Hampered by injury and stuck behind established starters, outfielder Allen Craig appeared in just 75 games for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Manager Tony La Russa was creative in trying to get the 26-year-old into his lineup whenever possible, including starts at first base, second base and third.
Wherever he played in the field, Craig delivered when called upon in his most important role, that of a power hitter. He blasted 11 home runs in only 200 at-bats while hitting a cool .315. His OPS was .917.
With the Cardinals enjoying home field advantage in the 2011 World Series and having a relatively healthy roster, Craig will likely be reduced to pinch-hitting in Games 1 and 2. As the Series shifts to Arlington for the pivotal Games 3, 4 and 5, however, Craig is expected to be added to the Cardinals’ lineup, whether as the designated hitter himself or taking a corner outfield position, allowing Matt Holliday or Lance Berkman to DH. In doing so, the Cardinals add another middle-of-the-order bat to an already potent order.
Though a right-handed hitter, Craig has proven he can hit both left-handed pitching (five home runs, 1.000 OPS in 70 plate appearances) and right-handed pitching (six homers, .815 OPS in 149 PAs) with power. This is especially crucial with the Texas Rangers’ starting rotation being left-handed dominant.
The promise of having Craig’s bat in the lineup offers a stark contract to the Cardinals other World Series appearances under the future Hall of Famer La Russa. In the 2004 and 2006 World Series, St. Louis’ designated hitters were a combined 1-for-14 (.071) with three walks and an unacceptable eight strikeouts. Not surprisingly, the Cards dropped three of four games in the American League parks in Boston and Detroit.
When Craig stroked a big two-run, pinch-hit single in Sunday’s NLCS Game 6 clincher, his two RBI doubled the entire production of the Cardinals designated hitters in the previous two World Series combined. All six of the earlier DHs are now out of the Major Leagues and were generally not considered feared hitters at the time – Scott Spiezio, Chris Duncan, Preston Wilson, Reggie Sanders, Marlon Anderson and So Taguchi.
Craig offers hope, coming into the Series after a strong performance against Milwaukee during which he went 3-for-8 with a home run and three RBI. He was originally taken by St. Louis in the eighth round of the 2006 draft from Cal-Berkeley and made his MLB debut last season.
Surprisingly, despite not using one all season long, the Cardinals could enjoy the World Series edge at designated hitter. The Rangers’ DHs went a combined .129 with no extra-base hits and no RBI in 31 Division Series and Championship Series at-bats. It was so bad that Rangers manager Ron Washington moved his designated hitter down into the ninth spot in the batting order.
One thing for sure. Craig won't be batting ninth when he is in St. Louis’ lineup. His performance in the Series, and especially the upcoming games in Arlington, could be the X Factor in St. Louis’ quest for an 11th World Series crown.
At The Cardinal Nation Blog: ”Looking forward to a Cardinals designated hitter for once”
At LoneStarDugout.com: "Rangers World Series Pick to Click: Alexi Ogando"
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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