On Sunday afternoon, I chatted with Cardinals’ beat reporter Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here’s what he had to say:

Steve Hirsch: Carlos Beltran has obviously been struggling. Why hasn’t he been able to produce at the plate lately and how do you think Matheny plans to use him the rest of the way out?

Joe Strauss: Well he’s been hurt, his knee has been giving him some problems. He basically hasn’t been the same guy at the plate for over two months so I think there’s a recognition that something has to change. He did play Sunday and had two hits so that may represent something in a positive direction. He’s just had a tough time lately and I think they’ll use him in the lineup as he sees fit until he gets going again, but he’s definitely not the same player in the second half that he was in the first.

SH: You wrote last night that the Cardinals are contemplating having Chris Carpenter start against the L.A. Dodgers next week. Considering it was just a couple of months ago we were told he would be out for the season, why has his rehab and progress been so rapid?

JS: I think he basically he feels good enough that he can do it. Both he and the club need to know what the deal is before next Spring Training, and this is the best way to pursue it. He has thrown a few aggressive side sessions…and last night Jake Westbrook came out of the game with an oblique strain so this may serve several purposes at this point. But Carpenter is very positive about the direction he’s going and frankly this club is beyond guessing when he’ll return, so they’re just going to see what happens over the next few weeks.

SH: Mike Matheny said this morning that Jake Westbrook suffered a right oblique injury last night and won’t be able to make his next start. Who do you think will replace him?

JS: Well they have several options such as Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal. They could also bring Lance Lynn back out of the bullpen. I think it could be any one of those guys. I think most people would be intrigued to see Miller take the start. He pitched extremely well the last month and a half of the season and has done good things so far in St. Louis. I don’t know what the decision will be but I do know where the most public interest line will be…it will be a tough call.

SH: How do you think Mike Matheny is handling the pressures of being in a pennant race for the first time as a manager?

JS: Well it’s an interesting question because he’s been scrutinized a lot this year with things such as dealing with the bullpen, game management, things you would expect a first year manager to be criticized for. A lot of the position players are coming up with injuries and now he has to make due with what he’s got and that’s tough for any manager to do. But overall, I think he’s done fairly well. To me, his team management has improved significantly during the season, and his anticipation of what other teams are going to do has also gotten better…In terms of his ability to handle the job and remain even-keeled, I think he’s been very good with that.

SH: Who do you see coming out on top for the wild card come the end of the season?

JS: I think the Atlanta Braves have all but secured the first one. A week ago, I would have been very confident in saying the Cardinals for the second spot but given the direction some of their position players have taken from a medical standpoint and some of the issues within the rotation, I would be reluctant to say anything about the Cardinals until we see what happens on this road trip. I think it’s going to be an extremely difficult road trip…, and I think whoever wins the series in L.A. against the Dodgers will win the second wild card. If it’s as split, I think it will remain a jump ball down to the wire.