Craig's injury gives Matheny two hurdles -

Craig's injury gives Matheny two hurdles

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(BaseballStL) -- September is not without drama, especially in St. Louis. As Matt Adams pumped life into a listless offense, the Cardinals once again revived and energized the fan base and the clubhouse with a thrilling 16-inning win over the Reds Wednesday.

A casualty in the victory came in the fourth inning when Allen Craig rounded first and crumpled to the dirt after contorting his ankle in an inhuman fashion, installing the would-be-hero Adams at first.

Craig traveled to St. Louis for further examination after tests in Cincinnati proved inconclusive. He'll be out for at least 15 days and possibly longer than that.

Now things get really interesting. Adams can fill in capably at first, as his defense and his bat are that of an everyday first baseman. But Matheny will now face the challenge of spelling slugger Carlos Beltran without having the club's offense fall off a cliff.

Beltran, the club's home run leader, has been getting regular rest as Craig filled in for him and Adams took up duties at first.

Allen Craig highlights

His second half has seen a reduction in power, (four homers compared to 19 in the first half) though that's not unusual as pitchers catch up to hitters and players wear down over the course of the season.

36 is AARP-eligible by baseball standards, especially for outfielders, and Matheny has said the club will take a cautious approach with him down the stretch. They will need to keep him as rested as possible to maximize the remaining power in his bat, but what will they give up in return?

As Beltran rests, his replacements in the field now include:

Shane Robinson, who is hitting .341 since the break but has one extra base hit all season.

Adron Chambers who has two hits in 14 at-bats, and has had very little time to get settled in.

Brock Peterson who has the same stats as Chambers and plays first base usually.

Peterson hit 25 bombs in Memphis this year, so his power may surface at some point in the majors, but it's pretty clear the fill in duties are going to fall to Robinson.

With RBI machine Allen Craig sidelined and Beltran needing rest, the Cardinals will have to get creative in their run production. Holliday continues to club baseballs with the ferocity and abandon of Bam Bam, and Molina has been a consistent threat at the plate, but the Cards will sorely miss having another guy in the lineup that can gap a ball or put one in the stands.

Even if he doesn't hit one out, Beltran changes the complexion of games with his presence in the lineup. Pitchers must work around him or change their locations and mindset to avoid feeding him a grapefruit. Robinson doesn't inspire such quandaries.

While many observers have proclaimed the Cardinals "don't need the home run to win," recent evidence would prove otherwise. It was the homers of Holliday and Craig, and the two from Adams that toppled the Reds in the critical games of the two recent series.

In fact, the Redbirds win far more often when they hit a long ball, though that is the subject of a later column.

Following the final series with the Pirates, the Cardinals play out the season against what could generously be described as marginal teams. While those games shouldn't be anything close to the 17-game grind against playoff teams in recent weeks, they are games that must be won.

It's clear the NL Central will not be easily won, and the Reds are not going anywhere. The Cardinals must win and win often to ensure a favorable postseason berth, and losing Craig combined with Beltran needing regular PTO days will be an interesting hurdle for Matheny to overcome. 

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