Allen Craig to Return Tonight

click to enlarge Allen Craig to Return Tonight
The Cardinals have been one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball so far this season, ranking behind only three American League teams (who obviously have the benefit of the designated hitter), as far as OPS. In runs scored, the Atlanta Braves currently have an edge on the Cards for the top spot in the National League, but the underlying numbers suggest the Cardinals should score more than El Bravos going forward. 

Even with such a prolific offense, though, there are some concerns. Namely, you have to be a bit concerned about the injuries. We all knew it was a possibility coming into the season that such an old team could have trouble staying healthy. The injury to Lance Berkman hasn't sunk the ship yet, by any means, but when you're missing your best offensive player there's going to be a certain amount of falloff. 

The good news is that the Cardinals are actually set to get a big weapon back for their offensive attack tonight when Allen Craig rejoins the team. The man who could very well have won a World Series MVP last October if not for David Freese's pyrotechnic brilliance will add another power bat to a lineup already loaded with them, and the only real question is how Mike Matheny will choose to deploy his new piece of artillery. 

Craig played last night for the Memphis Redbirds as part of his rehab assignment, and he looks ready to come back. Well, his bat does anyway. He went 3-4 on the night with two, count 'em, two home runs and nine total bases. His OPS at the moment stands at 1.059. Better yet, the reports from Memphis on his knee have all been positive; he seems to have moved past the setback he suffered as the club tried to rush him back in spring training, hoping to have him on the Opening Day roster. 

The roster move to make space for Craig is going to be a very interesting one. Given the positions Craig plays -- corner outfield, a little third base, first -- the obvious choice to go down for Craig would be Matt Carpenter. Only problem with that is the fact Matt Carpenter is really good. You hate to send down a player who can actually contribute to the success of the team in a significant way. 

Beyond Carpenter, the two other seemingly obvious choices would be one of either Shane Robinson or Erik Komatsu. Robinson has played better so far and has the benefit of being a righty on a heavily left-handed bench, but Komatsu's Rule 5 status means the Cards would most likely lose him completely if they tried to send him to the minors. The Cardinals could always try to work out a trade for his rights, but it's a complication that could keep him in the big leagues all the same. 

There are two other options, as well: Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker. Tyler is out of options, and the Cardinals would lose him trying to send him down, much the same as with Komatsu, so I think they would be hesitant to do that. Maybe not, though. Matheny certainly seems to share roughly the same view of Greene as Tony La Russa did to this point; Tyler may be considered expendable. 

The final option, and the one that's never going to happen, unfortunately, would be Skip Schumaker. Schumaker has a place on this team seemingly as long as he wants it; the only problem is that he doesn't really bring anything to the table. He's an absolutely atrocious player if you try to stick him at second base, he doesn't play center well enough to stick over Komatsu or Robinson either one, and he doesn't hit well enough to justify keeping him on the roster to play a corner outfield spot, particularly now with both Craig and Carpenter available for the positions. Everything Skip does there is at least one other player on the roster who can do the same thing, except better. But, the thought of him being released just because he isn't contributing is a pipe dream, sadly. 

Personally, I think Robinson goes down for now. The club likes Komatsu enough I believe they will try to hold on to him at least for the moment, and letting Greene go would leave them very thin in the infield. Craig is better suite for an outfield spot, so I believe it will be an outfielder who gets sent out. 

Regardless of who the casualty is, getting Craig back into the fold has to be a positive for this team. An offense already showing itself as quite deadly could be that much more dangerous now. And it's tough not to be excited at the thought of what that could mean. 
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