Bernie: Four candidates for Cards MVP

2013-08-31T13:30:00Z 2014-03-15T11:54:05Z Bernie: Four candidates for Cards MVPBERNIE MIKLASZ • bjmiklasz@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

With 27 games remaining on the Cardinals’ regular-season schedule, it’s a good time to pose this question: Who is the team MVP?

The candidates are catcher Yadier Molina, second baseman Matt Carpenter, first baseman Allen Craig and right fielder Carlos Beltran.

Let’s take a look ...

The case for Molina: The best defensive catcher in baseball. … the unofficial team captain. … entering the weekend he was leading the NL with a .333 batting average, and leading all NL catchers in combined on-base plus slugging percentage (.871) and batting average with runners in scoring position (.365). … Bottom line: Before Friday the Cardinals were 65-40 when Molina started this year and 13-15 when he didn’t. How’s that for value?

The case for Carpenter: He’s made an amazing conversion to second base after never having played there (except for a couple of token appearances) before this season. … He’s sparked the league’s best offense by becoming one of the top leadoff hitters in the game. … He leads NL leadoff hitters in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, RBIs, runs, extra-base hits and multi-hit games and is second in on-base percentage. … He came into the weekend hitting .356 with runners in scoring position. … Bottom line: Where would the Cardinals be without Carpenter?

The case for Craig: He’s an RBI factory. ... Heading into the weekend he was second in the NL with 96 RBIs. … He leads the NL with the highest percentage of driving in runners, based on the number of opportunities. … He’s batting an astounding .452 with runners in scoring position, which would be the third-best average by a hitter in a season since the stat became official in 1974 … He’s even better (.456) with runners in scoring position and two out. … Craig has played three positions, first base and both corner outfield spots. … Bottom line: Has any NL hitter gotten more big hits than Craig?

The case for Beltran: I’d rate the other three Cardinals ahead of him, but Beltran is having a very good season and is worthy of respect. … He came into the weekend with 23 homers, 70 RBIs, a .310 average and a .526 slugging percentage that ranks third in the NL. … He’s among the league leaders with a .366 average with runners in scoring position. … A strong, positive, calming influence in the clubhouse.

My opinion: With all due respect to the other Cardinals, I don’t believe anyone is more valuable to the team than Molina. And that’s especially true considering the demanding and vital nature of his defensive position.

READING TIME,  5 MINUTES

As for the Team MVP thing ... closer Edward Mujica isn't too shabby, either. 

The Hockey News boldly predicted that the Blues will win the 2014 Stanley Cup. That was a nice morale boost for owner Tom Stillman and his organization. 

I may be in the minority, but I like the Cardinals’ pickup of reliever John Axford from Milwaukee. He still throws 96 mph. His problem in Milwaukee? Deflated confidence; giving up too many homers at Miller Park; and pitch selection. He needs to reestablish his fastball. Batters have hit .306 with a .490 slugging percentage and eight homers against the fastball this year. (One scout told me the fastball lacks movement, which is something the Cardinals can tweak to improve.) The change will do him good. The Cardinals do a good job of turning pitchers around, and Axford will be pumped up to pitch for a World Series contender in a pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium.

Good luck to the Mizzou football Tigers and coach Gary Pinkel. As far as I’m concerned, the 2013 season begins with a clean slate. Missouri had a rough transition to the SEC in 2012, and the journey was complicated by damaging injuries to the offense. I think it’s fair to evaluate Pinkel and staff (and the players) based on what they do from this point on, now that they’ve had a full offseason to adjust to coaching, recruiting and playing in the SEC. It will be interesting to see how much MU can improve in Season Two.

The No. 1 key, of course, is the health and performance of quarterback James Franklin, who accounted for 36 touchdowns in 2012. Franklin missed so much time with injuries in 2012, it was all but impossible to make an accurate overall assessment of the Tigers. I don’t like the way the program is trending, but that doesn’t matter now. The 2013 campaign is a new start, and an opportunity to gauge Pinkel’s viability going forward.

My number one concern about the Rams: the health of defensive end Chris Long. Is it a knee injury? If not, then what? We’ll learn more next week when the Rams are obligated to file the first regular-season injury report. ... Jeff Fisher is a heck of a coach, but no one should be surprised when his team commits a lot of penalties. Fisher’s Oilers-Titans had the fifth-highest total of penalties in his full seasons as head coach (1995-2010), and the Rams had the most penalties in the NFL last season.

New assistant coach Calbert Cheaney was an excellent hire by St. Louis U. basketball coach Jim Crews. Cheaney was a smart and winning player at Indiana. He’s a good person. And he’s a promising young coach. ... St. Louis all-sports radio station WXOS (101.1 FM) will broadcast Illinois football games and carry coach Tim Beckman’s weekly radio show this season. ... Former Mizzou wide receiver T.J. Moe will be part of the Vianney HS football broadcasts this season on Prepcasts.com. And he’ll be very good at it.

After signing his new Blues contract, power forward Chris Stewart purchased a club level suite at Scottrade Center that he’ll use to host underprivileged kids at Blues home games. ... Blues defenseman Barret Jackman will serve as a celebrity cyclist in the Ride to Unite today at 10 a.m. at Francis Park in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood. Ride to Unite is assisting the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments and the Recreation Council of Greater St. Louis. ... Congrats to Blues captain David Backes, who was chosen to be part of Team USA’s leadership group for the Olympic team.

An ESPN panel recently selected the baseball Cardinals’ uniforms as the most attractive in professional sports: “MLB’s best-looking team looks even better this season, thanks to the addition of that great retro-style alternate jersey ... kudos to team president Bill DeWitt III, who takes a much greater interest in his team’s uniforms than the average sports exec, and who has been a first-rate steward of his club’s visual heritage.”

Added ESPN writer Jim Caple: “I can see picking the Cardinals’ uniform as baseball’s best. I loved those jerseys so much that, as a kid, I tried painting my own replica T-shirt. I was 6 at the time, so my effort more closely replicated spilled tomato soup.”

THE NICE SECTION

Don Larsen, the only pitcher in MLB history to pitch a perfect game in the World Series, is the special guest at the annual St. Louis Browns luncheon, set for 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 at the Sheraton in Westport.

Larsen, 84, pitched for the Browns in 1953 and threw the historic game for the 1956 Yankees. All 24 living Browns alums have been invited to attend and many plan to be there, including Roy Sievers, Ned Garver, Ed Mickelson and Don Lund.

The luncheon is open to the public by reservation, with the first 200 receiving a replica scorecard of the famous Eddie Gaedel game on Aug. 19, 1951 at Sportsman’s Park.

Cost is $35 per person. For reservations contact Bill Rogers at stlbrowns@swbell.net or via phone at 314-892-8632.

Watch "Breakfast with Bernie," each weekday, sponsored by Papa John's, where you get 40 percent off regular price menu items the day after a Cardinals victory. Use promo code "CARDSWIN" at checkout. 10% of purchase price benefits Siteman Cancer Center.

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Bernie Miklasz

You've read Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch since 1989. Now check out a new video "Breakfast with Bernie" every weekday morning. You'll also see more "Bernie Bytes" around the clock as he posts quick-hit commentaries on a variety of topics.

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