Friday, May 18, 2012

Injuries Becoming a Concern for Ailing Redbirds

The good news:  The Cardinals have more than just a few players who are absolutely raking this season.

The bad news:  Most of them are injured; from day-to-day hamstring and/or knee issues to major shoulder issues which have them on the DL.

The latest casualty is Allen Craig, who got a late start to the season to begin with; in just 13 games, the unheralded Cardinal slugger had already driven in 19 runs; featuring five home runs and these amazing slash stats:  .373 BA/.424 OBP/.765 SLG.

That type of production is ridiculous, which if played out over 162 games, would produce a mere 237 RBI and 62 HR.  Unfortunately, Craig and that potent bat is heading back to the DL with hamstring issues, so Hack Wilson's 82-year old MLB-record 191 RBI seems secure.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, after splitting a two-game series with the Giants in San Francisco, the Cardinals lost the first game of a three-game series Friday night in LA (6-5) with a Dodgers team that rarely loses at home; even without all-world slugger Matt Kemp in the lineup (bad hamstring).  Obviously, if ever there was a time to capitalize on a very good Dodger team playing at Chavez Ravine, this weekend would seem to be the best opportunity available.  Chances are, a healthy Allen Craig in the Cardinals lineup may have provided just enough extra offense to turn that unsettling defeat into a victory.  I'm not complaining; just making an observation which millions of Cardinals fans have already made by now.  I also realize had Matt Kemp not been hurt, he probably would've made that one-run loss a two or three-run loss.

Despite their recent struggles, the Redbirds have in fact, displayed remarkable resiliency in the early going; first, overcoming Chris Carpenter's absence from the starting rotation with Lance Lynn's nearly flawless work more (in his first six starts) than taking up the slack; his two most recent outings have been not-so-hot; proving that he is human, after all.

For the most part, pitching has been a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals in the early going; although showing signs of weakness lately.  Without a healthy and effective Carp added to the equation pretty quickly, the second half of the season could be filled with peril; to say the least.  Yet the reality is, even if he returns sometime around the All Star break, chances are he'll be less than sharp.  Chances are he'd need several starts before he regains any semblance of the form he's had throughout his career.  In other words, this may be a lost season for the 37-year old Redbird pitching icon.

If the Cardinals have any realistic chance of defying the odds to repeat as World Champions, it may be the result of out-slugging their postseason opponents.  That's never an easy task when facing the best two or three starters on the top teams in baseball.  Certainly, the type of offensive production the Cardinals have displayed so far this year has been jaw-dropping; to say the least.  Thanks to the depth and versatility on the roster, the Redbirds have been able to maintain that strong offensive pace, even as the injuries to key players begin to mount; almost on a daily basis.

Manager Mike Matheny has already been faced with the on-going challenge of juggling his lineup, to fill the voids when the regulars are out of commission.  For the most part, these temporary substitutes have performed admirably.  However; sooner or later, the big guys will have to step up and grind it out, day in and day out, if the Cardinals are going to continue their potent offensive attack.  Heck, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman* could probably roll out of bed on Christmas Day and hit a 95-mile-per-hour fastball out of any MLB ballpark.  However, if they're physically unable to run the bases, or field their positions because their legs just won't allow it; St Louis could be facing nearly insurmountable odds this time around; perhaps even longer odds than they were able to overcome last season.

*Just to validate this supposition, Berkman entered Friday's game as a pinch hitter, with the Cards trailing 5-4 in the top of the ninth-inning, and promptly hit a game-tying home run.  Strangely enough, this was the third time within a week that the Cardinals rallied to tie a game, only to lose it in the end.

Getting back to the issue at hand; I truly believe this team has the potential of not only repeating their World Series success from last year; they have the potential of being regarded as the one of the best teams in franchise history.

That's saying a lot.  However, this is a team loaded with talent; possibly the best talent in MLB; all they need to do is keep their core players in the lineup on a consistent basis.  Easier said than done; but I'm always an optimist, when it comes to the Redbirds; especially after witnessing all those improbable events from last season that led to Number Eleven.

There's little doubt about it; injuries are becoming a concern for this somewhat battered bunch of Redbirds as May gradually runs into June.  There are many unanswered questions concerning the long-term health for several key players.  If those questions are answered favorably -and only time will tell - this team could be fulfilling Cardinal Nation's long-standing rallying cry:  "12 in '12!"

If not; then they'll still give it a good run.  Regardless of how this season plays out in the standings, one thing is certain:  The Cardinals are a team of character; a team of resolve.  They'll play hard every inning of every game.  Win or lose, their fans will appreciate the ride; as always.

I just wish we could have a little more luck with injuries over the remaining 75% of the schedule.  That's not asking for too much, is it?

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