About stlcupofjoe

5th Year Pharmacy Student at Butler University with an extreme passion for St. Louis sports...especially the Cardinals.

The Cardinals must re-sign Juan Nicasio

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The St. Louis Cardinals failed to reach the postseason for the second season in a row. Don’t be fooled, playing meaningful games in September isn’t that big of a deal. Rather, competing deep into the playoffs (on a consistent basis) is expected. If the organization wants to get back to doing that, they simply must improve the 25-man roster going into 2018. Say what you want about the manager, but barring an unexpected development, he will be back next season. The new pitching coach will undoubtedly play a role in the team’s future success (or failure), but improvements to the 25-man roster should be considered the offseason’s top priority.

Thus, the 31-year-old Juan Nicasio — who performed nearly flawlessly upon his arrival in St. Louis — must be re-signed. With the tendering of a contract to Trevor Rosenthal up in the air (due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery) and the almost certain departure of the no-longer-effective Seung Hwan Oh, the back-end of the bullpen requires serious bolstering. Fortunately, the Cardinals had a firsthand look for an entire month of one of the most desirable options in Nicasio. Beyond September — in which he posted a 1.46 ERA — his 2017, as a whole, ranked quite well among his peers:

2017 Statistics

Nicasio Stats.PNG

Honestly, I could stop here in my explanation as to why Nicasio is a must-sign, but that’d be boring (and downright lazy). Rather, I have chosen to take a closer look at Nicasio’s repertoire, in an attempt to understand why he was so successful this season. First and foremost, it doesn’t hurt that his fourseamer — which he threw 71.3% of the time — averaged 95.75 MPH in 2017. While this isn’t Aroldis Chapman-type velocity, it isn’t by any means slow. He coupled the heater with a hard slider (averaging 88.91 MPH) 26.01% of the time.

Further, I strongly believe he possesses untapped potential with the changeup. The pitch clocks in similarly to the slider at 87.96 MPH but carries a considerably different movement profile. From a tunneling perspective, the pitch matches up perfectly with his most-frequently-thrown fourseamer. Bottom line, the changeup is a pitch I’d want the new pitching coach to work on with Nicasio should he ultimately re-sign.

If a pitch is thrown 71.3% of the time — as is the case with Nicasio’s fourseamer — it must be pretty good. And Nicasio’s was as it led to whiffs on 25% of swings in 2017 (an unusually high rate for a fourseamer), and opposing hitters managed only a .216 batting average (and .123 isolated power) against it. He was better than league average in both exit velocity (87.6 MPH versus 88.2 MPH) and launch angle (10.7° versus 15.8°), as well.

Two-strike fourseamer location (after joining the Cardinals)

Nicasio FB location.jpg

As you can see, with two strikes, Nicasio possesses enough confidence in his fourseamer to keep it within the strike zone. While most pitchers aim to have hitters expanding their zones with two strikes, this doesn’t appear to be the case with Nicasio, and this includes his time prior to becoming a Cardinal as well. Further, his confidence in his stuff went beyond just two strikes as his overall zone percentage of 51.5% ranked seventh highest among qualifying MLB relievers. For perspective, Greg Holland — another Cardinal target this offseason — posted a zone percentage of just 45.9%. Give me the pitcher with the higher zone percentage (but also comparable overall numbers) every single time.

And no, the fourseamer isn’t limited to only two-strike success, either. In fact, when you include pitchers (both starters and relievers) with at least 30 balls in play on fourseamers up, but still inside the strike zone, Nicasio ranked 17th best in MLB with a .199 wOBA (wOBA primer found here). Even better, his xwOBA (or expected wOBA) was even stingier at .169 — tied for 7th best in baseball.

No pitching analysis article is complete without the work of the great @cardinalsgifs. Let’s go beyond my words by utilizing visual documentation behind Nicasio’s 2017 success:

Strikes one and two to Javier Baez (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

Twitter Ready

via @cardinalsgifs

Given the usual incredibly small sample, I don’t typically put much stock in pitcher-hitter matchups. That being said, Baez had owned Nicasio prior to this at bat, recording six hits (four singles, one double, and one home run) in 10 plate appearances. Nicasio didn’t allow past failures to get in the way with his September Cardinals’ mojo. Instead, he attacked Baez down and away for called strikes one and two. As you can see, he throws the slider so hard that it actually tunnels quite well with his fourseamer (important to consider if, but hopefully when, he works on his changeup). Even if Baez would have swung at either of these two pitches, he wasn’t going to make solid, meaningful contact.

Strike three to Javier Baez (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

Baez  K).gif

via @cardinalsgifs

After missing down, away, and in the dirt on pitch number three — subsequently training Baez’s eyes for a pitch down (a 93.1 MPH slider) — Nicasio blows him away with an up-and-in, 97.5 MPH fourseamer for strike three. Look no further than Nicasio’s reaction to understand the filthiness of this approach.

Ball one to Brett Phillips (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

Brewers - Pitch 10 Only.gif

via @cardinalsgifs

After inducing a swinging strike one and a called strike two — both on fourseamers up and away — Nicasio absolutely nails the up and inside corner with a 95 MPH sinker. Unfortunately, the umpire was as locked up as the hitter and didn’t pull the trigger on a called strike three. The ability to paint up and in with a similar pitch to the one you threw on the two pitches prior is a skill not many pitchers have. Nicasio certainly has this skill, and it is a large reason why his fourseamer possesses such a high swing and miss rate.

Strikes one and two to Ian Happ (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

Happ pitch 3&4- FB.gif

via @cardinalsgifs

Even when Nicasio missed his spot — as he did on both of these fourseamers — he still experienced success by going up in the zone. In the GIF prior, I showed his ability to go up and in to lefties — after showing his ability to go up and in to righties. Here, he shows that he is capable of blowing it past lefties on fourseamers up and away. From an effective velocity stand point, you lose a couple MPH on pitches away versus pitches in, so this speaks highly to Nicasio’s raw velocity.

Strike three to Addison Russell (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

RUSSELL - K Pitch.gif

via @cardinalsgifs

And just in case you wondering, Nicasio can experience success down in the zone as well. After attacking Russell up on the three pitches prior, Nicasio absolutely paints the down and outside corner with a 98.4 MPH fourseamer. Russell stood zero chance on this strikeout.

Bottom Line

Yes, the 2018 Cardinals need a lot more help than just one pitcher for the back end of the bullpen. That being said, I hope you now understand just how important Nicasio is for the Cardinals’ future plans. It would not be wise to enter next season solely reliant on young arms like Sam Tuivailala and Sandy Alcantara. Re-signing Nicasio would be a good start to a hopefully active winter. Pair him with a pitching coach like Jim Hickey, and he just may perform even better than he did this season. While I wholeheartedly understand frugality when it comes to the signing of relief pitchers, this was thrown out the window with Cecil’s contract. Nicasio is an absolute must-sign. Get it done, Michael Girsch and John Mozeliak.

As always, credit to @cardinalsgifs, BrooksBaseball.net, and BaseballSavant.com for their invaluable contributions to this post.

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Gordon Hayward is doing exactly what we all thought he would be doing

AP Photo

This is an Associated Press (AP) Photo — not mine.

Four short years ago, Butler University basketball star Gordon Hayward was three inches away from producing one of the greatest moments in college basketball history. Unfortunately, as we all so vividly remember, the shot rimmed out, and soon thereafter, while eating dinner at Fazoli’s, Hayward informed his teammates that he was declaring for the NBA draft, after just two seasons with the Bulldogs. It was immediately reinforced as the the correct decision because he was made a lottery pick (9th overall) by the Utah Jazz. Hayward is now playing in his fifth season (on his second NBA contract), and he is doing exactly what we all thought he would be doing.

Eleven games into the 2014-2015 season, Hayward is averaging 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, with a player efficiency rating (PER) of 23.43 (15th best in the entire NBA). Of those drafted ahead of Hayward, only DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall are averaging more points per game (22.4 PPG and 19.4 PPG, respectively), and only Cousins, Derrick Favors, and Greg Monroe average more rebounds per game (at 11.1, 8.3, and 10.8, respectively) than the 6’8″ winger. Cousins, with a player efficiency rating of 27.21, is also the only player from the entire 2010 draft class with a higher PER than Hayward at this point in the season.

Revisiting the draft class, Evan Turner (2nd overall, new team), Favors (3rd overall, new team), Wesley Johnson (4th overall, new team), Ekpe Udoh (6th overall, new team, plus zero games played this season), and Al-Farouq Aminu (8th overall, new team) were all picked ahead of Hayward back in 2010 and no longer provide value to the team that drafted them. Many of which because of their “upside” and the fact that they attended “big-time” college basketball programs that “better prepared” them for success in the NBA. What many scouts missed on Hayward is that he is one of the most naturally gifted athletes, who happens to also be really good at basketball. Hayward had grown, developed, and learned the game under one of the college game’s very best coaches, who, if you have not heard, is now the head coach of the legendary Boston Celtics.

Immediately after Hayward, Paul George was selected by the Indiana Pacers, and if he had not suffered such a gruesome leg injury while playing with Team USA this past offseason, he was destined to stake his claim as one of the top five players in the NBA this season. Thus, it is safe to say that George is a player drafted after Hayward that has ended up more valuable to his NBA team, but he is the only one. Other than George, other notable first rounders picked after Hayward are Larry Sanders (15th), Eric Bledsoe (18th), and Avery Bradley (19th), who have all had good starts to their careers but have not been nearly as effective as Hayward.

As Hayward wrote on his website after his buzzer beater against the Cleveland Cavaliers less than two weeks ago, “I’ve definitely noticed an all around difference in my game as a result of the work I put in this offseason. I can see and feel things on the court that are different. My ball handling has been a lot better, and I feel so much stronger. That was a big part being able to matchup up with LeBron.” He added, “[LeBron] can’t bully me as much as he used to, and I’m able to stand my ground against him.”

Most importantly, Hayward is having the time of his life as a 24-year-old in a league of professionals. His blog titled “THE BEST IN THE GAME” is a perfect representation of this. If you have not yet read it, I strongly suggest you checking it out as it is an article that nearly broke the Internet/Twitter when it was released.

Most Butler fans knew Hayward was bound for success in the NBA, and just like his Bulldogs teams from 2008-2010, he flew under the national radar for quite some time before getting the attention he truly deserved. In the years to come, Hayward will continue to solidify his position as one of the best wing players in the league. Go Dawgs!

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twiter: @stlCupofJoe

The Indiana Pacers: This is the Team Bird Built

Photo Credit: ABC News/ESPN

Photo Credit: ABC News/ESPN

Sunday afternoon’s performance against the Miami Heat is exactly what Larry Bird had in mind when crafting the current roster of the Indiana Pacers. He didn’t really care about how they played in the second half of the regular season. He didn’t care about how they played in the first two rounds of the playoffs. As long as they “survived and advanced,” that’s really all that mattered.

Bird built this team with two primary goals in mind: attain the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and utilize this position to dethrone the big, bad Miami Heat. Of course, he would also like to add a ring to his already impressive collection, but after losing to the Heat in seven games last season and six games the season before, despite having leads in both series, Bird knew his Pacers must first get past Miami. Well, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers led from start to finish in front of a pleasantly raucous crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.

But was this really all that unexpected? If you have watched national TV such as ESPN or TNT to get your NBA fix, then yes, of course, Sunday’s performance was absolutely unexpected. Instead of looking at the big picture and how well this Pacers team is constructed for success against the Heat, in particular, major media outlets placed the most emphasis on all that was wrong with the team and how “unpredictable” they had been.

Realistically, not even Pacers fans can really blame them, either. Team chemistry was supposedly disrupted after the trade of Danny Granger. This team had only 12 losses at the All-Star break, yet went a disappointing 10-13 to close out the regular season. Despite backing its way into the playoffs, this team somehow managed to retain the #1 seed over the two-time defending champs. This team needed a full seven games to oust the #8 Atlanta Hawks, who had a losing record in the regular season. At times, this team looked completely over-matched by the backcourt of the Washington Wizards in the second round.

Yet, here they are–up one game to zero over LeBron James and the Heat with three home games left in this series (likely necessary). If you have watched this team on a regular basis over the course of the last three seasons like I have, then nope, Sunday’s performance was not unexpected–at all. This team, and its fan base for that matter, does not like the Heat one bit. For better or for worse, they always seem to play up to the Heat and play down to just about everyone else. Well, at this point, none of that matters. They are playing the Heat, and if they move on, one would assume they’ll be able to play up in the NBA Finals.

A Quick Look at the Roster:

Lance Stephenson, who has been the heart and soul of the team all season, really does not like Miami, and that altercation with Dwyane Wade is only a fraction of it. Unfortunately for the Heat, Stephenson is no longer just a bench player like he was two seasons ago, but rather an impact player that sets the tempo for the rest of the team. His Game 1 stat line (17 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds), especially the assists, did just that–set the tempo for the offense, leading to all five starters scoring in double figures.

Lance was born (ready) to the play the Heat, and when he’s on, the Heat really have no one who can guard him anymore–other than LeBron, one of the league’s best defenders of course, but his main duty is containing Paul George. Wade, with his banged-up knees, can’t do it. Chalmers can’t do it. Battier, at 35 years old, most definitely can’t do it.

And then there’s David West. He has been on a mission all season long and has been willing to shoulder the load throughout an up-and-down playoffs. Now, he faces the Heat who, in short, cannot guard him–largely because they just don’t have a player that can match up with him both down low and on the perimeter/at the elbow. Again, LeBron has proven in the past he can do a good job against West, but unfortunately for the Heat, he cannot guard three players at once.

Thus, the Pacers already have two big match-up problems to exploit before I even discussed their two max-contract guys–George and Roy Hibbert. George is obviously the team’s best player and is on the cusp of NBA stardom, but don’t expect much more than 20-25 points per game, as long as Spoelstra has LeBron guarding him. In terms of Hibbert, well, the Heat don’t really have a center. They signed Greg Oden for this exact reason, but the health of his knees still hasn’t exactly panned out. Hibbert almost disappeared in the Hawks’ series (not unexpected given poor match-ups), but he appears to be pretty much back, and one can expect performances similar to that in Game 1 for the rest of the series.

Finally, George Hill and C.J. Watson. With four capable players already discussed, whatever the team can get out of these two point guards will be a bonus in my mind. Both are capable of extending the floor past the three point line which frees up slashing lanes for Stephenson and George. Both are capable of doing a little bit of slashing of their own, and Hill did a terrific job at this in Game 1–getting to the free throw line six times and making all six. I tend to believe the Heat will put extra focus on containing West the rest of the series, so one of these two players may end up playing a very key role for the Pacers.

Final Thoughts:

The Pacers stunk in the second half of the season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but that is very much in the past. Larry Bird built this team to match up well with the Heat, and that is exactly what happened in Game 1 on Sunday. Unfortunately, I do not know how this series is going to play out, but I really do like the Pacers’ chances going forward. Tonight’s Game 2 is crucial, but not critical–for either team. Keep a close eye on how Miami is matching up against West tonight. If he’s locked up, it will likely free up space for Hibbert down low or for one of the two point guards on the perimeter.

Go Pacers!

Until next time…

Joe

Hypothetically speaking, what does the future hold for Brad Stevens?

Photo Credit: redsarmy.com

Photo Credit: redsarmy.com

On July 3, 2013, the Boston Celtics announced that they had hired Brad Stevens to become their next head coach–replacing Doc Rivers who presumably did not want to be part of the rebuilding process, and who can blame him? Rivers had coached a star-studded Celtics team from 2004 to 2013 and was fortunate enough to attain the ultimate goal (an NBA title) in 2008. However, with the team on the verge of trading long-time Celtics, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and subsequently going into full “rebuild mode,” it was time for Rivers to move on–which ultimately led to him being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first round pick.

Thus, Boston had officially started a new chapter in its very long, very rich history. Their new hire had been an extremely successful coach (77.2 winning percentage) who led his team to two national championship games. The “problem” was that this success hadn’t occurred at the NBA level. Instead, this occurred at a relatively small school called Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Interesting. One of the most storied professional sports franchises decided to invest in their future by bringing aboard a rookie NBA coach with a grand total of six years of head coaching experience.

Outside of those from the Butler community (who were obviously well aware of Stevens’ coaching ability), many were shocked by the hire. Was Stevens really the best choice for such a high-profile job? Well, the embedded tweet from the “Zen Master” did a decent job at silencing the early doubters out there. Last time I checked, Jackson was a pretty darn good coach, so when he talks, people tend to listen.

Stevens’ deal with the Celtics is reportedly six years, $22 million–or roughly $3.7 million per season. At Butler, Stevens made somewhere around $1.1 million per season. Though his deal with Boston is very likely back-loaded and possibly incentive-laden, let’s take the average of $3.7 million per season and run some quick numbers and provide a brief scenario. It would have taken Stevens roughly three and a half seasons at Butler to make what he made with the Celtics this season. To put it another way, his freshman recruits would have been preparing for graduation (assuming they stayed all four years, of course) by the time Stevens made what he made this season. Thus, it is economically understandable for Stevens to have left when he did.

From a coaching career standpoint, the move made perfect sense as well. This wasn’t the lowly Charlotte Bobcats calling. This was the 17-time World Champion Boston Celtics calling. The Celtics are one of the top five sports franchises in the United States, if not the world. What made the job even better? The immediate expectations were low, and the team president, Danny Ainge, publicly vowed over and over that he was committed to Stevens’ plans for the long-haul. Sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it?

Well, the 2013-2014 season was anything but a dream for Stevens and the Boston Celtics in terms of on-court performance. Despite a somewhat surprising start that peaked at a buzzer-beating victory over the Miami Heat, the season was a forgettable one for the Celtics–finishing 25-57 and 13 games back from the final playoff spot.

Despite having the fifth-worst record in the NBA and the fact that the team finished in the middle of the pack in terms of attendance, Ainge remains committed to Stevens and his vision, for now at least. Before I get too far into hypothetical-speak, let me make something very clear: I am very confident in the coaching ability of Brad Stevens, and I fully believe he will bring championship-contending success back to the Boston Celtics. This, of course, can only occur if he is provided with a better roster than the one he had this season. The fact that he mustered 25 wins out of this year’s “NBA” roster is already no small feat for the rookie head coach.

However, hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Celtics miss the playoffs again next season. At the same time, let’s say an established NBA head coach becomes available and Ainge, succumbing to the pressure of one of the most intense fan bases in the country, severs ties with Stevens to bring in a more proven coach. Let me reiterate: this is completely hypothetical, but with the pressure to win in the Boston area, especially given the sustained success of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins, I don’t think the possibility is too farfetched at all. If not next year, what about the year after? Or the year after that?

Thus, what would the future hold for Brad Stevens after his NBA experience with the Celtics? Depending on the timing, hundreds of NCAA head coaching jobs would immediately become available to him. At the top of the list would be schools such as Duke, Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina just to name a few.

Well, Duke obviously has Coach K, but at 67 years old, he isn’t getting any younger and Durham, North Carolina been a popular rumored landing spot for Stevens, and this was made even more plausible with Marquette’s hiring Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski. Indiana has Tom Crean, but they would drop him for Stevens faster than the time it took the NCAA to institute free meals for division 1 student-athletes in response to Shabazz Napier saying “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”

UNC or KU? Roy Williams is 63, but you wouldn’t know that by how fast he paces up and down the court during games. Bill Self has a long way to go in his career (just 51 years old), but after disappointing, early-round exits in recent NCAA Tournaments, despite having premium NBA talent (Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins), how safe is his job? Especially if Stevens becomes available.

Well, I will argue: Why not return to Butler? Yep, you read that correctly: why not return to Butler?

There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat this past season. It was one of the worst for Butler basketball in recent memory. The team finished 14-17–good enough for 9th in the ten-team conference. 9th place out of ten teams. This wasn’t the big, bad Big East, either. This Big East was beatable from top to bottom, and yet, the Bulldogs managed just four wins in 18 chances. Three of Stevens’ last four Butler recruits (Berry, Brown, Castro) have decided to transfer, despite some of them likely guaranteed quality minutes next season. Three other players (two on scholarship) have decided to transfer as well.

Butler athletics officials won’t publicly say it, but the program under Brandon Miller is in a state of flux right now–both on the court and off the court. Defense, a Butler staple, was non-existent at times during the 2013-2014 season. Off the court, the amount of team rules that were broken had to be a new record for the program. Would this have happened under Stevens? I’d venture a guess by saying a resounding “no.” The move to the Big East was a bold one and no one said it was going to be easy, but this past season didn’t instill much confidence into the Butler basketball community.

Despite numerous dark clouds hovering over the program’s future, there have been some bright spots as well. Miller landed pretty highly-regarded recruits, Kelan Martin and Tyler Wideman (but what about Trevon Blueitt or possibly Trey Lyles?). Former McDonald’s All-American Tyler Lewis has transferred to Butler and will be available for two years starting with the 2015-2016 season. Former IU guard Austin Etherington will be eligible immediately. Finally, and probably most importantly, Hinkle Fieldhouse is getting much-needed renovations to bring its facilities up to par for its student-athletes and its fans.

Stevens has his dream job right now with the Celtics, but if that opportunity is taken from him as early as next season, how could he pass up the opportunity of returning to a new and improved “home”? Sure, Stevens would have to take a substantial pay cut to come back “home,” but the money hasn’t stopped him before. Back in 2000, he had a well-paying job at Eli Lilly and Company when he left for an unpaid assistant coaching position at Butler, and that was before he had at least $10 million already in his pocket. Stevens always said he couldn’t leave Butler for another university, and at this point, this is still true. Though his stance has likely changed given his current situation, he could still prove this to be true.

Thus, this entire situation is completely hypothetical and though unlikely, stranger things have most definitely happened. Plus, once back “home,” Stevens would have “no problems finding a babysitter.”

Until next time…

Joe

You can find me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or @ButlerCupofJoe

I’m Back! Let’s Talk Some Baseball Before the Season Gets Going

CupofJoe

Dearest stlCupofJoe readers,

I know it has been a little while since I have written over here, but with Opening Day for the St. Louis Cardinals less than one week away, I figured I should check in with you all and let you know what I have been up to lately in the Cardinals blogosphere.

First and foremost, I have written a ton of posts over at Viva El Birdos since you heard from me last, and I really hope you have been able to check them out. If not, I will include links to five of the posts that I really enjoyed writing, including two that were reference by Bernie Miklasz (scroll to the bottom) of the St. Louis Post Dispatch (also near the bottom).

1. Should We Think Twice About Aledmys Diaz?

2. VEB Knowledge Nest: Cortisone Shots

3. Cardinals Sign Cuban Infielder Aledmys Diaz

4. Allen Craig hitting analysis, including a look at his 2013 “power outage”

5. Adam Wainwright’s curveball usage in 2013

Enough about my writing, let’s talk about something we can participate in together now that the season is about to begin–fantasy baseball. I already participate in a season-long league on Yahoo! with some other Cardinals bloggers, but that can get long and tedious.

Well, I have been seeing ample amounts of FanDuel commercials all over TV the past few weeks, and it really sparked my attention. FanDuel provides fans with a chance to play in one-day fantasy sports leagues which is pretty awesome for someone with a busy schedule like me. Thus, let’s play some one-day fantasy baseball together this season. Email me at stlcupofjoe [at] yahoo [dot] com if you are interested, and we can figure it out together. I look forward to hearing from you.

P.S. Who wouldn’t want to try out a product when they directly respond to you on Twitter without even asking them their opinion?

Until next time…

I really hope all of you are doing well and hope to hear from you over at Viva El Birdos sometime soon!

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Viva El Birdos: Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Joe Kelly

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

As most of you already know, I have moved my blogging ability over to SB Nation’s Viva El Birdos.

Don’t worry, I am still known as stlCupofJoe over there as well. That is something I hope I am able to retain for the entirety of my blogging “career.”

I am so grateful for the amount of opportunities I have had since joining Viva El Birdos. I have been able to interview many of the Cardinals top prospects: Lee StoppelmanKurt Heyer, Joe Cuda, Alex Reyes, Carson Kelly, Rob Kaminsky, and Oscar Mercado. I still have interviews set to publish on Marco Gonzales and Randal Grichuk later this week. If you have missed any of the above interviews or just would like to read them again, feel free to check them out by clicking on the player’s name.

Each one of those interviews have been absolutely awesome. However, I am writing this post to bring your attention to the biggest interview I have had in my short blogging career. I was able to exchange questions and answers with St. Louis Cardinals hybrid pitcher, Joe Kelly, and the link to that interview can be found here. I can assure you that this interview is in the “must-read” category for all Cardinals fans because some of his answers are absolutely priceless.

Also, I am in charge of managing the site’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, so if you have accounts on either of those, make sure to give us a follow or a like:

You can follow us on Twitter: @vivaelbirdos or Facebook: Viva El Birdos.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and I hope you have continued to follow me at my new location.

Go Cards!

Local Sports Preview: Lindenwood Men’s Volleyball Takes on Ohio State

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This is obviously much different than any other post I have ever written on my site. However, my lifelong friend asked if I would be interested in writing a preview for his match against Ohio State on Saturday, January 25th, and of course I agreed to the request. I hope you enjoy it, and if it sparks some interest and you are around the St. Louis/St. Charles area, feel free to check out the match on the campus of Lindenwood University.

The Lindenwood Lions are starting year 2 of their transition to a new conference, the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA). The conference, comprised of both Division 1 and Division 2 schools, contains many decorated volleyball programs such as No. 2 Loyola-Chicago, No. 11 Lewis, No. 14 IPFW, No. 15 Ohio State, and Ball State, so it’s apparent that the Lions have their work cut out for them this season.

Preseason polls picked the Lions to finish 7th in the eight team conference. According to a few members on the team, they feel this may be a little low for this year’s squad. A team captain was quoted in saying, “For how we finished last year being our first season in the MIVA, we were pretty upset we didn’t get the respect we deserved with a better preseason ranking.” The team competed well to close out 2013, they have the luxury of having all starters returning from last year’s team. Unlike really any other sport, a successful volleyball club relies a lot on continuity and flow among the players on the court. This continuity is something that develops with experience, and two years in a row with the same starting lineup will be largely beneficial for this team as the season grinds along.

Back in the fall, they brought in a new head coach, Kris Dorn, for the 2014 season. He takes over as just the third head coach in the program’s young history. Dorn has 17 years of collegiate coaching experience (seven at the Division 1 level), and according to a press release from the team, he “brings a mix of intensity, determination, and competitive fire to the team and athletic development.” With the tools in place (returning all starters), the athletic department hopes Dorn’s fire and knowledge of the game can bring success to this team and bring it quickly–in his first year as head coach.

The Lions are just two games into their season–losing at Sacred Heart University 3-0 and winning at NJIT 3-1. At 1-1 on the season, the Lions return home (St. Charles, MO) to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, January 25th, at 7 PM CST. The latest rankings have the Buckeyes at No. 15, but with a disappointing 2-3 start of the season, this may change very soon–especially if the Lions are able to take them down in Saturday’s home opener.

The team captains are senior Michael Adams, junior Logan Jarus, and senior Tim Schmidt, and they have high expectations going into the 2014 campaign. According to Adams, they don’t think about the fact that they are predicted to finish seventh in the conference. He states that this year’s team goal is “to win the conference championship.” Beating the Buckeyes in the team’s home opener would be a perfect first step towards achieving this goal. With already three losses on the season (all three were against very good teams, though), the Buckeyes’ confidence may be shaken just a bit–an opportunity the Lions look to pounce on come Saturday night.

Photo Credit: lindenwoodlions.com

Photo Credit: lindenwoodlions.com

Let’s take a quick look at some individual statistics. Through two matches, Adams and Colin Hackworth lead the team in kills with 19 apiece, and Jarus is not too far behind with 14 of his own.

None of these kills could have happened without Schmidt, the team’s setter, who gracefully orchestrates the offense and has 69 assists so far. If service aces are more of your thing, then pay attention when Hackworth and Adams go back to serve because they have some of the best serves in the conference. One thing this team looks to improve upon as the season goes along is receiving. Their current percentage sits at .921–22 points lower (.943) than their opponents.

Match Details:

  • Saturday, January 25th, at 7 PM Central at Lindenwood University
  • Address: 209 S.Kingshighway, St. Charles, MO. 63301
  • Home Opener for the Lindenwood Men’s Volleyball Team
  • Versus The Ohio State University Buckeyes
  • Admission: $5 for adults and free for children
  • “Beat the Buckeyes”

Here’s a link to the match’s Facebook event.

Go Lions!

Until next time…

Joe