Greetings. Are ya ready for the weekend?
ST. LOUIS CITY FC: looking for a couple of goals and a win: That’s the mission when the impressive FC Cincinnati visits CityPark on Saturday night. City (5-2) has dropped two straight, getting blanked by Minnesota and Seattle. This isn’t a big deal. This darling expansion club is way ahead of the expectations and some regression was inevitable.
With 15 goals in the bank – tied for second on the circuit – City has outperformed their expected 9.8 goals. That tells us that the prolific early scoring total was due for a correction of sorts, and that’s what happened in the last two matches. Even then, City deserved a better result than the 1-0 loss to Minnesota.
After enduring two consecutive shutouts, City are tied for No. 2 in the MLS with a rate of 2.0 goals scored per 90 minutes. That’s among the reasons why this should be a compelling match. Cincinnati are tenacious and notoriously stingy and have given up four total goals in seven matches – or to put it another way, an average of an average of 0.57 goals per 90 minutes. That’s the fourth-best rate in the MLS.
The cliche factory believes this will be a hard-nosed match, and City’s style fits the description. St. Louis leads the MLS in tackles and blocks. Sneaky Cincinnati leads in interceptions but has been held to a goal or fewer in five of seven games. Both teams like to pressure the other side, create disruption and pounce on sudden mistakes. This should be a good one.
Welcome home to the St. Louis soccer legend Pat Noonan – FC Cincinnati’s excellent coach – but City should rally up and dig out a close win. Then again I’m a fan of City and it’s my new passion … so of course I think Klauss, Lowen and the boys will take this one. CityPark will be vibrating.
I’ll be glued to Apple TV, undoubtedly holding a fine product brewed by Urban Chestnut.
A NEUTRAL VIEW: In a column entitled “Pressure Rises,” Tom Bogert of MLSsoccer.com put St. Louis City SC on a list of four teams that need a win in Matchday 8.
“No matter what happens this weekend, St. Louis CITY SC have experienced a stellar start to life in MLS,” Bogert wrote. “Despite losing two games in a row, the pressure they face is of a lesser order … still, Saturday night’s tilt at CITYPARK against FC Cincinnati is a big game and presents a chance for Bradley Carnell’s team to reassert themselves in the national conversation.
“Cincy have 17 points after seven matches, currently atop the (early) Supporters’ Shield race and Eastern Conference. They are among the best teams in the league and have a similar high-pressing ethos as St. Louis. It should be a fun game.”
THE BLUES: That didn’t take long. The Blues have sacked assistant coaches Craig MacTavish and Mike Van Ryn. The moves were expected so no one should be surprised. The Note lost substantial brainpower when the excellent assistant Jim Montgomery left to become the head coach of the Boston Bruins.
Assistant Steve Ott will be back next season, and that’s a positive. Ott oversees the team’s power play that slumped to No. 19 in the NHL this season after being No. 2 last season. The Blues front office let David Perron walk as a free-agent after he triggered much of the power-play success in 2022-2023. And with that decision, the Blues lost the 11 power–play goals Perron produced by Perron in 2022-23. And without Perron in place to convert on the PP, Ryan O’Reilly had only four power-play assists for the Blues this season in 56 games. If you want to blame Ott for that, fine. I’m just a dishwasher compared to the many Scotty Bowman wannabes out there.
The Blues obviously had serious personnel issues – especially among their defensemen, which was Van Ryn’s area – and couldn’t fix an embarrassingly inept, 30th-ranked penalty-killing performance. I’m a Craig Berube fan, but if the Blues exhibit many of the same bad traits that brought them down this season, the coach will feel the heat.
SIMPLE WISH LIST FOR THE BLUES: The Blues need a solid third center who can be a stopgap for a season or two until some of their young talent is ready for the NHL. Pavel Buchnevich was moved to center during the season but is better on the wing. And GM Doug Armstrong must defray the overall payroll cost by moving a high-priced defenseman to create roster space and flexibility. Of course, if The Note’s 3.5% chance to win the first pick in the 2023 NHL entry draft comes through as a longshot, I’d be OK with the addition of Connor Bedard. (Intentional understatement.)
JORDAN WALKER: BASERUNNING AND DEFENSE: There’s some fussing going on over Walker’s minus 0.1 WAR … which technically means he’s a tick below the replacement level. First of all, it’s too early to care about WAR. But he’s learning how to play right field – and doing it for the first time at Busch Stadium. And that isn’t an easy assignment for a converted third baseman that’s still only 20 years old. Fielding Bible has Walker at minus 4 runs saved defensively, which is the worst among MLB right fielders. And his -2 Outs Above Average are near the bottom of the right-field ratings. FanGraphs has Walker ranked as a below-average baserunner. It’s too early to know if that’s right or wrong. But Walker hasn’t cost the Cardinals any outs as a baserunner. He has a steal for a +1 net baserunning gain. The thing that “dings” him in the baserunning metrics is this: Walker hasn’t advanced from first to third base on a single on five opportunities. And he hasn’t scored from second base on a single in his lone opportunity. It’s early. He’s developing.
I HAVE A FEELING THAT: (1) Playing Tyler O’Neill in center field is more of a John Mozeliak decision than an Oli Marmol decision; (2) Randy Arozarena would still be a Cardinal if then-manager Mike Shildt hadn’t disliked him. Remember Arozarena’s live-streaming recording of Shildt screaming profanities in the clubhouse after the Cards eliminated the Braves in the 2019 NLDS? Bye-bye, Randy. Next, (3) the Battlehawks will need starting quarterback A.J. McCarron to return to the lineup to beat Seattle at the dome this weekend. McCarron missed last week’s contest with a shoulder injury. And though the Battlehawks beat Las Vegas with No. 2 quarterback Nick Tiano, Seattle (5-3) is better than Vegas and is especially desperate for a win in the quest for a playoff spot.
HELLO, MATTHEW LIBERATORE: The tall, talented lefty is off to an impressive start at Triple A Memphis. In his first three starts, Libby has worked 17 innings, allowed 10 hits and two earned runs, and posted a sparkling 1.06 ERA. And perhaps best of all, Liberatore has struck out 37% of his 65 batters faced. The walk rate (10.7%) is on the high side – but hey, at least that gives him something to work on until Cardinals management decides it’s time to call him up to the big club. I don’t know when that will be, or what will go into the decision. Who knows, Liberatore could appear in the St. Louis bullpen. His stuff is that good. He’s aggressively attacking hitters with his fastball and a wicked curve that would make Adam Wainwright proud of him.
THE CROWDED OUTFIELD: When Lars Nootbaar returns he’ll join an outfield cast that currently includes Jordan Walker, Tyler O’Neill, Alec Burleson, Dylan Carlson and Juan Yepez. And Brendan Donovan has played out there, too.
This group is off to a good start, ranking 12th in the majors and fifth in the NL with 117 wRC+, the adjusted metric for runs created. It means the Redbird outfielders are 17 percent above league average offensively. And that was compiled with Nootbaar playing only one game because of a thumb injury. These guys will do better going forward, and Marmol will have no shortage of good options to call on.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to compare STL’s early-season outfield offense to their recent seasons. And keep in mind that 100 is average in wRC+, and you want to see that number rise above 100:
St. Louis outfield wRC+ from 2016 through 2023:
I think I’d choose those group over, say, the 2018 outfield that had Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez log the most playing time. Some good names there, but that year the STL outfield performed only one percent above league average offensively.
WILL LEITCH ON THE CARDINALS: Writing for MLB.com, My “Seeing Red” podcast partner chose starting pitcher Miles Mikolas as the Cardinals’ biggest early-season surprise.
“Mikolas is not reveling in his extension,” Leitch wrote. “The Cardinals gave Mikolas a contract extension right before his Opening Day start, and he has followed that up by getting hit hard in each of his first three outings. He has a 10.05 ERA so far, and the Cardinals look desperate for Adam Wainwright to come back and save their rotation.”
Thanks for reading …
Pardon my typos …
Have the best weekend …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz