rough this quarterback – I’m talking about fans and media – but Cook deserves credit for staying mentally strong and getting better. In his last six games, Cook played a positive role in Missouri’s 4-2 closing stretch by completing 65.6 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and one interception. And he was impressive when running the football, rolling up 384 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground. Has Cook strengthened his hold on the starting job enough to be viewed as the de facto starter going into 2023? I don’t know how to answer that. I’m encouraged by Cook’s upturn. But can it last? Is there more improvement to come? This situation really depends on Drinkwitz and his view of freshman Sam Horn, the four-star recruit who spent all but a few plays this season in bubble wrap on the sideline. Cook’s status also depends on the Mizzou effort to reel in a quality, free-agent quarterback. Coach failed miserably in that area in the planning for 2022.
BIRD BYTES: My friend Brandon Kiley of 101 ESPN did some homework on available free-agent bats who hit from the left side and here’s how he ranked them, based on their OPS vs. RH pitching last season: Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Michael Conforto, Ben Gamel, David Peralta … separate note: and as we know, former Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger is out there as well, has regenerating power in his left-handed swing, and reportedly is being courted by as many as 10 MLB teams — and the Cardinals have checked in on Bellinger … the Dodgers are considering pitching a free-agent contract to former Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes … writing at FanGraphs, prospect evaluator Eric Longerhagen had this to say about power-hitting outfielder Moises Gomez, who slammed 39 homers and slugged .624 in a season split between Double A Springfield and Triple A Memphis: “Gomez is Jon Singleton without the platoon advantage or feel for the zone. He has 70-grade raw power but ran a 66% contact rate in 2022. Hang a breaking ball and Gomez will bang it, but Jordan Walker is a superior option already, in my opinion,” … and here’s Longerhagen on infielder Jose Fermin, acquired from Cleveland by the Cardinals earlier this month: “St. Louis took advantage of Cleveland’s crunch by adding Fermin in a trade for cash. His ultra-compact swing makes him one of the toughest hitters in the minors to strike out, but his overall lack of athleticism makes it tough to find a defensive home for him, and he lacks the power of a corner player. He’s a fine depth option in the event something happens to either Tommy Edman or Brendan Donovan.”
Thank you 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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Baseball Reference.