A stream of consciousness on local and national sports headlines.
…have offered reminders of what happened when Adam Wainwright suffered a season-ending injury in 2011. The club was devastated in February and was jubilant in October. While we’re reminiscing, let’s go back to last February when shortstop Jhonny Peralta suffered a hand injury that disrupted the Cards’ infield plans. After Ruben Tejada also got hurt, a door opened for Aledmys Diaz and he ran with the opportunity. Granted, Diaz was just starting his career while Michael Wacha has come to a crossroads in his, but a door has nevertheless opened for another Cardinal following a devastating spring training injury. Odds are that Wacha’s unique injury situation will cause him to wear down at some point, but I’m intrigued by him pitching with a chip on his shoulder this season. So much so that I don’t believe John Mozeliak needs to rush to the free agent market to sign someone like Doug Fister. If Wacha falters, Luke Weaver or Trevor Rosenthal could be given an opportunity as well. The Reyes’ injury was deflating, but thankfully the Cards have plenty of pitching depth in the organization.
…in the starting rotation. Even though the Cards were counting on Reyes to be a significant contributor this season, it’s not like he was expected to be the No. 2 behind Carlos Martinez this season. Still, Reyes’ emergence provided optimism. The Cards are now relying on a 35-year-old Adam Wainwright coming off his worst season, Lance Lynn, who is returning from his own Tommy John operation, Mike Leake, who has only thrown 200-plus innings once in his career, and Wacha, who has durability issues and posted a 5.09 ERA last season. This was all true before Reyes’ injury, but these question marks are more pronounced now. For the record, I believe Lynn and Wainwright will have bounce-back seasons and as I previously stated, I’m intrigued by Wacha pitching with a chip on his shoulder this season. That said, when four out of five starters come with injury and/or performance baggage, it’s hard not to be skeptical about a team’s pitching to start the year.
…but let’s stick with the biggest on-ice reason. It’s because the Blues didn’t play with the same defensive focus and structure as previous Hitch-led teams. When Hitch was fired, the club had a negative goal differential, had lost five of its last six games, and had allowed 4.7 goals per game. While he may have grinded players too hard off the ice, a lack of quality defensive play and goal-tending cost him on the ice. The biggest reason for the Blues’ success since Mike Yeo took over? The team has allowed just eight goals in its last seven games. Three of those eight goals came in a 4-1 loss to the Penguins in Yeo’s second came behind the bench. In their 2-0 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday night, the Blues produced their third shutout since Yeo took over. A new zone defensive approach and a bigger commitment to winning puck battles has the Blues playing like a completely different club under Yeo.
…a rock and a hard place. The Blues have won six of seven since Yeo took over but no amount of success between now and the trade deadline will create more cap space to re-sign Kevin Shattenkirk this offseason. Army owes it to the players to keep the team intact and make a serious playoff run, but the players also put their GM in a difficult spot with their lousy play before Yeo replaced Hitchcock. Yes, Hitch is culpable for the Blues’ lackluster play in the first half and yes, Armstrong is to blame for the team not having more spending flexibility. Still, general managers have to have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. They can’t afford to lack vision when it comes to keeping a team competitive for the long haul, not just for a half-season. As difficult as it will be to trade one of their best players at the deadline, it would be a mistake if Army lost Shattenkirk, David Backes and Troy Brouwer in two offseasons without receiving anything in return. He knows he can’t re-sign Shattenkirk in the offseason and with the Bruins and Rangers in need of an offensive-minded blue-liner, Army needs to be proactive at the deadline, regardless of the Blues’ playoff standing at that time.
…reminisce about the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC. Young reportedly wants to make a NFL comeback that is destined to fail. But while his NFL career never truly materialized, college football fans will forever talk about Young’s performance against USC. Nothing is truly original in football anymore (every coach nowadays is running a version of a play, offense, or concept that originated long before they donned a whistle), but Young’s Longhorns breathed new life into the spread-to-run offense. Thanks in large part to the zone read, Young led Texas to a perfect 12-0 record in 2005, but the focus leading up to the Rose Bowl that season was primarily still on USC. The Trojans had won 34 consecutive games and was on the verge of becoming the first team in college football history to win three straight Associated Press national championships. Pete Carroll’s team also featured 2004 Heisman Trophy-winner Matt Leinart at quarterback, as well as 2005 Heisman-winner Reggie Bush at running back. (The 2005 award has since been vacated.) Carroll had built a dynasty at USC, which was a 7.5-point favorite against Texas leading up to that January 4 night. This space is too small to cover all the minute details of that game, but from Bush’s pitch-back-fumble, to Michael Griffin’s toe-tap interception, to Bush’s front flip touchdown, to Young’s pump fake scramble into the end zone, to LenDale White coming up short on fourth down, to Young sneaking past the corner pylon for the game-winner, that freaking game had it all.
…when it comes to theoretical trades involving quarterbacks. Yet by January, everyone agrees that teams without quality signal-callers have no shot at reaching the playoffs. Case in point, there are arguments being made for why teams shouldn’t sign Tony Romo because of his age and durability issues. Others can’t fathom why any team would part with a first-round pick to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo when he’s “the next Matt Cassel.” These reasonable arguments, but the reality is that the Patriots, Falcons, Packers and Steelers played on Championship Sunday this year. All four teams have franchise quarterbacks. Outside of the Texans and Dolphins, the rest of the teams that played in the playoffs this year either had a franchise player or a serviceable starter under center. Yes, Romo is a 36-year-old risk with back problems. Yes, Garoppolo might be the next Cassel. They’re still worth a roll of the dice for teams that are desperate at quarterback. Both players might crap out (Brock Osweiler-to-Houston is a caution tale for teams to keep in mind), but teams without a signal-caller don’t have the luxury not to take the gamble.