ST. LOUIS – It’s understandable for Allen Craig to fly under the radar while batting in a lineup that includes Matt Holliday, David Freese and All-Stars Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal.
But had Craig not missed so many games due to injury earlier this season, he’d probably have better number than all of them.
Craig has quietly had a remarkable season for the Cardinals, hitting .322 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI entering Tuesday’s tilt with the Colorado Rockies. But he’s done it while playing in just 40 of the Cardinals 80 games so far.
“I am trying to make up for lost time,” Craig said. “Being on the DL is not fun but I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities when I’m out there playing.”
The talented slugger has done just that, putting up All-Star worthy numbers in nearly half the amount of time as the rest of the league. He’s only four RBI behind National League MVP favorite Joey Votto and has just one fewer home run.
Holliday, Molina and Freese all also have 13 home runs for the year. But they’ve done it in 296, 265 and 276 at-bats respectively. Craig has taken just 152 at-bats.
“Allen has been impressive,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “We just need to keep him healthy and keep him out there.”
Craig played with a fractured kneecap during the postseason last year and hit three home runs in the World Series to help the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers. His home run and run-saving catch at the wall in left helped the Cardinals win Game 7.
But Craig had surgery in November to repair his knee and didn’t make his season debut until May 1. He landed on the disabled list just two weeks later with a hamstring injury before returning on June 1.
Despite the two-week absence, Craig’s numbers are some of the best in baseball since he debuted on May 1. His 43 RBI are third in the National League during that span and his 13 home runs are sixth.
He’s first in the N.L. with a 3.53 at-bat-to RBI ratio, which according to FOX Sports Midwest producer Tim Trokey would be the smallest in baseball since Barry Bonds had a 3.47 mark in 2001. He’s got more RBI than games played, a crazy number for the midway point of the season.
“Honestly I don’t think about that stuff too much,” Craig said. “I just try to take every at-bat serious and I don’t think about the RBI stuff. I just focus on what I’m doing out there and sticking to my approach and not trying to do too much. That’s really what I try to do. Take every at-bat like it’s my last.
“I feel like I’m in a good spot. I’m going out there and having fun. I’m trying to learn what pitchers are trying to do with me and talking with Big Mac and John Mabry a lot on my approach and my swing and stuff and I feel like its helping me a lot. It’s a long season and I know there’s a long way to go.”
One of the impressive traits about Craig’s season has been his consistency. His batting average has been above .300 the entire season and he’s rarely looked lost at the plate.
But one of the few rough patches came in mid-June, when Craig hit just .175 with one home run and two RBI during an 11-game stretch from June 9 to June 21. He realized pitchers were throwing him more sliders and he was forced to make adjustments.
And whatever he did worked. Craig entered Tuesday hitting .364 in nine games since and has five home runs, 15 RBI and nine runs scored during that span to raise his average back to .322. Slump? What slump?
“He makes adjustments well,” Matheny said. “He’s not a guy that seems to have glaring holes. You pitch him one way consistently and he’s going to make the adjustment. He stays through the ball. He sees the ball well. He has a nice swing path and he generates a lot of power. It’s really a dangerous combination.”
Asked if Craig would have been considered for the All-Star team had he not missed so much time, Matheny said, “I would imagine. His numbers now are still pretty impressive with what he’s been able to do, and he still seems to be getting better.”
Craig, who turns 28 next week, has been so impressive that rehabbing first baseman Lance Berkman joked that he may be limited to pinch-hit duty when he returns.
While the Cardinals may have a lineup dilemma on their hands, Craig figures to get plenty of playing time regardless. The way he’s hit, Matheny doesn’t have much of a choice.