The St. Louis Cardinals have wondered aloud for the last six months about where Oscar Taveras would fit into the playing time puzzle.
Who would lose playing time to make room for Taveras?
Barring a major, unforeseen trade for an offensive infusion, the only hope for the Redbirds to turn their offensive woes around is to create a spark in the clubhouse by letting Taveras, Allen Craig, Matt Adams and Jon Jay compete for playing time.
It seems to work for Jon Jay. Every time the Cardinals try to give his job to someone else, he plays better than anyone expects to earn additional playing time. The team can only hope that Craig responds to the potential loss of playing time the same way. It's doubtful that he's going to get to play every day against righthanded pitchers as long as Adams continues to hit over .300.
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I'm puzzled by what has happened to Craig. At the start of this season he had a .306 career batting average. He hit 22 home runs in only 122 games in 2011 and seemed easily capable of 25-30 in a full season. But last year he managed only 13 homers in 134 games. And his pace this year is worse than that. Beyond the halfway point of the season, he has six.
Where did the power go? Have the injuries sapped his home run stroke? The guy is only 29 years old, which seems to early for his bat speed and eyesight to significantly degrade. But he seems to be fooled a lot more often by pitches these days. When he's not swinging and missing, Craig is pounding the ball into the dirt when he used to spray it into the outfield gaps.
The most encouraged I have been by his swing this season came a couple of weeks ago when Craig started hitting the ball hard on a line to the right center power alley. It seemed for about a week that he was really dialed in. But that momentum has disappeared and Craig is back to lunging at the ball like he's decided to swing before it's even delivered.
For whatever reason, Craig is a completely different player at Busch Stadium than he is on the road.
In St. Louis this season he is batting .294 with 4 homers and 24 RBIs. His on base percentage is .349 and his slugging percentage is .451. On the road he's a .218 hitter with two homers, a .264 on base percentage and a .291 slugging percentage.
Just because Taveras has been added to the roster doesn't mean the veterans get to stop pulling the rope. The best case scenario is that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny struggles to find a place to play all of his red hot hitters. But right now most Cardinals fans would settle for having enough productive players on the roster that there weren't 2-3 guys in the lineup every day who are ice cold.