Matthew Leach: Hello everybody, let's get this rolling.
cards2405: Will the game be played tonight?
Leach: At this point, the unfortunate truth is that it's something of a question. I'm sure they'll try hard; nobody likes rainouts or forced doubleheaders. However, the forecast looks pretty nasty in the 7 and 8 p.m. CT hours, so if we do get a game in, they'll likely be dodging the storms. Fingers crossed! As of right now, it's overcast but no rain is falling.
Redbirdz4Life: How well do you know Ryan Franklin? And, do you feel that his reaction the other day was par for the course for him, or was it just an isolated incident or "an emotional response"?
Leach: I know Franklin pretty well, or at least as well as any reporter knows the guys he cover. And honestly, I feel for him. In short, I believe he was sincere in his frustration over his treatment by the home fans. AND I believe he was sincere in his apology.
87thred: Matthew, what are the odds the Cardinals can compete without Adam Wainwright?
Leach: Absolutely. But the margin for error is clearly a lot narrower. Every team in this division has some questions and some flaws, so it's not as though I expect one team to run away with it. I do consider the Reds the favorite, but I don't see them as a club built to run away with this division. With that said, the margin for error IS narrower. They'll have to stay healthy, both in the rotation and the lineup. They'll have to keep hitting. It's not going to be easy, but I do expect them to remain a contender.
wwilli1: What's happened to the Red's pitching and will it get better when Quato and Bailey return?
Mark Sheldon: They have a case of first inning-itis lately it seems. Leake and Arroyo had back-to-back strong outings so things might be trending upward again. Volquez has been strong other than the first inning. Rotation should get better when the missing 40 percent return.
Pfaehler: Being a Reds fan, I haven't been able to see Kyle McClellan pitch yet this season. I see he has a very impressive ERA. What types of problems might he give Reds hitters tonight?
Leach: McClellan does a lot of things, that's really the challenge he presents. He's not an overpowering guy, not a one-pitch guy. He throws for pitches for strikes, and when he's going well, he can get swings and misses on all of them. He has good command and is an impressive competitor.
wwilli1: Why hasn't Jonny Gomes landed a full time spot?
Sheldon: Gomes does have a full time spot -- in LF. But Baker will pick spots for Heisey to play, depending on the matchup.
jdhallky: Mark, if Cueto's rough start wasn't a fluke and he isn't ready and other starters continue to struggle, how close are the Reds to calling up Dontrelle Willis?
Sheldon: I'm assuming you mean Volquez. But he won't be replaced. As for Willis, he's had a nice couple of starts at Louisville but a call-up not imminent unless something else happens Oh -- wait, he did mean Cueto. He had a rough rehab start yesterday for Louisville.
mitch224: Do you think the Cardinals will still be fine without a set solid closer?
Leach: First, I'm not sure that'll be entirely the case. I won't be the least bit surprised if Mitchell Boggs takes the job and runs with it. He has excellent stuff and improving command. But even if they have to mix and match, I don't really consider it a huge problem in and of itself. There are enough quality arms on the right side for this to be a good bullpen, regardless of whether the ninth is set. BUT if those guys all struggle, that's a problem. Boggs/Motte/etc have to pitch well. I believe they will.
WVBravesfan: Mark: Do you think Drew Stubbs has 30/30 potential at any point in his career?
Sheldon: It's doable for Stubbs. Once he shortens the peaks and valleys. He's getting better as a hitter and should continue to get better. He has to pop and he certainly has the speed
gr8guynyc: I'm curious to know if Mark sees this year's Cardinals' lineup as potent as last season's Reds' lineup? Both teams appear to be able to score runs and hit the long ball.
Sheldon: It really comes down to health and mainly if Berkman and Freese stay healthy, then yes...that's a monster lineup. Berkman, especially, has long been a Reds killer.
jewen: Do you think there is any tension between the two teams?
Leach: We can both answer this. I think when you ask it like that, the answer is yes. There's tension. There are guys on both sides who don't like each other. That doesn't mean, though, that I expect a beanball war or anything this weekend.
Sheldon: It's not a warm, cuddly relationship but it's hard to say if there's still tension since they haven't played yet. Definitely more vitriol between the fans. I think LaRussa giving Gomes the benefit of the doubt on that issue in spring was a positive sign and might have defused things a little.
Leach: It's not like every single guy on one side hates every single guy on the other side, either. Some are friends, like Carpenter and Rolen for instance. But still, it's at least a little more likely that we'll see hijinks this weekend than in an ordinary series.
WVBravesfan: Matthew: Do you think David Freese will keep up his hot start?
Leach: I'm a big Freese believer. I don't expect him to hit .328 all year, but if he stays healthy, I do expect him to be a solidly above average offensive third baseman. I like his power and I like his batting eye.
Dizzy17: Will Lance Berkman sit in any of the games against the Reds or will he play in all three?
Leach: The plan is for him to play all three.
42midway: This is a question for Mark Sheldon. When do the Reds expect Bailey and Cueto to return from the DL?
Sheldon: For Bailey, it will depend on the outcome of his next rehab start, which was moved back to Sunday. If that's all good and he's ready, I could see him being activated five days later. Cueto will likely need 2-3 more starts. His rehab assignment can go up to 30 days.
gr8guynyc: So far, Kyle Lohse appears to be back. Have you been able to detect any noticeable differences this season?
Leach: Yes. In short, Lohse is healthy. His command and stuff are both significantly improved. Particularly I've been impressed by his sinker, which not only has nice downward bite but lateral movement as well. He looks excellent.
DennysDarien: Do you think that Yonder Alonso deserves to be in the Majors instead on Hermida?
Sheldon: For the role that Hermida has, no. Alonso needs to play every day. Also, Alonso has yet to notch an RBI for Louisville.
fiesty62: I am also a Reds fan....do you see Chapman as a starter in the near future?
Sheldon: Near future? No. Next season, more likely.
cards2fan: Do you see any other teams really contending in NLC other than Reds and Cardinals?
Leach: Yes. I think the Brewers are a very real contender. What they do well, they do really well -- their five or so best hitters and their rotation are outstanding. What they don't do well, though, could hurt them -- relief pitching and defense. At the start of the year, I could have seen the Cubs as a contender if EVERYTHING broke right. But doing without two starting pitchers for an extended period of time means that already, everything isn't breaking right. I see them as a very long shot at this point.
Sheldon: Even though the Brewers had that lousy start against the Reds, they recovered well. You can't count them out at all. They hit like crazy and have a nice top end of the rotation. But their defense was rather lousy when I saw them.
sirzach: Matthew - do you know any specifics on the plan/path for Shelby Miller to get to the bigs?
Leach: Miller is basically going to determine a lot of that. He's been really outstanding so far at Palm Beach, but that's a pitchers' league in a big way. I do expect he has every chance of making it to Double-A Springfield this year. Beyond that, there are just so many variables -- health, opportunity and of course his performance. He's coming fast, and he's been outstanding. But I'm not ready to give him an ETA. Get excited, but be patient.
reds83: Mark -- With Chapman's arm being questionable for consecutive days and Masset in a funk, who will most likely become set-up man?
Sheldon: Based on last year, I think Masset can get it together. But in the short term, you can't ignore how well Logan Ondrusek has been pitching. From the right side at least, he'd be my vote.
cards2fan: Matthew, you mention if Freese stays healthy? Don't you think Descalso would fill that void?
Leach: I like Descalso. He's a nice defensive player, a good teammate and does some things with the bat. But he doesn't have the kind of offensive ability that Freese has.
ckfresh: What is the X factor for each team? In other words, one player outside of the obvious (Pujols, Votto, Holliday, Rolen) that could be the difference in winning/not winning the division?
Leach: There are several for the Cardinals, but I have to think the two biggest are their No. 5 and 6 hitters, Lance Berkman and David Freese. If both of those guys stay healthy and effective, this is a very deep, impressive offense. If they tail off or get hurt, the Cards could be left with the same problem they had last year: not enough depth in the lineup.
Sheldon: Probably Stubbs and Phillips. If they're hot at the No. 1 and 2 spots, Votto will get them in.
bbbill64: Mark, why do you think the Reds called up Jeremy Hermida instead of playing Heisey more? Is this another example of the irrational hope that a prospect that fizzed out can capture lightning in a bottle?
Sheldon: It's not a question of Hermida taking ABs from Heisey. The Hermida call-up was because the Reds needed a left-handed bat to replace Juan Francisco on the bench. To say Heisey is considered fizzled is quite irrational. They are still high on him and he's played well in the role he has.
cardinalfa: Are you guys worried about Carpenter's slow start?
Leach: What slow start? He had one very bad start. His last game out, he was brilliant. He's fine.
sirzach: Matthew - prior to the Cards' current hot hitting streak, was there any serious talk of Big Mac's job as hitting coach being in jeopardy?
Leach: In short, no. It was a week and a half. The Cardinals scored more runs last year than they did the year before, and then got off to a rough week and a half. McGwire is safe, and has been all year.
redsbeast: Do you think Jay Bruce will get out of his slump soon?
Sheldon: Bruce is hitting .321 (9-for-28) over his last eight games. When he started taking some walks and not chasing as many bad pitches, things started getting better.
AlbertPujols1fan: Is there a reason for why Westbrook has struggled so much so far? How long will Tony leave him in the rotation if he continues to struggle?
Leach: His command isn't really all that sharp. He's been falling behind in counts and getting in trouble, and also maybe getting a little predictable. It's worth noting, though, that he's historically been a slow starter throughout his career. As for taking him out of the rotation, I see stuff like this a lot, and I think people would be well served to back away from the football mentality that if a guy has a bad game or a bad couple of weeks, he's going to get booted. History shows that Westbrook, when healthy, is a legitimately good Major League starter. If he's healthy, and he seems to be, he should continue to be. His job is safe.
Pfaehler: Mark - I am a Scott Rolen fan, but it seems like he may be on his last leg. Who is the Reds' long-term third baseman for the future? You are probably going to say Francisco, are there any other viable options?
Sheldon: Too early to say Rolen is on his last legs. He's in a slump. Francisco is certainly one future option but his defense is closer to Edwin Encarnacion than Rolen's. Todd Frazier can play third.
gr8guynyc: If Punto gets hot and handles the fielding duties, do you think Skip will have a tough time getting his starting job back?
Leach: I don't expect that to be the case. They love Punto's versatility. He can play himself into a large number of at-bats and innings, but not at the expense of Schumaker being the primary second baseman.
coltholt: Has Gomes changed anything about his game, or is this another case of last May where we can expect a below average player the rest of the way out?
Sheldon: So I guess you're saying Gomes won't walk 200 times this season? I don't have a crystal ball to predict future production, sorry. But he's been doing a better job of taking walks if the pitches he likes aren't there. That can't be a bad thing.
Botched007: With as impressive as Sanchez and Salas have been since being called up, if success continues, do you see LaRussa making room for one or both? Who gets sent down when Augenstein and Tallet are healthy?
Leach: That's going to be a very interesting question. Sanchez in particular, I think, could force them to make some very tough decisions. I'm not sure either of those guys is expected to be back after just 15 days, though, so there's plenty of time to figure it out. As La Russa himself often says, those kinds of problems typically tend to solve themselves.
bbbill64: Mark, who will be odd men out on the starting staff when Cueto and/or Bailey return?
Sheldon: Things can happen/change, so it's always hard to predict. Guessing LeCure would be first to come out of rotation. Leake has certainly helped himself on the mound with the last two starts.
vottt44: Who will win the MVP Votto or Pujols?
Leach: I've got Tulowitzki. My preseason pick and I'm standing by it.
Sheldon: Between those two choices, I'd go with Votto. He's very determined to be better this year than he was last year.
cards2fan: Have the Cardinals considered using Eduardo Sanchez as the closer?
Leach: I'll go all La Russa on you here. I often ask, "is so-and-so an option?" and when I do, the response is, "yes, it's an OPTION." Which is to say, I'm sure they've considered it. But I don't think it's a serious consideration at this point.
Leach: We're just about done, by the way. Have to head down to the clubhouse shortly.
jedwva1: To Mark Do you think we will see Sapplet this year.
Sheldon: Yes, but a need has to open up first. He's continued to hit at Triple-A Louisville since his filthy hot Spring Training.
cards2fan: Whats the real story on Tony's eye?
Leach: He has conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. He's getting better.
cardinal2WS: Who has the edge in this series?
Leach: This seems like a good one to end on. I think it's pretty even. The Cardinals are swinging the bats well, and they have McClellan and Carpenter in games one and two. But they also have a TBD in game three, which will either be Jake Westbrook on short rest or someone from the Minors. If Westbrook or another starter were going on regular rest on Sunday, I'd say the Cardinals, and they may still have a slight edge being at home. But the Sunday starter uncertainty renders it closer to a push, to my eye.
Sheldon: Not because I cover them, but I think the Reds have the edge. Their starting pitching matchups on Friday and Sunday (Cards TBA) favor them and the Reds have a better bullpen.
Leach: OK everybody, thanks for joining us. This has been fun. Time for us to head downstairs and find some notes for you.
Sheldon: Thanks everybody!