Tee It Up St. Louis

1018047782.jpg.0Last weekend St. Louis held the 2018 PGA Championship. The final major of the year for professional golf and an event that returned to St. Louis for the first time since 1992. It was the first golf major of any kind since 2013, when the Senior PGA came to the Gateway City. Coming in there were plenty of concerns.

Was the course notable enough to host the 100th PGA Championship? Would the crowds support the tournament? What happens if Tiger falters and doesn’t make the cut? What will the players think of the course? How will the weather affect the players? Despite all of these concerns and questions by the time Brooks Koepka hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy all anyone could do was rave about the weekend in St. Louis.

And that is what I want to talk about today. Not the event per se but everything around it and what it means for St. Louis. St. Louis has taken some hard hits over the last few years. From the Rams leaving town to Ferguson and stagnant population growth with a city/county divide. Nationally St. Louis is not viewed in the best of light right now. Heck even within our region, St. Louis is not viewed in kindness. But this weekend shows what St. Louis is.

I don’t like when people compare St. Louis to other cities and say why can’t we be like Nashville or Indianapolis. I don’t like when people talk about the good old days in the context of making it seem like today’s region is so much worse. And I certainly don’t like it when most of these comments and believes come out of the mouths of St. Louisans. Yes St. Louis has issues but St. Louis also has some major pluses and that is what the community needs to focus on.

St. Louis does big events right. Whether it is the PGA Championship, a World Series run by the Cardinals, the Blues chasing that franchise long dream, hosting a NCAA Basketball regional, or a NCAA wrestling event, actually any NCAA athletic event. From corporate sponsors to attendance, the St. Louis community supports the events. And many times, just like this past weekend, it is the atmosphere that leaves a lasting impression.

And that atmosphere is created by the fans. The fans coming in town but also those from St. Louis in attendance help push these events to the top. All the fans together, cheering for entertainment. It is a positive mindset that everyone in attendance has. And this past weekend you saw, and heard, first hand what that means to the athletes performing at the events. They feel the difference. We, the fans, are the difference.

So why is there such a disconnect once the events leave town? The St. Louis community immediately goes back to, oh we aren’t good enough, they would never come here, we can’t host that, etc. We let our self-doubts rise to the top of the conversation.

Again I am not saying that St. Louis does not have problems that need to be addressed. Safety downtown for starters, especially with the great resurgence of residential living down there. A solution for the city/county and truly becoming a REGION working together and not several municipalities fighting against each other. But these are concerns any city has.

The local media has taken the charge from last weekend and started asking questions. But now is the time for the political and community leaders to join the discussion. The PGA Championship brought in an estimated $70-million to the St. Louis community. That is the type of influx in the economy the area needs. And with the positive reviews from the PGA Championship now is the time to continue to build upon that.  The leaders need to be real LEADERS and work together. How can we get on a rotating schedule for a PGA major? How can we bring more events to town?

What the St. Louis community can do is start changing the way they think. Don’t look backwards, think forward. We have seen numerous times major events come to St. Louis and go off successfully, the PGA Championship was just the latest. So St. Louis stop thinking of yourself as lesser-than and start working towards being better than. Come together with a plan, put it on a tee, and hit like Koepka straight and long.

 

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The Hype Machine

saquon-barkley-baker-mayfield-sam-darnold.jpgIt is early August which means NFL preseason football games have begun and so has the Hype Machine. It took just one play before the media went nuts for Saquon Barkley, and less than one full game combined for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold to be deemed starters for their teams. I am not sure if it is because the NFL has had a relatively slow and quiet off-season and summer but the media is thirsting to push these group of rookies right to the upper echelon of NFL players.

Barkley’s professional debut did come with a bang, a 39-yard scamper on his first carry. He made a couple of nice quick cuts at the line of scrimmage, finding the right hole to run through. However he was not touched until he was already 35-yards down field. And on his next four carries in the game he had a grand total of four yards. So overall the numbers look great, five carries for 43 yards. But if you watched the game you will see a player that was ALWAYS looking to bust the big one and when defenses were able to bottle him up, he managed just one yard per carry. You can see all five of his carries in the video below.

But that didn’t stop the media from headlines such as:

The top overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft was quarterback Baker Mayfield. And whether or not you love him, the sports media was quick to hand him the keys to the NFL’s sad luck team the Cleveland Browns. Just like Barkley, Mayfield made some nice plays in his game (which just so happened to occur against the Giants in the same preseason game). Mayfield showed some good accuracy on a crossing pattern, which went for a 54-yard score, albeit thanks to a missed tackle. And he was able to move around well in and out of the pocket. But he also had several throws that were low or wide of open receivers; leading to his final tally of 11-of-20 passing. And in a league that is putting an emphasis on completions, a 55-percent completion percentage is not very upper echelon. Side note, the quarterback that no one is talking about and is the current Browns starter (Tyrod Taylor) was 5-for-5 for 99 yards and a score in his work against the Giants. See every Mayfield play against the Giants below.

Mayfield’s headlines including the following:

Keeping with the quarterback position the other rookie to garner preseason week one headlines was New York Jets’ Sam Darnold. Darnold, playing in the mecca of media, was no doubt going to receive attention. But after a 13-for-18 game he has quickly been crowned the savior of the franchise. While his completion percentage of 72-percent was much better than Mayfield, Darnold threw for just 96 total yards. In fact he only attempted five passes beyond 10-yards in the game, completing only two, with his longest completion being 14-yards. And in similar fashion to Mayfield, Darnold is “battling” a veteran for the starting position. Well the veteran Darnold went against (Teddy Bridgewater) was simply 7-of-8 passing for 85 yards and a score. You can see all of his plays below.


Yet Darnold’s dump down offense was enough to garner the following headlines:

All three players may turn out to be stars in the league, or all three could be busts. The point is that every year we hear about players putting up great numbers in the preseason. But typically the media and fans do not overdo it because, well simply put, it is the preseason. Teams dumb down defenses and are playing players that will not typically play. But the media seems to have conveniently forgotten these facts, and the facts that in the two quarterbacks cases the players ahead of them on the depth chart actually had much better numbers than the rookies. So let’s not be so quick to prop these players up, how about they get through four games of actual NFL games and not just four quarters of preseason football before we dub them All-Pros.

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For Sale, The Cardinals Way

sale.jpgThe Major League Baseball trading deadline ended yesterday and the St. Louis Cardinals were active, albeit they were sellers in the market. The Cardinals, sitting one game above .500 on the season, decided to trade away their top hitter from last year as well as one of their top outfield prospects one week after clearing out their bullpen. Barring a remarkable turn of events the Cardinals will be missing the postseason for the third consecutive season, the first time the team has done that since the late 80’s to mid-90’s when they missed the playoffs eight straight years.

So what did the team turnover mean for the Cardinals? Simply it means they are preparing for 2019. The team, and majority of people in town, would not admit it but the Cardinals were never really fully capable of success in 2018 but rather had an eye on 2019 instead for reaching their potential. With their abundance of young pitchers they needed seasoning but things could have been better this year if their hitters had not failed them. When Matt Carpenter struggles for the first two months and then Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Marcell Ozuna and the recently discarded Tommy Pham are all below expectations that puts the team in a bad position from the start. Throw in the atrocious bullpen and injuries throughout the starting pitchers and it is no wonder the Cardinals are a .500 team.

Many fans were disappointed the Cardinals did not get more in return for Tommy Pham and were further shocked when the team traded away outfield prospect Oscar Mercado. Fans upset with the return on these trades forget that often times we overvalue our own. Whether it is someone selling a 15-year-old car for $1,000 more than the listed Blue Book value or someone not wanting to part with a piece of furniture because they feel like they aren’t getting the proper price. People attach sentimentality to things they know well. This is the same with fans and the players they watch for 162 games a year. We overvalue our players. So let’s dive into these deals a little more.

First of all yes Pham had an unbelievable year in 2017, putting up a 20/20 season and registering a 6.2 WAR. He was counted on to be the team’s starting center fielder and was considered to have finally reached his potential. But this year Pham struggled, both offensively and defensively. He had a 0.9 WAR while hitting .248 with 10 home runs, 41 runs batted in, and 10 stolen bases…far from his self-proclaimed 30/30 season he would have. Fans in St. Louis are remembering his season last year and not looking at Pham’s career. He has always had talent but the fact remains that he is a 30-year outfielder that has had ONE outstanding season while battling injuries. In fact if you remove his 6.2 WAR last year Pham has a combined 2.4 WAR over his other four seasons in the majors. Given that came over part-time duties during the four years but if you were to take that 2.4 and look at players with a similar value within just this season it would put him in company with such players as Brett Gardner, David Peralta, and Juan Soto. If you are just looking at this year’s production (0.9 WAR) he is with the likes of Stephen Piscotty, Enrique Hernandez, and Randal Grichuck. Does the company Pham keeps warrant a high quality package?

The last-minute trade of Mercado was a surprising that caught many off-guard. Simply because many felt that he would be one the top candidates to crack the outfield coming into next year especially after dealing Pham away. But a closer look shows why the Cardinals made the move. Mercado shot through the system within the last year but he remained fourth on their internal prospects list behind Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill (both in the majors now) and Randy Arozarena (who hit near .400 at AA this season before being called up to AAA). In addition Mercado was yet another right-handed hitter, just as all three outfielders above him are, and was on the 40-man roster. The 40-man roster is important to note because with him being traded that frees up a spot the Cardinals can use to protect one of their numerous pitching prospects. I liken the Mercado trade to the Ben Bishop trade we saw the Blues make a few years ago. Bishop was a highly regarded prospect but was set to be a free agent and the Blues already had Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak ahead of him. Similarly Mercado was not a clear-cut prospect and blocked by other highly regarded outfielders so he was moved for a younger outfield prospect that is actually more highly regarded by the scouts (despite having a down year).

While the Cardinals did not make their team better this year by adding major league players but by moving players around, and calling up younger players, it may have a more beneficial effect for the organization if not down the stretch (doubtfully enough to contend for the playoffs) then for 2019 and beyond. The Cardinals still need to find an impact bat this offseason (and hope for health) but the time that these young Redbirds are spending in St. Louis for the final two months should put the team in position to return to a Red October in the near future.

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Saban Silliness

USATSI_9143375_168381178_lowres1Silliness has arrived. The college football media days took place last week, highlighted by the juggernaut Southeast Conference. And of course it was Alabama head coach Nick Saban who grabbed headlines once again. Saban, coming off his fifth national title while at Alabama, is seen as the mouth of college football because of his success and longevity. But I think he is a bit full of himself, as many Division I football coaches are.

The quote that annoyed me last week was when Saban was talking about the quarterback position for the Crimson Tide.

“I think the number one thing that you will want to talk about is the quarterback controversy that you’d love to create, that you’ve already created, that you will continue to create, and I will tell you the same thing exists there. It’s still to be determined as to who is going to play quarterback for Alabama. So you can ask all of the questions about it, but it’s still to be determined.”

For those of you that may not remember Alabama’s Jalen Hurts played in 15 games as a freshman and then 14 more as a sophomore, leading the Crimson Tide into the national championship game. However at halftime of that game, when trailing, Saban turned to Tua Tagovaiola who then rallied the team to the title.

So let’s took a look at the quote. Saban claims the media is creating a controversy over the quarterbacks to generate stories. Well I am sorry but when the highest profile college football program does not have a determined starter that is news. When that same team is bringing back two quarterbacks who played in the title game that further makes it a story. And when the quarterbacks themselves are opposing types of players, well that makes it the biggest story line in college football.

Yes media can push certain storylines at times. But this is not the case here and for Saban to offhandedly make comments like that just makes him look silly. Now some people will say that oh it’s just Saban being Saban, much like Bill Belichick in the NFL. They will never divulge any information to the media and it’s their way of having fun. I get that coaches do not want to give other teams any information that may be used in their game plan against them. But you can do it in a way that doesn’t come across absurdly.

I just will never understand why some coaches get away with being surly to media while others take heat for it. Winning shouldn’t give you the right to dismiss people and treat them as such. That’s just plain silly.

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It’s Been One Week

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It’s been one week, since John Mozeliak cocked his head to the side and said I’m angry to Mike Matheny. Well technically it’s been 10 days but it has been one week in baseball time, seven games. So let’s take an all too early look at what effect the change has had on our home team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals have gone 3-4 in the seven games, competing against the first-place Chicago Cubs and the trending Cincinnati Reds. First off I feel like the record aspect is over-rate at times. A team can be playing good and still not win a game because they lack the talent. Or a team can play poorly but win because another team screws up. So I think we should judge the Cardinals on how they finish the season on the field and not in the standings.

So has anything changed? Well according to many new manager Mike Schildt has put an emphasis on defense. This belief stems from him sitting Jose Martinez for the first four games of his tenure. But people fail to realize that in those same games he started Dexter Fowler in right field. The same Fowler that is a -6.8 in defensive rating. Meanwhile Harrison Bader, a 4.1 plus defensive rating, sat on the bench. So was it really a defensive minded lineup or maybe there was something else at hand and people wanted to build the narrative to attention of defense?

Speaking of Fowler, Matheny was often criticized for playing veterans over younger players. Well isn’t this the same thing with Fowler and Schildt? Fowler is hitting .177 this year with his atrocious defense. Yet Bader with good defense is hitting .277 and provides plenty of energy. Yet I don’t hear much being said about Fowler playing over Bader. And no I am not saying that Bader is a savior but what happened to going with the better player that people were calling for just weeks ago? There doesn’t seem to be the same judgement as before.

Over the last week we have seen the Cardinals bust out for 18 runs but then score two in their next game, and tally three runs total in their last two games before Tuesday. We have seen the Cardinals take a lead into the 9th inning only to see the bullpen blow the game. We have seen them go three games without an error and then have a three error game. We have seen a starting pitcher reach the beyond the 5th inning just once, and that was from the phenomenal performance by Daniel Ponce De Leon. But wasn’t it earlier this season when people claimed Matheny was going to burn through the bullpen by pulling his starters early?

This post isn’t to defend Matheny, he certainly made plenty of questionable decisions. But the post is to point out that many of the same situations Matheny dealt with are still in play. Inconsistent starting pitching, lack of sustainable offense, poor defense, and a horrible bullpen. All of this issues remain, so let’s not ignore them just because there is a new manager. Because maybe it wasn’t the manager at all but the roster makeup that cost the Cardinals wins.

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Blues Notes

Los Angeles Kings v St. Louis Blues - Game OneI wrote a piece recently about the Blues trade for Ryan O’Reilly, well St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong wanted to keep everyone busy and decided he wasn’t done with his summer shakeup. He signed local player Pat Maroon to a one-year deal earlier this week adding to the lineup depth in a big way. This will be a relatively shorter article because I just want to take a quick look at where the lines have gone from the end of the season to now to see clearly how much talent has been added to the roster.

St. Louis Blues fan site Bleedin’ Blue did an “all too early” look at lines after the end of the regular season back in April. Remember this is just assuming what the lines would be without any additions or changes; working solely with who was in the organization at that time in April.

They had a first line of Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko a second-line of Robby Fabbri-Alexander Steen-Patrick Berglund, a third line of Vladimir Sobotka-Robert Thomas-Nikita Soshnikov, and a fourth line of Zach Sandford-Ivan Barbashev-Chris Thorburn. Those combinations (outside of that first line) do not put a scare into many teams and wouldn’t thrill many fans in the Gateway City.

Armstrong worked his magic this summer and was able to gather talented players that have shown a knack for offensive production. They shipped out Berglund (36 points), Kyle Brodziak (33 points), Sobotka (31 points), and Tage Thompson (9 points).

What did they bring in? How about David Perron (66 points), O’Reilly (61 points), Tyler Bozak (43 points), and Maroon (43 points). That is a net gain of 114 points between the four players and does not include the addition of top prospect Thomas or the return of talented forward Fabbri.

National website DailyFaceoff.com, which tracks and lists the anticipated line combinations of all NHL teams, shows the Blues lineup combination as follows. First line of Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko, second line of Fabbri-O’Reilly-Steen, third line of Maroon-Bozak-Perron, and fourth line of Barbashev-Thomas-Jaskin.

Now the Blues rather than having a top-heavy scoring attack have a much more balanced attack that goes four lines deep. More importantly the Blues are much more versatile as well. Many of the players on the roster are able to move between wing and center and each line will not only have offensive punch but will be steadied will outstanding two-way players (O’Reilly, Steen, Thomas). The Blues new-found depth will also allow them to work top prospect Thomas in on the fourth line without placing him under heavy pressure. He will be going up against opponents lesser lines, allowing him to adjust to the NHL game.

Not much has to be said about the Blues moves this off season other than…Let’s Go Blues! Bring on October 4th!

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Blues Look To ROR Into Next Season

Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders

It was quite amusing over the last two weekends with the NHL draft being held and then free agency starting. When the news of signing first started to trickle out the St. Louis Blues fan base had their ammo. One week after failing to do anything during the usual wheeling and dealing of the NHL draft, at noon on Sunday Blues fans saw John Tavares sign with Toronto, Paul Stastny choose Las Vegas, Tomas Vanek go to Detroit, and Ilya Kovalchuk and Artemi Panarin both rebut the Blues.

Instead of the big free agent signing or a monumental trade the Blues made their noon announcement of signing Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Chad Johnson. The Blues fan base was letting loose on social media, with #FireArmstrong trending. But unlike social media, transactions do not happen instantaneously.

Just eight hours late word broke that the Blues had finally completed the long rumored trade with the Buffalo Sabres for centerman Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly, who will be 27 years old this upcoming season, netted 24 goals with 61 points last season for the lowly Sabres while remaining one of the top two-way players in the game. He will not only add depth to the Blues down the middle but help on the power play (15 goals), penalty kill, and faceoffs. All three of those areas were of concern for the Blues last year.

With O’Reilly the Blues add more depth to their team, not just offensively but defensively. He joins Brayden Schenn, the newly signed Bozak, and top prospect Robert Thomas as the likely centerman for the Blues next season. Compare those players with the four centermen from the Blues lineup for their season finale from last year (Schen, Kyle Brodziak, Vladimir Sobotka, and Oskar Sundqvist).

Schenn is the lone returning centerman and had 28 goals, 42 assists, and 70 points in his first-year with the Blues. The other centers from the 2017-18 season finale combined for 22 goals, 47 assists, and 69 points. O’Reilly nearly tops those numbers alone, going for 24 goals, 37 assists, and 61 points. Add in a player that defines third-liner center (Tyler Bozak) who had 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points and a up-and-coming prospect in Thomas who had 24 goals, 51 assists, and 75 points. That is quite the upgrade.

 

Remarkably for the second straight summer Blues GM Doug Armstrong, strong-armed another opposing GM and was not only to trade for a strong two-way center (Schenn and O’Reilly) but he shed some salary in doing so (Jori Lehtera, Berglund, and Sobotka). True he had to throw in Tage Thompson this year as well as a couple of draft picks but Thompson was the lowest of ‘Big Four’ prospects and the Blues have so many assets the picks do not make a big difference.

Also not to be overlooked is the fact that by dealing Sobotka, Thompson, and Berglund for just one, O’Reilly, the Blues free up some ice time for the remaining top prospects of Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin, and the aforementioned Thomas. It will be interesting to watch the Blues and how the lines in fact settle in but one thing is for certain they have added more skill to their roster, bringing in top six forwards instead of bottom line players.

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