The St. Louis Cardinals have already seen one improbable return to their roster at the end of the season. They may have one more by the end of the postseason if the Cards make it to the World Series.
According to Fox Sports Midwest's B.J. Rains, Lance Berkman has recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to the point where he can do some light running. His condition has improved enough over the past two weeks where Berkman feels he has a "real chance" to play in the World Series.
Berkman's 2012 season (and major league career) was believed to be over after he required a second procedure to repair a torn meniscus in that left knee in early September. The Cardinals first baseman also had surgery performed on the knee in May. He returned in July, but only played in 19 games before consulting with doctors and deciding that another operation was necessary.
What role could Berkman play with the Cardinals if he was able to return? He would seem like an ideal candidate to be the designated hitter when St. Louis plays in the American League ballpark during the World Series. Matt Carpenter has been playing more regularly, however, and would likely be sharper at the plate.
As a switch-hitter, Berkman would also provide Cards manager Mike Matheny with a pinch-hitting option against either right- or left-handed pitching in the later innings of a ballgame. But he's probably better suited to be a left-handed bat based on his splits this season.
In 77 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, Berkman compiled a .281/.403/.453 triple-slash average. Facing lefties, he hit only .176 with a .712 OPS in 20 PAs.
Regaining a spot in the Cardinals' starting lineup seems unlikely for Berkman, given the success of the players that have replaced him at first base and right field for St. Louis this season.
Berkman's move to first base created an opening at right field. The Cards filled that spot by signing free agent Carlos Beltran. In a resurgent season, Beltran slugged 32 home runs and 97 RBI, helping to replace some of the production lost when Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
Additionally, as Berkman missed time with a left calf strain and his eventual knee injury, Allen Craig had an opportunity to play at first base. That solved something of a problem for Matheny, who didn't have a position for Craig. With regular playing time for the first time in his career, Craig responded with a .307 average, .876 OPS, 22 home runs and 92 RBI.
Though multiple injuries cost Berkman his spot in the Cardinals lineup, a player getting hurt might end up giving him an opportunity to contribute in the World Series.
During Game 3 of the NLCS on Wednesday (Oct. 17), Beltran strained his left knee trying to beat out a throw to first base. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals have classified Beltran's status as "day-to-day." The right fielder was already dealing with a sore left hand that required treatment after Monday's Game 2.
Beltran has been the Cardinals' best hitter during the postseason, batting .414 with a 1.397 OPS, three homers and six RBI in 20 at-bats. He's essentially been the team's only offensive threat while Craig, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina have struggled to hit. If Beltran is sidelined for the rest of the NLCS, St. Louis might not make it to the World Series anyway.
But if the Cardinals are able to defeat the Giants in the NLCS and Beltran is still injured, Matheny could conceivably put Berkman in the starting lineup and save Carpenter as a potent pinch-hitting threat.
However, as Goold reports, the Cards manager was already looking for ways to get Carpenter more at-bats, and he would be the logical choice to replace Beltran in right field.
If Berkman is able to return, he would be the second Cardinals player to come back after it initially appeared that his season was over.
Chris Carpenter was expected to be out for three to four months following surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, which required a rib to be removed to alleviate pressure on nerves in his right shoulder. But he was able to return in September and is part of the St. Louis playoff rotation.
Could Berkman progress through a similarly speedy recovery and make a meaningful contribution to the Cardinals' drive toward a second straight World Series championship?
If so, those who say the Cardinals can't be stopped and just won't die (figuratively speaking, of course) probably don't realize just how correct they are.
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