The St. Louis Cardinals, barely hanging onto hope of securing one of the two National League wild card spots, can thank Allen Craig for keeping them in mix. The Red Birds came into the season having to replace the power and production that Albert (don’t call me “El Hombre”) Pujols usually supplied. Lance Berkman was expected to do a good amount of that, but as of August 1, he’s only been able to hobble up to the plate 85 times.
Craig, nicknamed The Wrench, himself was hobbled to start the year, not playing in a game the entire first month due to offseason knee surgery. When he finally did enter the lineup, all he did was hit (title of the next Skip Bayless YouTube hit). He’s got a .932 OPS in 235 at-bats (60 percent of the at-bats Pujols currently has). If you prorate his at-bats to put him at the plate roughly the same amount as Albert, he would have more doubles, home runs and walks than the former St. Louis first baseman. That’s saying something, because though Pujols started slow, he’s produced a 3.6 WAR to date.
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The major league average number of RBI for a player with 260 plate appearances (the number Craig has) is 28. Craig has driven in 51 runners. His OPS is a modest .889 with nobody on and jumps to 1.181 with runners in scoring position, hence the RBI total. With his knee issues finally behind him, he has the potential to accrue another 200+ plate appearances to finish up the year and fill up the stat sheet.
The Wrench hits righties and lefties. He can yank a ball down the line or get his hands inside a pitch a la The Captain himself (Derek Jeter). While he’s always had a good batting eye, his power has taken some years to develop (the most homers he hit in a season during college was 11). He owes a lot of his power production to his patience, working himself into favorable counts where pitchers are forced to come into his “hot zones” to get strikes. For Craig, his hot zone consists of basically the entire plate (image courtesy of FOX Sports).
The Pirates (offense) and Reds (lead off hitter, on base issues) have some glaring issues that will be exposed as the long month of August baseball is played out. The St. Louis Cardinals seem to have the balance of hitting and pitching needed to climb the ladder and jump into a playoff spot. If The Wrench, who proved his flair for the dramatic in the 2011 postseason, and his fellow tools can continue to hack up the pitching of divisional cellar-dwellers in the Cubs and Astros, they should find themselves right in the thick of things come October.