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Does Hobbled Carlos Beltran Kill Cardinals' World Series Hopes?

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Does Hobbled Carlos Beltran Kill Cardinals' World Series Hopes?

One game into the World Series, things are already looking bleak for the St. Louis Cardinals.

They certainly got off on the wrong foot, dropping Game 1 to the Boston Red Sox by an 8-1 final. Adam Wainwright lasted only five innings. The Cardinals' sloppy defense committed three errors. Their offense wasn't able to muster anything against Jon Lester and was only able to avoid a shutout due to a meaningless home run by Matt Holliday in the ninth inning.

But the worst part was what happened to Carlos Beltran in the second inning. He got up close and personal with the right-field wall at Fenway Park, and he may have rendered himself severely compromised for the rest of the series in the process.

That's a grim thought for the Cardinals. For if Beltran can't play the role of a difference-maker, their hopes of winning the World Series may have evaporated the very moment he hit the wall. The way things are going, he really is that important.

If you missed it, the play in question was actually quite the positive moment for the Cardinals. With the bases loaded and David Ortiz at the plate (Boston already with the 4-0 lead), Beltran soon found himself drifting back toward the bullpen wall. When he got there, he reached up and robbed "Big Papi" of a grand slam. He did so casually, to boot, opting not to try the head-over-heels approach that didn't work so well for Torii Hunter.

The contact Beltran did make with the wall didn't seem too bad, but he had to retreat to the clubhouse during the top of the third, and he was out of the game for good in the bottom of the inning when Jon Jay went out to play center and Shane Robinson took Beltran's spot in right.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The Cardinals passed along word during the game that Beltran had suffered a rib contusion. More tests were done at a local hospital, and here's the latest from Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

In other words, Beltran isn't hurt as bad as Hanley Ramirez was after Joe Kelly plunked the Dodgers shortstop in the ribs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Things could be worse.

But the word "severe" sticks out, and "day to day" isn't a guarantee of any sort. At the time the 36-year-old outfielder was first injured, B/R's Dave Siebert tweeted that Beltran's playing status will be up to his pain tolerance:

If the pain isn't bad, Beltran should be fine. But if the pain is bad, well, just remember what Ramirez looked like after Kelly's fastball fractured his ribs. He was able to play, but he was a shell of his usual self the rest of the series.

The same thing could happen with Beltran if the pain refuses to go away. Worse, he might be too hurt to play. Either outcome would put the Cardinals in a tough spot, because Beltran's not just a big key to their offensive attack these days. It's more accurate to say he is their offensive attack.

Beltran came into the World Series hitting .256/.383/.538 in 11 postseason games. He hit .222/.333/.611 in the Division Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and .286/.423/.476 in the Championship Series against Los Angeles. He provided power in one series and on-base prowess in the other. Both are darn good ways for a hitter to make an impact.

And boy did the Cardinals need Beltran to make an impact. For some perspective, here's how their offense has performed this postseason with his production factored in.

Cardinals Offense with Beltran in Postseason
Series AVG OBP SLUG OPS
NLDS .209 .294 .354 .648
NLCS .211 .277 .302 .579
Total .210 .285 .325 .610

Baseball-Reference.com

These numbers are bad enough as is. Suffice it to say that the Cardinals did not slug their way to the Fall Classic. If Beltran's production is removed from the equation, you're left with even uglier numbers.

Cardinals Offense Minus Beltran in Postseason
Series AVG OBP SLUG OPS
NLDS .207 .289 .321 .610
NLCS .202 .258 .281 .539
Total .204 .271 .299 .570

Baseball-Reference.com

What is the Cardinals offense without Carlos Beltran these playoffs? Basically a lesser version of the Miami Marlins.

That's how badly the Cards lineup has otherwise been struggling. Beltran's .921 OPS was the highest among Cardinals regulars in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The next highest belonged to Matt Adams at .724—almost 200 points lower.

It's true enough that the Cardinals are better equipped to make up for the potential loss in production from the injury now than they were before. Allen Craig, a .315 hitter in the regular season, is back in the fold after missing seven weeks with a foot injury. And though he only collected a single hit in Game 1, he looked pretty good swinging the bat.

/Getty Images

But there's one area where Craig isn't a candidate to pick up the slack if Beltran's production is minimized or lost, and that's power.

Craig's power dried up in a big way in 2013, as he posted just a .142 ISO (Isolated Power) that ranked 28th among first basemen with at least 400 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs. In an effort to become a better hitter, he became an inferior power hitter.

If Beltran's injury keeps him from playing, the one silver lining to be noted is that St. Louis' defense would be greatly improved with Shane Robinson and Jon Jay manning the outfield. At the least, it would be addition by subtraction. His capacity for making great catches notwithstanding, Beltran was rated as the worst defensive outfielder in MLB this year by FanGraphs' calculations.

However, improved outfield defense is only worth so much for the Cardinals. Collectively, theirs is a pitching staff that gets ground balls. Only Pittsburgh pitchers racked up more ground balls during the regular season.

Improved defense in the outfield would be particularly useless for Joe Kelly, who's lined up to pitch in Game 3 on Saturday. He's a ground-ball pitcher all the way; over half the batted balls against him in the regular season went on the ground.

Winning games with pitching and defense against the Red Sox may be a hopeless notion anyway. Their offense just withstood one of the most lethal starting pitching staffs ever assembled against the Tigers, so maybe it's no surprise that they weren't the least bit intimidated by Wainwright. He wasn't particularly sharp, but the Red Sox helped themselves by doing their thing and grinding out at-bats. The Cards ace was not immune to their pesky approach.

Can the Cardinals win the World Series without Beltran's offensive production?

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If the Red Sox could get to Adam Wainwright, then it's hardly far-fetched that they'll be able to get to Michael Wacha in Game 2 as well. And if the Sox are successful in getting to Wainwright and Wacha, then they'll certainly be able to get to Kelly and Lance Lynn.

Worse, the St. Louis bullpen's capacity to help might be more limited now after Mike Matheny thought it wise to give the Red Sox a look at John Axford, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez. Anything to keep Shelby Miller under wraps, it would seem.

Point being that the signs already say that the Cardinals are going to need their offense to be better in the World Series than it was in the NLDS and NLCS for the club to have a shot at its third World Series championship in the last eight years. 

If Beltran is at all hobbled by his injury, more offense is going to be a tall order. 

If Beltran is too hobbled to play at all, more offense might be too tall of an order.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

 

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