Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing:
1. Can Zobrist have Fowler Effect?
Trivia question time:
Which two winning teams in baseball have overcome the league's worst two on-base plus slugging percentages from the leadoff spot?
Hint: They’re rivals.
Another hint: They both play in the National League Central.
The answer adds another compelling twist to the Cubs-Cards rivalry as the two square off down the stretch.
Both clubs could have solutions for a No. 1 spot that has been an anchor most of the season.
The Cardinals woke up Friday with baseball's worst leadoff OPS. They check in at a miserable .666. Hellish, indeed. The Cubs can't laugh. They're second-to-last, with a leadoff OPS of .670.
Things are looking up for both.
Dexter Fowler, the former Cub who was signed to hit leadoff for the Cardinals because he did it so well for the Cubs, is finally doing just that. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt promoted Fowler to leadoff one month ago. Since then, he's averaging .276 with with a .379 on-base percentage and a .469 slugging percentage. He owns a team-high 22 RBIs during that span.
Meanwhile, Ben Zobrist is making a splash in his return to the Cubs, as you read in this morning's Tipsheet.
Cubs president Theo Epstein has downplayed the notion of Zobrist playing every day, but if Zobrist keeps this up, finding reasons to sit him are silly.
The Cubs' leadoff spot averaged .189 with a .270 on-base percentage while Zobrist was away from the team due to marital issues.
The Cards should hope the Cubs stick with their plan of easing him back.
2. Tarasenko tested Cup curse, and won
Considering the amount of anger that was heaped upon certain media members in town who dared to touch the Stanley Cup before the Blues secured it for the summer with a Game 7 win in Boston, can you imagine what the reaction would have been like if the superstitious knew Vladimir Tarasenko’s infant son’s viral photo with the most coveted trophy in sports happened BEFORE THE BLUES BEAT THE BRUINS?
NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti talked to Tarasenko during the NHL’s media tour stop in Chicago. He writes:
Artem was a day old when he was photographed sitting in the Cup's bowl on June 8 — four days before Tarasenko and the Blues defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. When the photo circulated on social media after the Blues' victory, most assumed it was from after they returned to St. Louis.
"The baby in the Cup was the day before Game 6," Tarasenko said Thursday at the 2019 NHL Player Media Tour.
St. Louis led the best-of-7 series 3-2 and was one win away from its first championship when Tarasenko's wife, Yana, gave birth to Artem, the couple's third child (all sons), on June 7. The following day the Cup visited the maternity ward of the hospital where Yana and Artem were recovering.
With the Blues having a chance to win the Cup in Game 6 at Enterprise Center on June 9, Yana wasn't sure what to do when she was offered a chance to have a photo taken of Artem in the bowl. The last thing she wanted to do was spoil the Blues' chances of winning.
"They were going into the rooms visiting newborns and she asked me, 'Should I take a picture or no?'" Tarasenko said. "I was like, 'We were last in the League four or five months ago and we either win or lose not because you take the picture.' So, she took the picture before Game 6 of the baby in the Cup. We were just hoping we were going to win, and we win."
Cup curse? Child's play.
3. Wong in the outfield? Again?
Congratulations are in order for Kean Wong, the younger brother of Cardinals second baseman Kolten, as he made his MLB debut with Tampa Bay on Thursday. The lefthanded hitter played second base for the Rays. Sound familiar? So should this. The Rays might use the younger Wong, a utility type, in the outfield.
That news stirred memories of what will remain one of the most bizarre managerial moves in Cardinals history. Remember when former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had Wong spend 100-plus innings in the outfield in 2016? Remember when the experiment resulted in Wong hurting his shoulder during a Wrigley Field face-plant that added injury to insult?
It seems surreal to recall now. Wong is on pace to finish first for the second consecutive season in Defensive Runs Saved by a second baseman. And his .791 on-base plus slugging percentage is on pace to be a career-high. It also ranks fourth among MLB second basemen this season. So, yes, I am preparing to take a victory lap on my prediction that Wong would thrive under manager Mike Shildt. (Only because it helps me soothe the embarrassment of convincing myself Mizzou had a decent shot at starting at 8-0.)
For those who are interested in analyzing manager of the year options, Shildt's handling of Wong should help his case. He's getting the most out of a talented player who was misused in the past.
4. On the business of baseball
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., like other baseball officials, has made recent comments that push back against the labeling of baseball team ownership as a big money-making business. It should be noted that this trend comes at a time in which owners and players are nearing the end of a collective bargaining agreement, when players are wondering why they aren’t getting a bigger piece of the game's revenue pie. This is especially true of players who are reaching free agency and finding out there is not much pie available to them if they happen to be on the wrong side of 30. Players would be wise to ask for more money for younger players. And owners are wise to downplay this idea of teams doubling as ATM machines.
But when the Kansas City Royals sell for an amount in the ballpark of one billion dollars — insert Dr. Evil meme here — it reminds those following along that the definition of big money depends on whom you ask. The Royals, by the way, were purchased for a reported $96 million in 2000.
5. An NFL event worth watching
St. Louis Rams HOF-worthy receiver Isaac Bruce will be hosting his annual Isaac Bruce Foundation Gridiron Gala on Saturday. Details can be found here if you're interested.
Perhaps Antonio Brown should attend to pick up some advice.