After coming through with a go-ahead RBI single off the bench in Games 1 and 2, Allen Craig is expected to start as the Cardinals’ right-fielder as the series shifts to Arlington. And with a pair of left-handers scheduled to start Games 3 and 4 for the Rangers, the addition of Craig’s stick into the Cardinals’ potent batting order couldn’t be better timed.
After nearly five years of raking his way through the Cardinals’ system—.885 OPS, .209 ISO in 2180 plate appearances—Craig made his big-league debut on April 8, 2010, and went on to appear in 44 games and post a .711 OPS in 114 at-bats.
Although Craig’s 2011 campaign was slightly marred by trips to the disabled list and serving as a bench player under Tony LaRussa, he was incredibly productive when in the lineup. In 219 plate appearances, Craig slashed .315/.362/.555 and posted a .158 wRC+ while playing all three outfield positions as well as second base – he finished the season with a 9.9 UZR/150.
Craig’s increased success at the plate can largely be attributed to a noticeable improvement at hitting offspeed pitches. Always regarded as a good fastball hitter, Craig struggled against all offspeed offerings in 2010 (-2.0 wSL, -0.9 wCB, and -1.7 wCH), but it was partially offset by a 3.0 wFB (total runs produced off of a fastball).
In 2011, however, Craig’s ability to hit offspeed pitches exponentially improved across the board: 1.3 wSL, 0.6 wCB, and 1.4 wCH. And while one might have anticipated his success rate against fastballs to suffer as a result, he managed to improve that as well (4.3 wFB).
So should Craig have started in both the Game 1 and 2? In my opinion, yes. But with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia pitching against a free-swinging team in cold weather, I understand that defense is even more of a premium and Nick Punto is the Cardinals’ best defensive second baseman.
Even though it will probably kill TLR that he can’t weave a pitcher into the batting order, the use of the designated hitter will allow Berkman to serve as the team’s professional hitter for the next three games, which in turn plugs Craig into right field.
This season, Craig absolutely mashed left-handed pitching — and even that might even be an understatement. In 67 at-bats, he posted a 1.000 OPS in addition to a .343 ISO and 175 wRC+. Therefore, the inclusion of DH has the potential to bolster the Cardinal offense. And while he’s already been a hero once (technically twice) this postseason, Allen Craig will have the opportunity to make a monumental impact on this series.