BERNIE BITS 

We could be in for a messy, mucky scrum in the NL Central.

Might get ugly.

Despite the offseason addition of elite third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals’ win projection for 2021 is looking rather shaky. 

FanGraphs rolled out its Playoff Odds on Wednesday. And though the report will be updated as teams continue to manicure their rosters, the first Cards’ forecast calls for .500 with a clear chance of mediocrity. But hey, at least they’re competing in the NL Central. 

NL Central, Projected Wins

Cardinals  81.5 

Brewers   81.4

Cubs  79 

Reds  78.2 

Pirates  65.5 

Here’s each team’s probability of winning the division: Cardinals 32.5%, Brewers 31.8%, Cubs 19.4%, Reds 15.9%, Pirates 0.4%. 

And the probability of making the playoffs: Cards 36.2%, Brewers 35.5%, Cubs 22%, Reds 18.5%, Pirates 0.4%. 

Here’s an excerpt from the outstanding FanGraphs analyst, Ben Clemens: “Wow, the NL Central projects poorly … we aren’t alone — pretty much any computer model in the world is going to be skeptical of a bunch of teams that haven’t played well in years and didn’t do enough adding to offset the effects of aging … in St. Louis, the problems are much the same. Nolan Arenado and the various Pauls (both DeJong and Goldschmidt) are the offensive highlights, and Dylan Carlson has a shot at being great, but the vaunted Cardinals depth has slipped a little bit in recent years; we don’t think Tommy Edman, Yadier Molina, or Tyler O’Neill will be average regulars, and that’s a lot of ballast to carry. The team is famous for its Devil Magic, so don’t count these guys out, but they combined to hit .232/.297/.363, good for an 82 wRC+, last year, so they’ll all need to excel on defense or surprise on offense to give the Cardinals a boost.”

FanGraphs also listed projected standings based on “true-talent win percentage” with no consideration given to strength of schedule. And in that accounting the Cardinals and Brewers are 79-83, ahead of the Cubs (77-85), Reds (76-86) and Pirates (65-97.) 

More from Clemens:  “How bad is the NL Central? We project the Red Sox, only 12.8% to win their division, as more likely to win the World Series than the Cardinals and Brewers combined. We think the Blue Jays are as likely to win the World Series as the entire NL Central.” 

These projections are fun. And accurate at times.

But at least now the Cardinals and their brethren can go into spring training with low expectations. And even though teams pretend to be angry when belittled by predictions or projections … truth is … they love it.

If the Cardinals have a good year, and win 90 games, then they can enjoy using the “Nobody Outside Of This Clubhouse Expected Us To Win Any Games At All This Year” card.

Three Groups Of People That Are On My Damn Nerves:

1–Tom Brady Haters. I understand your frustration, but only to a point. Just because your favorite team sucks, or you’re a miserable failure or otherwise unhappy in life, that’s no reason to be so bitter and jealous of a legend’s success. 

2–Cable news networks. All of ’em. These people are addicted to the previous occupant of the White House. Yes, even the “Liberal” news entities. They just can’t quit him.  The 45th president was a big pile of steroids for cable news ratings, and the junkies can’t stop juicing. Is there a rehab facility for so-called journalists that can’t stop convulsing over the mere mention of Orange’s name? 

3–The people who post 15,000 photos per day on Instagram … their kids, pets, cool purchases, dinner servings at restaurants, flowers, random lamps, selfies with D-List celebs, meals they’re making at home. OK, some of its a cute. But goshdammit, get over yourselves. It just ain’t that interesting. How about it limiting the photos to 1,000 per day .. or maybe none on occasion? 

READING TIME 5 MINUTES: 

It’s trap game for Mizzou (13-3, 6-3 in SEC) tonight at Mississippi (10-8, 5-6). Ole Miss has won four of its last six and enters with a two-game winning streak after beating Tennessee and Auburn. As for Mizzou, it’s fascinating to see the differences in perception and evaluation. The human AP voters have the Tigers at No. 10 in the nation. The NCAA Net ratings post Missouri 25th, and KenPom has MU at No. 29. Meanwhile the RPI rating lists the Tigers at No. 2 in the nation. The Bracketology workups are virtually aligned, however. Joe Lunardi (ESPN) projects MU as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament; Jerry Palm (CBS) has Cuonzo Martin’s team as a No. 2 seed.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas on Mizzou: “Damn, the Tigers are fun to watch,” Bilas wrote. “Missouri just fights you on both ends of the court. The Tigers cannot shoot the ball from deep, yet they find a way to generate opportunities off of its defense and drive the ball and get to the free throw line. Xavier Pinson and Mark Smith can stretch you, but neither are deep threats who can kill you. Jeremiah Tilmon is a beast in the lane. He can get angles and seal defenders with his big body. Remember, the Tigers have beaten Oregon, Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama en route to a 13-3 start. The NET says No. 25. I say higher.” 

Blues GM Doug Armstrong was a guest on my Tuesday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. I asked Army about winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who is making his way back from shoulder surgery and has stepped up his physical preparation for a return later this season. Armstrong sounded excited.  

“He’s been skating the last week or so. By himself for a while, and now our taxi squad. He’s skating with those guys. He looks powerful, he looks strong. With the shoulder, again it’s just a matter of time. You get a smile on your face when you watch him out there, even just shooting pucks. everything was post and in, post and in, a crossbar and down and in. Coming off his stick like a rocket. He’s so powerful. He’s so strong. His lower half, just watching our coaches push on him, and they’re just like little bugs on an elephant. They don’t make any effect on him. He’s so strong, and his lower body is so strong. Just watching him puts a smile on my face just knowing that he’s certainly a lot closer than further away from coming back and helping us.”

Our friend Keith Law (The Athletic) just released his farm-system rankings for 2021, and the Cardinals made a good showing in his assessment, coming in at No. 11 among the 30 MLB organizations. “The Cardinals just acquired Arenado without dealing anyone from their top 10, which I suppose you could argue is a sign of the depth of this system,” Law wrote. 

ESPN’s Lunardi currently has Saint Louis U on his “Last Four Out” list for the tournament. So at least the Billikens are still in position to grab an NCAA spot despite the extreme level of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here’s Eamonn Brennan (The Athletic) on SLU’s chances to make the NCAA tournament: 

“At one point this season the respect for Saint Louis was extremely high,” Brennan wrote. “After all, the Associated Press poll voters kept the Billikens ranked for weeks while on one of the lengthier COVID-19 pauses any program has had all season. There was real belief in Travis Ford’s veteran team and star guard Jordan Goodwin, and rightfully so. Now it’s just hard to know what to make of this team. Last weekend’s win over St. Bonaventure was nice and absolutely necessary, mostly because it followed a loss at La Salle, which as of this writing ranked 172nd in the NET, and which added a third (and just really bad all around) Quadrant 3 defeat to Saint Louis’s already flimsy résumé. The Billikens need some time to figure things out, because they simply haven’t played all that much, but the number of chances they’ll have to shore up a tourney-worthy team sheet is very much up in the air.”

Back to the MLB projections for a bit, here is the ZiPS forecast offensive outlook on the Cardinals’ young outfielders for 2021. I’ll use OPS just to make it easy: Austin Dean .753, Dylan Carlson .741, Tyler O’Neill .726, Harrison Bader .718, Justin Williams .685, Lane Thomas .646.  Austin Dean? Wait, what? Well, when I used this space to scan the Cardinals’ five-man outfield group following the Dexter Fowler trade, I didn’t include Dean. (Maybe I should have?) For what it’s worth,  Baseball Reference projects Dean for a lesser  .707 OPS. Dean, 27, has batted .224 with a .664 OPS in 318 MLB plate appearances with the Marlins in Cardinals. If you are curious as to why the Cardinals’ front office remains intrigued with Dean, it’s probably because of his strong-man career numbers in 160 Triple A games: 27 homers, .331 average, .546 slug, .944 OPS. \

About those Cardinals outfielders… Kevin Goldstein of FanGraphs writes: “t’s a physical group that, in terms of raw strength, would do well in an outfield Royal Rumble, but in terms of baseball, is full of unproven players. Tyler O’Neill has a chance to hit 30-plus bombs and turn into some kind of right-handed Kyle Schwarber. Harrison Bader is a tooled-out center fielder who can really track it down but has seen his bat regress since a promising 2018 rookie campaign. And Dylan Carlson is one of St. Louis’ top prospects who looks like he can be an everyday corner outfielder, with a chance of being an above-average or better one. Some of these players will exceed expectations. Some will do the opposite. But somewhere in this group is the Cardinals’ outfield of the future, or at least a good-sized portion of it, and in terms of right here and right now, Fowler gets in the way of the Cardinals figuring that out. It’s time to let the kids play, as it were.” 

Blues defenseman Vince Dunn is a metrics monster, loved by hockey analysts across North America. But he’s made some gruesome turnovers early this season, and the Blues have been outscored 8-6 with Dunn on the ice at 5 vs. 5. And yeah, that’s different. In the two previous seasons the Blues had a 60% share of the goals scored at 5v5 with Dunn on the pond. Dunn’s wobbles have intensified trade speculation, and naturally the pundits have moved this into the matchmaking stage. Lyle Richardson of Bleacher Report lists these five teams as the “Top Landing Spots” for Dunn, in order: Boston, Detroit, LA Kings, Ottawa, Winnipeg. jThe Bruins are interesting. “With a projected $3.6 million in salary-cap space, the Bruins could take on Dunn’s salary, but it would still be a tight fit,” Richardson wrote. “Rather than part with a second-round pick, they could prefer the Blues take a salaried NHL player in return … winger Anders Bjork, who’s signed through 2022-23 with an annual average value of $1.6 million.”

Thanks for reading … 

Now excuse me while I go post a cat photo.

–Bernie 

Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS . It airs weekdays from 3-6 p.m. except on Friday (4-6 p.m.) Or listen online or access the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app is available in your preferred app store.