After a season filled with injuries to the pitching staff, now the St. Louis Cardinals will have to deal with an injury to one of their starting fielders, who also happened to be one of their most important hitters.
First baseman and occasional right fielder Allen Craig suffered a sprained left foot Wednesday in Cincinnati during a game against the Reds that the Cardinals eventually won 5-4 in 16 innings.
Craig went back to St. Louis for further examination Thursday and at least found out he did not have any broken bones in his foot. That probably gives him a chance to return before the end of the season, which is significant.
The Cardinals can likely survive through the rest of September without Craig even though he leads the team with 97 runs batted in and is tied with second baseman Matt Carpenter for the second-best batting average on the team at .315, behind catcher Yadier Molina’s .322 average.
In the worst case scenario, the Cardinals offense would fall flat without Craig’s contributions, specifically his incredible .454 batting average with runners in scoring position, and the team would lose the division title to the Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates and have to play in the one-game Wild Card round for the second consecutive year.
However, the Cardinals do have a solid backup for Craig. Matt Adams has been the Cardinals best hitter off of the bench this season, he has a .269 average with 11 homeruns and 38 RBIs in just 212 at-bats, which is about half of an everyday player. Plus, fans have clamored for Adams to get more playing time through much of the season.
Well, here’s his chance.
He certainly made an impressive first impression Wednesday with homers in the 14th and 16th innings to help the Cardinals win, but becoming a consistent hitter in the middle of the lineup will be vital for Adams now that he will be the starting first baseman for the foreseeable future while Craig’s foot heals.
The Cardinals also have 13 consecutive games against teams with losing records after they finish a three-game series with the Pirates during this upcoming weekend, so they will likely face less-than-dominant pitching that could allow the Cardinals to win even when the offense is not clicking on all cylinders.
But the Cardinals will be in an entirely different scenario come the playoffs in October. Those games are often dominated by good pitchers, and timely hits determine the outcome.
Craig is perhaps the best timely hitter in Major League Baseball, and the Cardinals would sorely miss his bat in the lineup during the playoffs.
The team got good news Thursday when Craig’s X-Rays and MRI came back negative, but it should not push its luck and force him back onto the field during the regular season unless he truly is fully healed.
If Craig can’t play the rest of the regular season, fine. It would certainly be nice to have his production in the lineup during the final weeks of the race for the National League Central Division title, but that will not determine whether or not the Cardinals are considered champions at the end of the year.
The most important title is settled in late October, and that is when Craig will be the most valuable