We’re baaacckkk…with plenty of bumps ahead!

The MLB & NHL are back after the Covid delay. It’s great to have LIVE professional sports action to enjoy. But….there are some bumps ahead….some already seen while others have not been noticed…The MLB season begins with many players, including Aroldis Chapman, AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez and All-Star Austin Meadows and several other players on the COVID-19 Replacement Injured List in the MLB. One has to wonder what the “magic number” is that would shut down MLB or NHL play. With that in mind….here we go…
….in the NHL, all Stanley Cup games are played in 2 sites—Eastern Conf-Toronto; Western Conf-Edmonton. Clearly the NHL is attempting to put their players/teams in a bubble with little/no exposure to the actual population. A possible, severe bump to the NHL would be if ANY ONE player tested positive for the virus. The focal point is the trainer. If he/she gets exposed-it’d be real trouble. With all the exposure to the players due to the treatment administered by the trainer to the players, the NHL can’t easily modify their schedule without just having one team forfeit its right to play. THAT would be a tremendous bump. The chances of NO NHL personnel testing positive seems slim to me. Any positive tests of any sort WILL be serious bumps for the NHL.
….let’s review the actual format… The top 4 teams in each conference play 3 games of round-robin play to determine the seeds of the top 4 (since we can’t use a season long point format). Seeds 5-12 compete in qualifying rounds (best of 5), the winners of these 4 rounds advance to play in the NHL playoffs against the top 4 teams in the normal 8 team bracket. It’ll be very, very strange without screaming fans, chants, songs, boo’s throughout these Covid Cup championships.
…it’s really impossible, at this point, to discuss strengths & weaknesses of each team with the long, long layoff. Each team has a 14 day training camp in Edmonton. One would think that the older, experienced players would benefit slightly more than the young NHL player. The Older players are beginning their playoff season – FRESH! But….how will they react with minimal practice. Fans are already uneasy in Boston as some of the Bruins leaders (David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and others) have missed some camp activities thus far. If the Bruins show rust… struggle….even lose…the Beantown fans would be extremely displeased with that bump in the playoffs.
….the Blues have a couple players with real life situations. Ivan Barbashev’s wife is expecting birth of a child soon. So, he’ll have to leave Edmonton, go through planes, airports, etc to return home. Then…a few days later with hopefully no complications…back to Edmonton with the same transportation challenges. Ryan O’Reilly’s family just welcomed their 2nd child into the world. O’Reilly commented recently that after spending so much time with his 2 ½ year old, that it was hard to get up & go to Edmonton. It’s heartbreaking for O’Reilly & his son but.. it’s his job that he’s worked hard to achieve. We fans…often…probably…almost always…forget about the “real lives” of our favorite local heroes on the ice or the diamond. Covid has put bumps in their daily lives too.
….Despite working out in their base city, St Louis, the Cardinals face most of the same logistical challenges as the Blues. However, let’s focus @ some on-field concerns & questions for now..
…..Matt Carpenter appears to be attempting to return to his “ol style” of taking the ball the other way. That’s all well & good…if….he modifies the angle of his swing. If he continues to use that severe swing, he’ll just be flying out to LF instead of RF. Hopefully, he’s leveling off in attempting toward having more “in the gap” shots.
….the outfield concerns continue to percolate. Last year the Cards outfield rating vs the NL outfielders was 12th of 15 teams in on-base slugging percentage (OPS) with a .755 mark. We’ll see Dylan Carlson in a week– the Cards are doing exactly what I predicted… Dylan Carlson will be in the minors for the 1st week to save a year of eligibility toward arbitration & free agency. The Cardinals aren’t alone in this approach—Gavin Lux (LA-2B) reportedly the best prospect of 2020 is receiving the same treatment as are other highly promising rookies. Sooo…at least for week 1…it’s the same ol’ guys trying to overcome their bumps in batting. Spring training games didn’t give us much to get excited about… Bader was 8/35, .229 with 15 strikeouts & 1 walk. O’Neill was 7/32, .219, 2 HR, 14 strikeouts. Dexter Fowler was 3 of 31 raised a red flag for me. However, none of the other outfielders are clearly winning the job. Lane Thomas carried an 8/40 (.250). Even Tommy Edman was carrying a .237 mark with 9/42 performance. The Cards MUST have batting improvement from their OF’ers over 2019. That mark includes the batting of Marcel Ozuna—now gone. In the opener, the OF batted 7-8-9—that says something. The play of the outfielders appears to be a real bump for the Cards to overcome to have success. However in last night’s opener, O’Neill muscled an inside pitch into the bullpen and Dexter also hit a bomb.
….Last night, initial impressions….I actually missed our usual opening day ceremony-it’s so well done. I liked seeing Wong leading off, Bader in 9 hole (now if he could just get on base). Dejong has become an ol’fashioned power hitter and his key 2 run HR was the difference. Flaherty dominated the weak Pirate lineup. 59 to go!!
….The Cards pitching corp seems as if it has hit a REAL bump to this point. Inexplicably, Carlos is now back in the rotation. The Cardinals explanation almost made it sound like it was a punishment to send Martinez to the pen last year. It was implied…if not said directly… that he didn’t work hard in the off season….didn’t have the stamina…didn’t focus on & off the field but now…apparently, that’s all gone now. Mike Shildt last week, “Tremendous focus regardless, he had almost as good of focus as anyone in camp, irrespective of whether you thought it was a drill that was a little more mundane… His sides had a focus to every pitch he threw. And then the results bore to witness in spring training. His recovery of what he did was really good. He WAS able to recover, he was able to build up.” Hopefully, this means that he won’t be a 5-6 inning pitcher any longer. In my mind, an ace MUST go deeper than 5 of 6 innings…at least, SOME of the time. Will this lead him to striving to regaining “the ace” standard? Did Jack Flaherty’s emergence drive Carlos to work…and work hard…to regain the status as the “ace” of the staff? These 2 starters could be a tremendous 1-2 starting punch for the Cards in 2020. Carlos already has 4 seasons of ERA of 3.17 or lower so…he can do it! Maybe, if that bump last year bounced Carlos back to a higher level this year, it’d be a huge boost for him AND the team…..let’s hope so.
…with Carlos departing the pen, the closer role opened up. Last winter, the Cards were ready to award it to Giovanny Gallegos. Gallegos, 29 years old next month, was excellent last year. In 2019, Gallegos stats looked like this–48 games;24 saves; WHIP-1.179, only 2 HR in 48 innings of pitching. Gallegos, hit a bump in the road, when he had travel issues getting into the USA. Despite not indicating his issues, he’s currently listed on the injured list. It sounds covid related…but who knows? Is his short “spring training” going to prepare him fully for the nasty schedule waiting for him? Soo… the Cards announced the Kwang Hyun Kim would move to the pen to assist in closing duties. Kim has zero regular season saves over his 12 year career but 2 saves in post-season play. Kim’s inaugural game raised more questions about his suitability for the role—1 inn-2 runs. This indicates a real “bump” in the Cards plans to me—pushing an untried pitcher towards the closer role while sitting down a veteran, pricy closer. Lefty Andrew Miller, who the Cards acquired last year and holds a $11.5 million contract, apparently is being pushed aside for Kim. Miller was used in 73 games last year (tied for the most of his career). His first 2-3 months were shaky. The last 2-3 months Miller regained more effectiveness. Soo…where does this move of Kim to the pen to be the closer put him? His final 2019 numbers: 76 games, 5-6 record, 6 saves, 54 inn, 45 hits and 11 Home runs allowed! He was used primarily as a set-up man—7th or 8th inning finishing 2nd in NL holds . One has to wonder if all the days & nights that Miller was working on the MLBPA negotiations this off season as a committee member if it impacted his baseball preparation for 2020? A short time ago..week or so…he said that he “just didn’t have a “feel for the ball”. Really? In addition, Miller became entangled as an individual & a MLBPA representative over the “incentive” issues which impacted him directly in the MLB negotiations. Miller’s contract of 2019, who just turned 35 years old and has 556 MLB games under his belt, indicated that if he had 100 appearances in the next 2 years(19 & 20), he’d receive a $12m vesting option and a $2.5m buyout option. He had 63 appearances in 2019 so he needed 37 more in a regular 2020 season to attain that incentive. The issue became –if the innings were prorated due to the shorter season (14 innings), the owners claimed initially that the bonus should be prorated also. But….in the extended negotiations, the MLBPA won the issue—prorated innings with full bonus. Miller has faced many bumps in his career…now the bump of Father Time & Kim challenge faces him head-on!
…Now, I will agree that is room for another lefty in the pen since the Cards released Brett Cecil. That was another horrible signing of a veteran relief pitcher by the Cards(Zach Duke & Greg Holland). Cecil signed a $30m, 4 year contract with the Cards 2 years ago. They got 1 save, 3 wins in his bumpy 2 years with St Louis. Cecil fell prey to my proposal for Dexter Fowler…cut him this year and save money—it’s only 1.35ish years of salary money to buy him out for 2 years.
…watch carefully if any bumps begin to appear regarding Yadi Molina’s playing time. This year concludes his contract and he’s indicated that he’d consider offers from other teams. Will that motivate the Cards to play him almost exclusively or give other catchers a longer look for “future” options? Remaining as a contender, would make it likely for Molina to retain his heavy workload.
…what other “bumps”do YOU see with the Blues and/or the Cards. Send your thoughts to me….Couple options—a) put your response on my Facebook page under the article; b) send to me & I’ll post it for you in the same FB place. Btw…I’m always looking for more readers…so please pass the word to friends/family. I’m over 13,000 readers thus far in 2020 so I want to keep rolling…