3 Cardinals Most Responsible for Filling the Hole Left by Albert Pujols

Jeff Sucher@jeffsucherContributor IIIMay 16, 2012

3 Cardinals Most Responsible for Filling the Hole Left by Albert Pujols

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    Albert who?  The St. Louis Cardinals' offense hasn't seemed to miss a beat since El Hombre took his talents to the West Coast.  While Pujols has struggled massively in his transition of leagues, the Cardinals' offense to date has not missed the big bat Pujols brought the lineup for 11 seasons.

    With the addition of Carlos Beltran, David Freese continuing where he left off in the 2011 postseason and the emergence of Allen Craig, the Cardinals are second in MLB batting average at .284 and fourth in home runs with 46.  

    As crazy as it may sound, right now, the Cardinals don't have a spot in the lineup for Pujols. 

Carlos Beltran

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    Carlos Beltran is looking like the man who terrorized the Cardinals in the 2004 postseason, ripping the Cardinals for four home runs, walking eight times and batting .417 in the series as a member of the Houston Astros.  Keep in mind that Beltran was 27 at the time and is now 35, not that you can tell with the start Beltran has had in 2012.

    At the time of writing, Beltran leads in NL in home runs with 13 and is second in RBI's with 32 to go along with a .295 batting average.

    His acquisition has been the biggest key in filling the massive shoes Albert Pujols left.  Pujols isn't even batting his weight thus far in Los Angeles, putting up a .212 average after a 3-4 game on May 15 to get his average above .200, and he has only swatted one home run so far this year.

    Beltran has also been a fixture in the Cardinals lineup thus far, appearing in 34 of 36 games this season, helping to shake his injury-prone past.  Beltran averaged only 96 games played from 2009-2011.  A healthy Beltran to go along with the strong lineup around him only spells runs in truckloads this summer for the Cardinals.

David Freese

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    While David Freese may be going through a bit of a light spell at the plate at the moment, he was the key run producer in April for a torrid Cardinals' offense. 

    Without Freese's bat and blistering start, the Cardinals' strong push out the gate would have most likely stalled.  Matt Holliday had a horrible April, and Lance Berkman was hurt.  Freese truly picked up where he left off in the 2011 postseason and was the bat needed to replace Albert Pujols early on. 

    Still, even with this minor slump, Freese ranks sixth in the NL with 27 RBIs and is on pace to drive in well more than 100 runs this season.   In addition, Mr. Freese has lived up to his cool reputation at the plate with runners in scoring position and two outs, batting a respectable .296 with 10 RBIs in those situations so far this season.

    With Beltran and Craig on a tear and Holliday and Berkman starting to hit, don't be surprised to see Freese piling up the RBIs as the summer moves along.

Allen Craig

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    This season is what Allen Craig has been waiting for: a chance to play on a regular basis.  While it has taken some creative managing from Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, Craig is finding his way into the lineup on a regular basis after his return from offseason knee surgery.

    Craig has been blistering hot right out of the box.  So far in the 12 games he has played in May, Craig has hit five home runs, driven in 18 runs and sports a .404 average. 

    Craig has seen time in the outfield as well as first base and will most likely continue in that rotation all season if everyone stays healthy. 

    Craig has found himself filling the No. 4 spot in the lineup and has done an exceptional job, putting up a .367 average and driving in 12 runs.  Craig's hot start has allowed Matt Holliday the protection he needed and time to snap out of his early season funk, and Holliday has rewarded the club with a .333 average in the month of May.

    While Cardinals fans should not forget the magic Pujols brought to St. Louis for 11 seasons, the hot starts of Beltran, Freese and Craig have helped Cardinal Nation put Pujols in the rear-view mirror.