The Cardinals didn’t even have Lance Berkman back for a full week’s worth of games -- he started in just five of seven games -- before a troubling knee injury forced him back to the DL. Wasn't Berkman supposed to stay healthier after moving back to first base?
Berkman’s 2011 season was so remarkable a repeat going to be tough to achieve. To Berkman’s credit, when he’s been healthy enough to play, he’s hit, so the Cards’ offseason decision to reinvest in him after letting Albert Pujols walk away makes as much sense as ever.
The real problem is a question of timing. Losing Berkman (again) mimics the Cards’ experience with getting back and then losing Allen Craig. If Berkman was supposed to be the key bopper in the middle of the lineup, Craig is supposed to be the one-size-fits-all solution to any problem at the corners. Now, with Craig and Berkman down, and starting center fielder Jon Jay out, suddenly St. Louis isn’t just down their best bat or their ninth regular bat. They are now forced to rely again on their third- or fourth-best choice for first base.
And here, as it was earlier this season, they aren’t in the worst situation. Thanks to a farm system that has cranked out so many quality supporting players, a product of their outstanding blend of scouting and statistical evaluation on the player development front. Matt Carpenter's .853 OPS might be better than expected, but it reflects the quality of the bat that was his meal ticket in the first place. After Berkman’s latest trip to the DL, the Cards summoned up 2009 23rd-rounder Matt Adams, another example of their success drafting in the mid to late rounds during Jeff Luhnow’s tenure as head of player development.
With Jay out, they're using four outfielders in a temporary platoon situation. Skip Schumaker moving back from second base is reasonable enough as fixes go, and it provides the Cards with a conveniently timed defensive improvement in the infield. More natural infielders, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene, will replace Schumacker. Picking him up against lefties will be fourth outfielder aspirant Shane Robinson. The Cards won’t get top offense out of this platoon, but they won’t get much less from what they should have expected from Jay over the course of the season. There also shouldn’t be too steep a defensive penalty to pay.
What they’re getting from the center fielders won’t make up for what they’ve lost with having to replace both Berkman and Craig at first base, however. The organizational depth that has served them so well this early reflects their overall strength, but the Cardinals can’t afford to lose hitters as good as Berkman and Craig and not expect to miss a few beats on offense. Now that they’ve come back to the pack, the longer this offensive shortcoming lasts, the longer it should tell over time.