Interim coach Drew Bannister was behind the bench for two consecutive wins after taking over for the ousted Craig Berube. It was a nice restart for the Blues but nothing unusual. Teams often get an immediate bounce after changing coaches.
Bannister didn’t really become the true coach of this enigmatic team until the true Blues showed up. You know: the group that believes effort is optional, commitment is a choice and honest competitiveness isn’t a requirement. The real Blues appeared at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night and disappeared when it came time to honor its responsibility to franchise ownership and the great fans who faithfully support the team.
The Lightning shooed the Blues away with an easy 6-1 victory, outscoring the visitors 5-0 at five on five. For the third time this season the Blues were routed by a five-goal margin in defeat.
The casual tourists from the Gateway City have lost three consecutive road games and are 1-5 away from home since Nov. 28 … and they lost those five roadies by an embarrassing average of 2.8 goals.
St. Louis is 6-10-1 on the road this season for a .382 points percentage that ranks 27th among the 32 teams.
When playing at five on five, the Blues have scored only 33.3 percent of the goals in their road contests. Only one team (San Jose) has been less competitive than the Blues in goals-scored share on the road.
And it’s actually worse than that.
In the Blues’ last five road losses home teams have outscored them 13-2 in the first period. It’s one thing to lose, and the Blues have serious flaws. But how about showing up? These sorry, no-account, no-show rollovers are disgraceful.
Tuesday, the Blues permitted absurdly easy access to the net-front area in front of their goal. Tampa Bay players didn’t need a hockey stick; they could have used a putter to score.
In his first new-sheriff-in-town move, Bannister made an example of Pavel Buchnevich, benching the valuable forward in the third period after Buchnevich was sent off for his third hooking minor of the game. Buchnevich was a spectator for the game’s final 12 minutes 35 seconds. The Blues’ game-night roster had many spectators – on the ice, on the bench, in attitude … whatever.
What else is “Banny” supposed to do? He can’t bench the team’s entire group of defensemen who are being paid $28.35 million this season. Only two NHL teams have invested more money in defensemen than the Blues this season. And I doubt that any team has received less value for the dollar at the position.
Welcome to St. Louis, Coach Bannister.
READING TIME 7+ MINUTES
— On Sonny Gray: Writing for The Athletic, the great Eno Sarris chose the best individual pitches (by category) in the majors for 2023. His gold medal for the best sweeper pitch went to new Cardinals starter Sonny Gray, who finished second in the American League Cy Young voting last season in his final year as a Minnesota Twin.
“Gray’s sweeper doesn’t top the Stuff+ leaderboard, but it’s hard to argue with the best results in baseball,” Sarris wrote. “He threw this thing 576 times and batters hit .097 with a .118 slugging and whiffed 41 percent of the time they swung! Is it a sweeper? Is it a slider? Is it a slurve? Everyone’s got an opinion, but it’s probably helpful to separate this one as a sweeper, considering that Gray throws multiple breaking balls, and this pitch consistently has three more inches sweep than his curveball, seven more inches sweep than the other slider he’s thrown, and nearly a foot more sweep than his cutter.”
— Detroit Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta is having a fantastic season. LaPorta warrants special recognition here because of his local roots, having grown up 35 miles from St. Louis in Highland, IL before playing his college ball at Iowa.
Tight ends usually need a couple of years to develop in the NFL, but LaPorta is an exception. In Saturday’s 42-17 dunking of visiting Denver, LaPorta was targeted for three of the five touchdown passes thrown by quarterback Jared Goff. LaPorta leads NFL tight ends with nine touchdown catches, and only Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson and George Kittle have accumulated more receiving yards. LaPorta has 71 grabs for 758 yards.
To this point only five rookie NFL tight ends have gained more receiving yards than LaPorta and he has three regular-season games to go. LaPorta has a shot to break Mike Ditka’s rookie record for most receiving yards (1,076) as a tight end. That standard was set in 1961.
But LaPorta isn’t a finesse guy. His receiving skills are advanced, but he’s also an aggressive and effective blocker in Detroit’s imposing rushing attack. The Lions (10-4) hit it big in choosing LaPorta in the second round of the 2023 NFL draft at No. 34 overall.
Some LaPorta praise from Lions head coach Dan Campbell: “He’s doing a really good job and if you see the kid, when you watch him in meetings, you watch him out at practice, (in) the walkthroughs, the way he works … just how he goes about it and he is highly competitive. He gets in games like and he shows up and he’s got this competitive edge about him. So I’m not surprised by that. He just keeps getting better and better.”
— Here’s an update on St. Louisan Kyren Williams, the Vianney grad who played his college ball at Notre Dame: Williams had 152 yards rushing Sunday to lead the Rams to a 28-20 win over the Commanders. Williams has keyed the Rams’ late-season surge by averaging an outstanding 131 yards rushing over his last five games.
Here are a few revealing numbers that show just how good Williams is doing in his second NFL season:
* No NFL running back has averaged more yards rushing per game this season than Williams. He leads Christian McCaffrey and all other backs with with an average of 95.3 yards per contest.
* Williams leads NFL running backs in Expected Points Added with an EPA of 19.48. Special stuff right there.
* Williams ranks first among NFL running backs with a 59.7 percent success rate on his rushing attempts. And he’s second with an average of gaining 3.2 yards after contact.
* Williams has 953 yards rushing which ranks fourth in the NFL. That’s impressive considering that Williams missed four consecutive games with an ankle injury earlier this season. That means only three players have rushed for more yards than Williams – even though Vianney Man has started only nine games and played in 10.
* Williams leads the NFL in rushing yards (497) since returning from the injury on Nov. 26. Since healing up in time for Week 12, Williams has averaged a league-best 124.3 yards per game. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry during this stretch and leads NFL backs in broken tackles and first downs.
* Williams has 11 touchdowns from scrimmage this season: eight rushing, three receiving. And his 1,145 yards from scrimmage ranks sixth among the league’s running backs even though Williams missed considerable time because of the ankle.
* Williams has five 100+ yard rushing days this season – and has rolled for 100+ yards in four of his last five games. The Rams are 4-1 this season when Williams runs for 100 or more yards.
* With Williams on the injured list, the Rams went 1-3. Since he’s returned, the Rams are 3-1 to raise their record to 7-7 on the season. That puts them in a tie for the NFC’s third wild-card spot. At one point this season the Rams looked like an also-ran with a record of 3-6.
“He’s made a lot of plays,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He’s made a huge difference. When he’s in the lineup and when he’s not, it’s a very different theme for us. And I could say that about a couple guys, but he has been a big spark plug in a positive way for us.”
Williams lost two fumbles in Sunday’s victory over Washington. But after the second fumble McVay put his arm around Williams to offer encouragement.
“He’s a great player. We wouldn’t be in a lot of these situations in a positive way if it wasn’t for him,” McVay told reporters after the win. “I love the way that he finished the game out … he’s the type of guy that has the right football character, the right mindset and mentality to be able to use these things as learning opps. Look forward in a positive way. He still made big-time contributions to this game in a positive way.”
— Saturday Down South columnist Connor O’Gara is up on Mizzou’s chances to follow up on their strong 2023 season with sustained success in the SEC. He cites several reasons: (1) the ability of coach Eli Drinkwitz to hire excellent coordinators for his offense and defense; (2) MU’s improved recruiting and positive results in the transfer portal; (3) a thriving NIL program that gives the Tigers more access to higher-end high-school recruits and transfers.
“There’s a difference between improvement and sustainability,” O’Gara wrote. “Drinkwitz has made considerable steps in the past couple of seasons to show that he has the right approach as the CEO of the program. That’ll be at the core of every successful program in the 2020s. Some will expect the Tigers to fall back to earth. But maybe winning 8-9 games on a more consistent basis can actually happen in the new SEC. Contrary to what you might hear once this memorable 2023 run concludes, the path is there.”
— St. Louisan Bradley Beal is off to a limping start with the Phoenix Suns. Washington traded the three-time All-Star guard to the Suns to form a super-trio combination with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. But Beal injured an ankle in a Dec. 15 loss to the NY Knicks. He’ll be out for another two weeks (at least.) Beal will be reevaluated at the start of January.
Beal has played in only six of his new team’s 27 games. The Durant-Booker-Beal trio has played just one game together so far, and the Suns are a off to a disappointing 14-13 opening to the new season.
Beal can’t stay healthy. Earlier this season he was sidelined by a lingering back injury. And now it’s the ankle. Just put it on the lengthy list of ailments.
Since the start of the 2019-2020 NBA season Beal has played in only 62 percent of his teams’ games because of injuries. The problem has been acute over the last two-plus seasons, with Beal available to play in only 50 percent of 191 games.
Beal, a Chaminade alum, was drafted into the NBA by Washington at age 19. He’s now 30 and in his 11th season. But Beal hasn’t aged well. The same can be said of his five-year contract that pays him $251 million guaranteed. That computes to an annual average salary of $50 million.
After willingly inheriting Beal’s contract from Washington, this is what Phoenix is looking at in its guaranteed financial commitment to Beal:
* $46.74 million this season.
* $50.2 million next season.
* $53.7 million in 2025-26.
* $57.1 million in 2026-27.
— Irony? The Phoenix Suns are getting more from St. Louis U. basketball alum Jordan Goodwin, a native of nearby Centerville, IL. The tenacious guard is an effective reserve, giving Phoenix 6.3 points, 4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while playing an average of 18 minutes.
Goodwin has completed in all 27 games this season. On a rate basis, he’s averaging 12.3 points, 8 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes and his defensive performance is 15 percent above the league average. Goodwin is being paid an NBA bargain salary of $1.9 million this season.
“He came in and changed the game in more ways than one,” Devin Booker said after Goodwin delivered instant impact off the bench in a recent win at Washington.
— I continue to get a good chuckle out of the folks who insist the Quality Start is a meaningless garbage stat made up by bored nerds. I did some updated research to check on this genius-like observation.
Over the past five seasons the Cardinals have a .715 winning percentage when receiving a quality start from a pitcher.
Since the beginning of 2019 the Cards have a 186-74 record in quality-start outings for a +112 in the win/loss differential. But when the Redbirds haven’t gotten a quality start since the beginning of 2019, they’re 189-257 for a minus 68 in the win/loss differential.
Facts? Who cares about facts? Just remember what the smart people tell us: quality starts are a meaningless, made-up stat.
The other nonsensical part to this is the crabbing over the minimum standard for a quality start: the starter must work at least six innings and allow no more than three earned runs. That’s a 4.50 ERA, so what’s special about that?
Here’s the deal: a high percentage of quality starts are much better than the minimum standard that translates to a 4.50 ERA.
Over the past five seasons, Cardinals pitchers have allowed no more than two earned runs in 82 percent of their quality starts – and have given up no more than a single earned run in 56 percent of their quality starts.
About the six-inning thing: over the past five seasons Cardinals starters have gone longer than six innings in 55 percent of their quality starts. This is modern pitching. There are no Bob Gibson types. Warren Spahn ain’t around. But even though baseball is different now, your team will still have a terrific winning percentage when its pitcher provides a quality start. That hasn’t changed.
The quality start isn’t a perfect measure, but it sure as hell has a substantial influence on the outcome of a game. Heck, even the wretched 2023 Cardinals had a 33-15 record (.687) when benefiting from a quality start. Without a quality start the ‘23 Cardinals were 38-76. The difference between those records seems meaningful to me.
Thanks for reading!
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Bill James Online or Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.