Even with Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in Boston's Fenway Park, the St. Louis Cardinals may be getting an advantage that normally goes to the American League team—at designated hitter.
It is expected that the Cardinals will add Allen Craig, who has missed the past seven weeks with a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, to the 25-man roster for the final round of the postseason, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
Craig is one of St. Louis' best hitters, batting .315 with 29 doubles, 13 homers and a team- and career-high 97 RBI in only 134 games before suffering the injury on Sept. 4. His return to the lineup, even coming off such an extended absence, could be a huge lift for the team's offense.
The fact that the first two games are in the AL park actually benefits St. Louis in one way, as Langosch wrote:
With Craig, the Cardinals will have a legitimate designated hitter option for the first two games in Boston. It's an ideal fit for Craig, who has not resumed participating in defensive work. When the series shifts back to Busch Stadium next weekend, Craig will, in the least, be available off a bench that had been weakened by his absence.
There's even the possibility that Craig could return to his usual cleanup spot, according to manager Mike Matheny, who told Langosch the following:
I picture that he could do that. Now whether that's exactly what we're going to do, obviously we go through it all. The way he's looking right now, if he's able to be active, there's no reason why he couldn't be back in that spot. But there's no reason he has to, either. There are other guys who can fill that role.
Craig has been ramping up his baseball activities recently, and after the Cardinals clinched the NL pennant, he took at-bats in a simulated game setting against Shelby Miller and Tyler Lyons over the weekend, per Langosch.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch documented the session:
In winning the National League pennant by getting past the top pitching of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals—who led the Senior Circuit with 4.8 runs per game—averaged a full run per game less at only 3.8 over their 11 postseason contests. St. Louis has hit just .210/.285/.325 this October.
The Cardinals also have struggled in particular versus left-handed pitching during the playoffs, against whom they're sporting a measly .303 slugging percentage. They've had problems against southpaws all year long, with their .672 OPS versus lefties ranking fifth worst in the sport.
Adding in Craig's right-handed stick at DH for Games 1 and 2 (and 6 and 7, if needed) should not only help St. Louis' overall offensive shortcomings this month, but also give it a boost against the lefties Boston will throw at it—including Game 1 starter Jon Lester, the lone left-hander expected to start on either side.
Plus, Craig was the best in baseball with runners in scoring position this season, hitting an incredible .454 in such situations, so perhaps getting him back will pay off in a key spot. St. Louis hitters are batting a robust .286 with RISP this postseason, but it certainly can't hurt to add the clutch Craig to the mix.
Even if he's not 100 percent, with Craig available, the Cardinals will be much better off simply because they won't have to rely on, say, Shane Robinson or Daniel Descalso at DH. And let's face it: Those aren't exactly players who should be in the lineup for a World Series game, let alone as many as four.
With the Red Sox already having made it known that David Ortiz, their regular designated hitter, will play in the field when the Series shifts to St. Louis, that means usual first baseman Mike Napoli becomes the de facto DH. And as good as Napoli has been all year—he smashed two big home runs in the ALCS after hitting 23 homers and driving in 92 runs during the season—Craig has the ability to match that type of production.
As Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, via Langosch, "The thing is [with Craig], he is such a prolific hitter, it's definitely worth the chance."
And if Craig can be his usual prolific self, it might just give the Cardinals an edge where most NL teams usually come up short in the World Series.