BERNIE BITS 

The three best things that happened over the weekend:

1–St. Louisan Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards won their fourth consecutive game, beating Portland on the road. The Wizards are a weak 10-17 overall this season but have gone 7-5 in their last 12.

This is a rare happy time for Beal, who is thriving in his ninth NBA season. His team is improving. He leads the NBA with an average 0f 32.9 points per game. Late last week Beal was named as a starting guard for the Eastern Conference in the upcoming March 7 NBA All-Star game. This is Beal’s third All-Star selection and comes a year after an incomprehensible snub left him off the roster. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, last season Beal was the first player in 41 years to average at least 28.6 points and not make the All-Star team.

“It’s a huge honor,” Beal said via Zoom conference. “I don’t take it for granted. It’s definitely motivation for me to continue to be a mentor, to be a better player. There’s so many guys who are more than deserving of being where I am, so please believe I don’t take it for granted.”

Beal is Washington’s first All-Star starter in six years, a recognition that prompted him to cite team owner Ted Leonsis. 

“His famous quote is, ‘To whom much is given, much is required and expected,’ ” Beal said. “He entrusted me with the franchise and building around me, and I have to step into those shoes and be a star every night. I’m blessed to be an all-star this year. At the same time, I wasn’t crazily excited about it, because I just wanna continue to win. Winning is what’s important to me and getting my team to the playoffs.”

2–Mizzou basketball got back on the road and back on track by ripping South Carolina 93-78. No second-half fade-out this time; the Tigers made 65.5 percent of their shots from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Returning big Jeremiah Tilmon scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half.

 Absolutely, it made a difference for MU to have Tilmon banging away in the middle again after a two-game absence. (Mizzou made 15 layups in this game, and got to the line for 19 free-throw attempts.) But Tilmon’s teammates sharpened up by making 53.7% of their shots with only eight turnovers. In short, the Tigers greatly reduced their knucklehead-play moments in this one.

When Mizzou plays smart, they can beat anyone. When Mizzou plays the opposite of smart, they can lose to anyone. 

As of Monday morning Mizzou sat at N0. 39 in the NET ratings, No. 44 at KenPom, and were a No. 4 seed Jerry Palm’s updated bracket at CBS Sports. 

3–The Blues did the right thing by continuing to keep laboring defenseman Colton Parayko out of the lineup. We don’t know if the rest will help because his physical derailment could be more serious than that. Parayko has sat out the last two games. 

According to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, Parayko has a back injury. The condition could lead to surgery. “The plan is to rest him, as the Blues have done recently, and see how he responds,” Rutherford wrote. “It’s doubtful he will return to the lineup this week, though an extended amount of time off also may not help the issue, one source said.” 

At least the Blues have finally — and belatedly — made a move to address Parayko’s obvious deterioration. He’s been moving slowly, using more caution in making physical contact, and playing fewer minutes. At 5-on-5 this season the Blues have scored 50 percent of the goals in a game when Parayko is on the ice compared to 55.2% last season and 57.4% during the 2018-2019 championship run. 

The worst thing that happened over the weekend: 

Sadly, Saint Louis U had a miserable performance in Friday’s 76-53 malfunction at Dayton. There isn’t much to say about this one. In the first half Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins combined to miss 11 of 12 shots from the floor, and Dayton ran away for a 43-23 halftime lead. 

The defeat demoted SLU from No. 35 to No. 51 in the KenPom ratings. The Billikens are No. 48 in the NET. But a spot in the NCAA Tournament remains possible. Palm has SLU still in there as a No. 11 seed … and as one of the teams in the annual “First Four” tournament opener. But the Billikens certainly can reinforce their resume by winning the final three regular-season games (VCU, Richmond, UMass.) 

READING TIME 5 MINUTES: 

I’m happy for former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who signed a one-year deal ($11 million) with Oakland. To fit the $11 million into Oakland’s snug payroll Rosenthal agreed to have the sum paid out over three years. After missing all of 2018 with elbow surgery and enduring a terrible 2019 as he tried to find his sharpness, Rosenthal, 30, rebounded with 11 saves combined in 23 innings for Kansas City and San Diego last season. His strikeout rate jumped to 41.8 percent after plunging to 20% in 2019. 

Ben Carsley (Baseball Prospectus) was kind enough to explain why the PECOTA forecast has the Cardinals lurching to an 81-81 record and third-place NL Central finish in 2021. “Even with Nolan Arenado in tow, the lineup is not going to be the strength of the 2021 Cardinals,” he wrote. “The real problem for the Red Birds exists in the outfield, where St. Louis is trotting out one of the weakest groups in the game … St. Louis’ starting rotation may seem like a relative strength at first glance, but danger lurks beneath the surface…behind Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals have a deep if flawed group of starters who carry a ton of injury risk but a fair amount of upside as well … in short, the Red Birds probably have enough depth to survive a full season, but it’s also not too hard to envision a scenario in which the age and injury history of their starters comes back to bite them.” Having said all of that Carsley concludes: “The Cardinals are probably the best team in their division.”

The Blues (10-6-2) are in a potentially treacherous spot. Beginning Monday night they’ll play eight games in 15 days. Following a three-day break, the Blues resume with seven games in 11 days through March 22. That’s an abundance of hockey for a team trying to survive a debilitating barrage of injuries that, as of now, have sidelined Parayko and five forwards. Some players will return, of course. But others will be out for a while and additional injury hits are possible. As of Monday morning only Chicago and Dallas had suffered more man games lost to injury than the Blues. That according to VIZ hockey. 

Another writer at Baseball Prospectus, Darius Austin, offered an overview observation in a separate piece at BP. He concluded that the problem (and the challenge) is an overall lack of talent. “Our impression is that the Cardinals are good at what they need, of course – finding complementary pieces even when there don’t appear to be any,” he wrote. “While there’s little doubt that their player development is excellent, it’s difficult to quantify in projections or expect to come through exactly when you need it. Few will be surprised if the Cardinals find a league-average or better player from the depths of their organization … (but) at the end of the day, finding a random league-average player alone probably won’t be enough in PECOTA’s estimation. If they truly are a .500 team as constructed, the Cardinals need several hits of that nature or, ideally, some breakouts out from what PECOTA sees as a glut of existing average or slightly sub-par big league talent.”

We’ve talked and written about this before, so let’s update:  The Blues must get into the nitty-gritty areas for more high-danger scoring chances. They’ve been slipping in this area for most of the season, and it’s an essential component in their success. At 5-on-5 play the Blues rank 24th in the NHL in high-danger chances. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Blues are actually doing a good job of cashing in on high-danger chances at 5v5, ranking 8th in the NHL with 22 HD goals. But they lack volume in the number of opportunities. 

Adding to the flaw, the Blues are giving up too many high-scoring opportunities to opponents. I don’t enjoy being a nag, but over their last four games the Blues have been outscored 18-11 at 5v5. That’s uncharacteristic of a Craig Berube team. But it’s also predictable considering that the Blues have been outscored 13-8 on high-danger chances over the last four games — with opponents having 69 HD opportunities to the Blues’ 52. That’s a large deficit.

There’s been some scuttlebutt of a St. Louis reunion in Boston, with Bradley Beal the ongoing subject of trade rumors. The struggling Celtics (15-15) could use Beal, and from an STL standpoint it would be sweet to see Beal and Jayson Tatum as teammates. But don’t count on that yet, writes Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer: “Unless something changes between now and the deadline, Beal won’t be available. All indications are that he and the Wizards front office will wait until the offseason to sort out their future. And even if Beal did become available before the deadline, the Celtics probably wouldn’t be able to make the most competitive offer. For the Celtics to ever get Beal, they’ll probably need him to scare teams away by signaling he won’t re-sign anywhere else once his contract is up. Tatum and Beal have known each other since they were kids, so there is a connection. But don’t bank on it. Plenty of teams with contending hopes will chase Beal, and as we’ve seen with Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and a long list of other stars, a player has only so much power to decide where he’s traded.” 

ESPN filled out some potential rosters for Team USA and Team Canada for the next Olympics, and a few local connections were mentioned: St. Louisan Matthew Tkachuk as a forward for Team USA, Blues defenseman Torey Krug on Team USA, and St. Louisan Ben Bishop in goal for Team USA. Matthew’s “little” brother, Brady Tkachuk, “is going to get a long look” for a spot on the Team USA roster according to ESPN.

As for Team Canada, speculated possibilities are former Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington. What about Ryan O’Reilly? Remember, Blues manager Doug Armstrong is in charge of Team Canada. “Blues star Ryan O’Reilly has played himself into the Jonathan Toews role of two-way center with leadership intangibles,” ESPN notes. “If Armstrong is selecting the team, one assumes he’d be on it.” (One other note: Vladimir Tarasenko, if healthy, is automatic for Team Russia.) 

TRACKING THE NL CENTRAL: 

Milwaukee hasn’t zeroed in on a starting third baseman for 2020. The possibilities include Luis Arias and Orlando Arcia; they’re competing to be the starter at shortstop this spring, and if Arcia holds it, Arias could slide over to third base. There’s also utility man Daniel Roberston, who has a .694 OPS in 250 MLB games with Tampa Bay and San Francisco. Robertson is a sleeper who was 28 percent above league average offensively for the 2018 Rays in park adjusted runs created. But the Brewers signed Travis Shaw to a minor-league deal with a chance to make the big club and claim the job at 3B. Over 2017 and 2018 Shaw homered 63 times for the Brewers, driving in 187 runs and slugging .497 with an impressive .844 OPS. But Shaw declined rapidly in 2019, and resurfaced for 180 plate appearances with Toronto last year. Shaw’s surface stats weren’t exciting — .411 slug, .717 OPS — but the Brewers looked at his improvement in exit velocity and hard-hit rate and decided to take a chance on him. Shaw is only 30 … 

And in case you missed it: The Brewers re-signed lefty starter Brett Anderson to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Anderson, 33, had a 4.21 ERA in 10 starts for Milwaukee last season. In 2019 Anderson went 13-9 with a 3.89 ERA in 31 starts for Oakland. The Brewers have put together a fine rotation that has a chance to be really good in 2021: Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser and Anderson.

Said Craig Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus) to The Athletic in explaining why PECOTA forecasts Milwaukee ahead of St. Louis in the 2021 NL Central: “MLB tweeted out our projected standings, and we had a lot of Cardinals fans in the mentions saying, like, the Cardinals have a better pitching staff. And when I look at the two side by side and really dig into it, it’s hard to justify that opinion that the Cardinals have a better staff.”

AS OTHERS SEE US: 

Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic: 

“The breakout of Randy Arozarena in the 2020 postseason is one reason the Cardinals are so eager to create greater opportunities for their younger outfielders. Arozarena had only 23 plate appearances in the majors before the Cardinals traded him to the Rays, and the team does not want to pass judgment on players such as Lane Thomas and Justin Williams without giving them a better chance.

“Club officials wanted to begin the transition to younger outfielders more fully in 2020, but the 60-game season made evaluations difficult. For ’21, they accelerated the process by trading Dexter Fowler to the Angels, even though it required them paying $12.75 million of his remaining $14.5 million salary, plus the remaining $2 million of his signing bonus.

“The move with Fowler opened right field for top prospect Dylan Carlson. Harrison Bader will be in center, and Thomas and Williams likely will compete with Tyler O’Neill for playing time in left.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk radio show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. Or listen online and download The Bernie Show podcast via 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.