Q&A with Cards beat writer Bernie Miklasz: Reds v. Cardinals Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Bernie Miklasz has been with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch since 1989. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us on the upcoming Reds/Cardinals series.

Two months ago, Derrick Goold provided some perspective from St. Louis, previewing an upcoming series with the Cardinals. Today, Bernie Miklasz provides the view from the other side. Bernie is a terrific writer and an all around good guy. He covers sports at stltoday.com and with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If you want to read about anything Cardinals related, check out his work.

Between his various endeavors Bernie found some time to answer our questions. We thank Bernie for providing us with some great insight on the Reds biggest rival.

Red Reporter:

These teams appear to be in similar "funks." Can you give us an idea of what problems the Cardinals are currently experiencing? In addition, have the recent losses had any effect on the morale of the players?

Bernie Miklasz:

You're right, Kerry. Since June 4 the Cardinals are 25-25 and the Reds are 24-27. They've been scuffling along. With the Cardinals it's been a variety of issues. The starting pitching went bad for a while; it's been better lately. More than anything, they were hitting .340 with runners in scoring position, and that's unsustainable. No team has ever hit higher than .311 with RISP, and at some point the Cardinals were going to level off. And that's happened to an extent, at least on the current 1-7 road trip. The Cardinals' shortage of home-run power is glaring. They rank 13th in the NL with an average of 0.78 homers per game. They hit 9 homers in July. NINE. They're on pace to finish with the fewest home runs by a St. Louis team since 1995. At some point, they have to power up.

RR:

You recently wrote about Yadier Molina's workload, questioning Matheny for perhaps overusing the MVP-caliber catcher. If and when Molina returns, how would you divvy up the playing time behind the plate? Can the Cardinals afford to keep Molina out of the lineup 2-3 times a week when healthy?

Miklasz:

It's hard to answer that without knowing Molina's exact condition when he returns. I'd think at least one game off a week is mandatory, and you may see him sit two games a week. Who knows? But the sense within the team is this will be an issue the rest of the season. There's obviously some ligament damage, and I'll just go ahead and assume he's headed to surgery after the season. Until then the Cardinals will have to manage the injury the best they can. He can't catch 10, 12 games in a row. When the knee flared up in early July, the Cardinals were rattled, and I believed Matheny would avoid pushing Molina too hard. I was wrong about that _ surprisingly so, because frankly I never imagined the team being so stupid. Matheny pretty much allowed Molina to make the decision on playing, and Molina is always going to want to play. It's the manager's job to protect the player from himself. Matheny didn't do that. I'm certain it will be different when Molina returns from the DL. The GM, John Mozeliak, will intervene if necessary.

RR:

A player like Yadier Molina is impossible to replace. What is expected of Tony Cruz and Rob Johnson while Molina is out? Can you give a brief scouting report on each player?

Miklasz:

Cruz intrigues me. A converted third baseman. Student of the game. Has good tools behind the plate. He's really tried to follow Molina's lead, and learned a lot from Yadi about calling pitches and running a game. The Cardinals pitchers are spoiled by having Molina back there _ which is understandable _ but they respect Cruz. The question on Cruz: can he hit? He hasn't had enough plate appearances in the majors to draw any conclusions. His overall slash line in the minors was OK; nothing special... however: in 2010, his last season in the minors, Cruz went .282 / .352 / .433. So I believe there's some offense there. Maybe more than we think. But the expectations for Cruz's offense are low. We'll see if he surprises some folks. As for Johnson: pardon my cliche, but he's a true professional. The Cardinals signed him to work with their young pitchers at Class AAA Memphis because he's so mature, intelligent, and a good leader. He won't hit, but that's OK. That's not why Johnson is here.

RR:

The Pirates, Reds and Cardinals starting rotations rank 1, 2, and 3 in all of baseball in terms of ERA. Many in Cincinnati think the Reds rotation is the best of the three and perhaps the most "proven." Which rotation do you see as the strongest?

Miklasz:

Even with Johnny Cueto's injury issue, the Reds have the sturdiest opinion in my view. Their starters lead the NL in innings, and are tied for first with Atlanta with 67 quality starts. And despite what some people think, quality starts are meaningful. I know the Pirates have the best starter ERA, and that team is for real. But I look at the rotation and wonder: is something going to crack here? Pirates starters rank 13th in innings. They have 53 quality starts _ a lot less than the Reds and Cardinals. That Pirates bullpen has been worked harder than any 'pen in the league. So I'm keeping an eye on all of that. The Cardinals have a good rotation; in fact it has the best FIP (3.28) in the NL. But there are questions: will rookie Shelby Miller go strong to the finish line in his first season? Can they count on consistency from Lance Lynn? Do they trust Joe Kelly? And if they need help, what could they expect from top prospects Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez? The Reds' rotation is simply more established _ and has fewer questions _ than the rotations in STL and PITT.

RR:

Is Chris Carpenter's comeback on ice at the moment? Is it possible that he's pitch his last game in the bigs?

Miklasz:

Longshot at best ... a real, real longshot. I don't see it happening. Then again, I never expected that he could progress well enough to make an actual comeback attempt. Best-case scenario: he can step in and help the bullpen late in the season.

RR:

Most experts didn't expect the Reds to make a move before the deadline for a number of reasons. However, both the Cardinals and Pirates were involved in several rumors. Were you surprised there was no moves by either team? With the added wild card, do you expect fewer deadline deals for years to come?

Miklasz:

I wasn't surprised at all. The Pirates can't take on a lot of payroll. They love their team personality, and they didn't want to risk messing with that. I think the Cardinals and Pirates had the same outlook: go big or not at all. And so they sat this one out after concluding there were no realistic, major upgrades to be found. (Key word: realistic.) The Cardinals like their team, and Mozeliak wants to hold onto their prospects. As for the second question ... let me join the chorus: MLB needs to push the trade deadline back. Too many teams in contention because of the 2nd wild card. Too many delusional GMs and owners. But there are other issues, of course. Things are changing in MLB; teams really are putting a premium on drafting and development and don't want to damage the future by making an impulsive, shortsighted deal. (The Angels gave up Jean Segura to rent the overrated Zack Greinke? I mean, how incredibly idiotic was that?) Teams would rather hold onto the pending free agent _ and be in position to get a compensatory first-round draft pick for him _ rather than just give him away. So I think dull deadlines are here to stay, for the most part.

RR:

For the Cardinals to win this division, what is the one thing that needs to happen?

Miklasz:

May I offer three quick things? Here you go: (1) can't lose Molina to a season-ending injury; (2) rotation must be strong; (3) more home runs, less dependence on hits with RISP.

RR:

If the Reds and Cardinals meet up as the wild-card teams for a 1-game playoff, Wainwright is undoubtedly getting the start. Which Reds pitcher do you think would give the Reds the best chance to win that game?

Miklasz:

That's a heck of a question. I admit that I "cheated" and looked at the stats before answering. None of the Reds starters have excelled against St. Louis. Here are their ERAs vs. the Cardinals: Arroyo 4.49, Cueto 4.66, Bailey 5.61, Latos 4.76, Leake 4.76. Cingrani hasn't pitched enough against them to make a judgment. If the game is at Busch Stadium, the Reds' numbers are even worse, except for Latos. (I know some of these numbers don't matter; it's not as if the Cardinals have had the same hitters in place every single year.I mean, how many Reds' career ERAs vs. St. Louis were inflated by Albert Pujols?) The odd thing is, Leake has never started a game at Busch. I didn't realize that until just now. Seriously: I like the way Leake is pitching, and his style of pitching is capable of frustrating the Cardinals hitters. So I'd say Leake, though things may be different a few weeks from now.

Thanks, Kerry. I hope Reds fans enjoy the series with the Cardinals.

---------------

Thank you Bernie.

Be sure to check out Bernie's coverage of the Cardinals and follow him on twitter.

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