Allen Craig was one of the most prolific hitters for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. His production at the plate, specifically with runners in scoring position, was a key component in the successful season for the team. An injury in early September sidelined the first baseman, forcing the Cardinals to rely on young power hitter Matt Adams.
Adams has proven he can handle himself quite well at the plate and defensively at first base. His production during the last month of the season softened the blow of Craig's injury. Even without Craig, the Cardinals kept winning and found themselves headed to the postseason with the National League's best record.
The postseason brought a slightly different story for Matt Adams.
Through the second game of the World Series, Adams was struggling to produce, with only three extra-base hits in 49 at-bats and a paltry .245 batting average. His four runs batted in have left the Cardinals hoping for Craig's return before the 2013 season would come to a close.
The Cardinals' arrival to the World Series brought some hope regarding Craig. The series would begin in Boston and allow the team to utilize the designated hitter.
After multiple workouts after the close of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals announced that Craig would be healthy enough to help the club in the World Series. He would serve as the team's designated hitter in Boston and be a competent bat from the bench when the games shifted to St. Louis.
The Cardinals escaped Boston with a split of the first two games. Multiple sources, including MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, noted that Allen Craig was taking ground balls at first base during workouts when the team arrived back in St. Louis.
Does taking ground balls during workouts suggest that Craig is going to return to the lineup over Matt Adams? Langosch seems to think that we will know very soon:
But the Cardinals continue to work Craig in the field with their eyes set on Game 5, when Boston will next send a lefty to the mound. It would be an ideal time to plug Craig back into the starting lineup.
The Cardinals are anxious to have Craig's production back in the lineup but continue to progress slowly with the injury. They do not want to push Craig too quickly, but they do want to maximize their potential for a World Championship this season.
Craig has hit left-handed pitching better than Adams in 2013. Adams has posted a .231 batting average while not drawing a single walk against lefties this season. Craig, on the other hand, has produced a .779 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and a .278 batting average against lefties.
While MLB.com does not currently list an announced starter for Boston in Game 5, logic would suggest that Jon Lester would take the mound for the Red Sox. Lester kept the Cardinals off-balance in Game 1 of the World Series, including Adams and Craig. The duo combined for one hit and two strikeouts in eight at-bats against Lester in that game.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has said, according to the same Langosch article above, that Craig will be available both off the bench and as a defensive replacement in games due to the progress he has shown. Craig provides the team a new dimension of production from the bench and another weapon against left-handed pitching going forward.
At the very least, Craig offers a more intimidating pinch-hitting option than Shane Robinson late in the game.
A healthy Allen Craig could make all the difference for the St. Louis Cardinals.
All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
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