If the St. Louis Cardinals can beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and make it to the National League Championship Series they're going to have to find a way to get past some very good pitchers without the help of slugging first baseman and outfielder Allen Craig.
While I have held out hope that the Redbirds would somehow get him well enough to at least be a threatening pinch hitter in the later rounds of the post season, according to a radio interview of St. Louis GM John Mozeliak, Craig is very unlikely to play again before spring training.
That stinks because, while he is a low key guy who sometimes slips beneath the radar, Craig is an extremely productive hitter who makes the whole Cardinals lineup better when he is in it. He's got to be the least publicized .315-hitting, 97-run-driving-in guy in the major leagues. And, if he was at least available off the bench, the Birds might be able to keep their opponent's lefty relievers on the bullpen bench.
Matt Adams has done a great job filling in for Craig at first base. He hit .326 with eight home runs over the last month of the season. But, forced to face a steady diet of lefty relievers, he's hitting .267 in the playoffs. I'm not sure if its all the southpaws or something else. But normally productive lefty leadoff man Matt Carpenter has seen his season average of .318 shrink to .067 this post season and fellow lefty Jon Jay is hitting about 100 points less than he did in the regular season with a .154 mark in the playoffs. Always a problem for the Cardinals, left handed hurlers are really taking liberties with a team that has no righty presence to fear from the bench.
I know they're reluctant to move away from their strengths. But the Cardinals need to start taking advantage of the defensive shifts their opponents play against them. When baserunners are at a premium, it would make sense for Adams and Carlos Beltran to sacrifice power potential and slap or bunt the ball the other way. The Redbirds can't count on home runs to win games. They were fortunate Matt Holliday hit a two-run shot Monday. But that's all the scoring and it would have gone to waste had Michael Wacha not pitched out of his mind and held the Pirates to one run.
Half of the Cardinals scoring this post season came in one inning. They need to diversify the offense and adapt to their depleted lineup if they're going to keep going.