The Cardinals probably don’t win the World Series a year ago if not for Rafael Furcal. Now they’ll attempt to win it again without him.
The shortstop was placed on the disabled list Friday and will likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The All-Star suffered the injury on Friday night while making a throw to second base.
Furcal got off to a hot start at the plate in April and May but saw his numbers go down fast – and they never stopped dropping. The switch-hitter batted just .215 since June 1 and was recently dropped down to No. 8 in the batting order. He hit .264 in ?? games overall.
But while his departure from the lineup may not be felt as much offensively, the 34-year-old will surely be missed in the field. The slick-fielding Furcal helped stabilize the Cardinals defense up the middle when he arrived at the trading deadline last year and he was doing more of the same in 2012.
Furcal, who surprisingly hasn’t won a Gold Glove in his 13-year career, has been a huge asset for the groundball oriented Cardinals pitching staff. While not providing much lately at the plate, he’s more than made up for it by saving runs with his glove.
The shortstop also provides an emotional element in the clubhouse that will now be missed. Furcal coined the now famous phrase, ‘Happy Flight’ when he arrived last summer and routinely plays music and makes noise in the Cardinals locker room. He’ll likely still be around. Whether or not he’s his usual self remains to be seen.
So what do the Cardinals do from here? That’s where things get tricky. At first glance of their system, shortstop appears to be the one position where they don’t have a talented prospect on the horizon or ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
Utility infielder Dan Descalso, who has played mostly at second base this year, figures to get the majority of the playing time at short. He’s considered an above-average fielder like Furcal but is hitting just .221 on the season. His move to short would leave Skip Schumaker as the primary candidate for playing time at second.
The Cardinals promoted former first round pick Pete Kozma from Triple-A on Friday to take Furcal’s spot on the roster. Kozma started at shortstop and batted eighth, going 0-for-2 before being removed in a double switch.
But adding Kozma to the mix didn’t exactly send shockwaves through the rest of the National League. He was hitting just .232 in 131 games at Triple-A and has a career .236 average in six seasons in the minor leagues. He’s a defensive specialist and likely won’t see significant playing time.
Shortstop Ryan Jackson had been with the big league club for a few weeks while Lance Berkman was out but he returned to Memphis to get regular playing time before their season ends next week. He’ll be back in a few days, but had just one hit in eight at-bats and also projects as more of a defensive shortstop.
With Descalso Jackson and Kozma as the three options to replace Furcal down the stretch, the Cardinals might not be in as bad of shape as it appears. Furcal wasn’t providing much offensively for several weeks so filling his void with a defensive-minded shortstop won’t change much.
As the calendar turns to September Saturday and the Cardinals look to hold off the Pirates and Dodgers for the second wild card spot, losing Furcal certainly doesn’t help their chances of getting back to the playoffs. But they’ve got no choice but to hope the trio of young players can make do. And that the rest of the offense starts hitting.