Allen Craig has to start hitting. If he does not, or cannot, then Craig’s slump will continue to weigh down a St. Louis Cardinals team that has aspirations of a World Series Championship this season.
If there has been one constant about the Cardinal offense the past two seasons it has been Craig. The man who replaced the irreplaceable Albert Pujols, led the league in hitting with runners in scoring position, and was the poster boy for all that is right with St. Louis Cardinals organization, is now a symbol for what is going wrong. He is a product of the Cardinals farm system, he hit the ball hard and to all fields and he drove in a lot of runs. At least he used to.
Craig has now gone eight straight games without an RBI and has been been remarkably unproductive thus far and though it is still April his stats speak volumes but do not tell the whole story on Craig. For all of his poor numbers, .179 batting average, one home run and five RBI, Craig is not hitting the ball well. It is not just that he his low batting average, Craig has not made good contact all season, is hitting a disproportionate amount of ground balls and as at times had trouble getting the ball out of the infield.
This likely can be attributed to tinkering with his swing while in the midst of slump but Craig has made a name for himself in Major League Baseball by driving the ball, hitting line drives and driving in runs as well as anyone. At the moment though, he looks over matched and lost at the plate. It is not a coincidence that the Cardinals offense is also slumping.
Craig protects Matt Holliday, drives in Matt Carpenter and keeps runners on base for Yadier Molina and Matt Adams. It would be silly to blame one player for an entire teams’ problems at the plate, but know this. Allen Craig is the straw that stirs the drink in the St. Louis Cardinal offense. The man who replaced Pujols is finding his bat is just as important.
It is a too soon to panic and change the roster of the defending National League Champions, but it is not too early to start contemplating the possibility. The Cardinals have been lauded for some time now about the young pitching coming through their minor league system and justifiably so. They have depth on the mound and it shows. If someone gets hurt someone else steps up without a drop in performance for the most part. See Trevor Rosenthal for Jason Motte, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly for Chris Carpenter.
The Cardinals now have a outfiield in AAA Memphis that is drawing similar comparisons. Or potential comparisons. Currently Cardinal General Manager can find three highly regarded prospects in Oscar Tavares, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk that are all hitting the ball well in Memphis. Just as Mozeliak expected them to.
Tavares is considered the best prospect in the Cardinals system since Pujols and one of the top five in all of minor league baseball. He has overcome the injuries that sidelined him much of last season and is beginning to blossom again. Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny referred to Piscotty as this season’s Michael Wacha. Meaning Piscotty is close to being in the major leagues and close to being a star.
So how long will Mozeliak wait to remedy a roster that is not hitting? This is not a rebuilding project. From ownership to fans this team is expected to contend. Do not be surprised if Mozeliak shakes things up sooner rather than later.
That shakeup could very well include a slumping Craig, an impotent offense and a Memphis Redbird outfielder currently biding his time. Stay tuned.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Today