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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Allen “The Cat” Craig Eyes Return…

Allen Craig looks to rejoin the big league roster Tuesday, and judging by his performance at Memphis Monday night, he’s more than ready. In what is likely his last minor league start, the right-handed fill-in first baseman went three for four with two home runs and five RBIs as the Redbirds went on to win five to four against the Iowa Cubs. All signs indicate the St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t be happier.

After struggling to score with runners in scoring position (RISP), the big club is looking for help in the middle of the order. The absence of Lance Berkman has meant the burden of protecting three-hole hitter Matt Holliday has fallen to Carlos Beltran. Beltran is hitting .182 with RISP. Matt Holliday is hitting .185 with RISP. And yet Mike Matheny has indicated he won’t alter the heart of the St. Louis batting order when Craig returns.

While Craig projects as an effective number two hitter – surely Matheny won’t bury him in the seven spot – I have to wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser to stick Craig in the clean-up role and return Beltran to his familiar position in front of Holliday. The two featured hitters haven’t been doing each other any favors lately. As it stands, the three and four hitters are the two worst hitters with RISP among the starting eight position players. And it’s not even close.

But not everyone is struggling. De facto first baseman Matt Carpenter is hitting a team best (among players with at least 15 RISP ABs) .412 with RISP in 17 ABs. Of course, Carpenter looks to return to the bench – at best – with the activation of Allen Craig from the disabled list. It reminds me of when Skip Schumaker was sent down to AAA mid-season to make room for another reactivated player. At the time, Tony La Russa remarked, “We must be doing pretty good when we can send our best hitter to AAA.” (I’m roughly paraphrasing).

Let’s hope Craig’s bat spurs a stagnant RISP offense in the month of May.

Chris Carpenter may be getting closer. Reports about Carp’s progress are restrained to say the least with no one in the media or the organization willing to project a throwing program time table. His arm is apparently stronger, but whether or not the big right-hander is close to even playing catch is still a mystery. But one indicator may provide a bit of insight. Recent rumors of negotiations between Roy Oswalt and the Cardinals seem to have cooled. I can’t believe this means the Cards are committed to Lance Lynn all season. The big hard-baller has been stellar, but his arm won’t likely hold up all season long. Perhaps that means Mozeliak and crew are encouraged enough out of Carp’s progress thus far to settle in with what’s at hand rather than drop money on Roy-O. But at this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

Bryce Harper sure looks impressive. I’m usually pretty hesitant with praise for highly-touted players – especially when they’re only 19 – but this kid looks like the real thing. He’s knows what to do with an at-bat, the ball flies off his bat, and the rookie can flat-out run. Plus, in his debut, he got to flash a bit of that accurate arm by nearly throwing out a runner at the plate (and would have if Ramos had held onto the ball). A glance at the highlights today even showed him catching a ball by running into the wall. With Harper and Strasburg, the Nationals look like they may have finally found the young core they’ve been waiting for.

What in the world is going on with Heath Bell? After watching him hang out with fans in his Yoda back-pack at the All-Star Game, Bell quickly became one of my favorite pitchers to watch. Dude is just a likeable guy. But I’m guessin’ Marlins fans aren’t liking him much right now. The guy just looks utterly lost and ineffective on the mound in Miami. After the new-look Marlins shelled out big bucks for a big name closer, the big guy just isn’t gettin’ it done. I saw a side-by-side comparison on MLB Network that suggested Bell’s issue is a shortened stride towards the plate resulting in horrendous control and command. It sure looked like it in their clips, but what do I know? Sure would be nice to see Bell get back on track. He’s just the kind of guy I love to root for.

I know Jon Jay was a fan favorite long before he was a regular, but who could really say they predicted he would be the near-impact player he seems to be turning into? The guy is a valuable commodity in center, and his bat is only getting better with every AB he takes against Major League pitching. But this season, he seems to be taking his game to a new level. Maybe it’s newly discovered confidence from being handed the starting CF job, or maybe it’s just a new level of comfort born out of being slotted in as a starter instead of scratching and clawing for playing time. Whatever it is, it sure is good to see a difference maker in center for the Cardinals again.

Wrap-Up!

That’s going to do it for today. The Cardinals return to action against the Pirates tonight – it’s still odd to check the P-D and NOT see a “Pujols Pummels Pirates in PNC” story – and the Cardinals’ injury train seems to be reversing course with the potential return of Allen Craig. Should be a fun time in the Steel City tonight!

GO CARDS!!!

P.S. Hi, Terry! Good to see ya’! Hope we kick the ever-lovin’ you-know-what outta’ your Pirates! 😉

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