More than a year ago, when the St. Louis Cardinals signed Lance Berkman, I predicted that John Mozeliak might just be looking at that as a longer-term move, giving him the freedom of playing contract hardball with Albert Pujols, if necessary.
Well, more than a year later, here we are. Berkman is at first base instead of right field and Pujols is … er, struggling, to put it mildly, as I have described in detail. (My theory? A mix of “pressing,” the absence of the Tony La Russa security blanket, and still getting up to speed on American League pitching.)
So, up until earlier this week, it sounded good. Berkman was doing well, second-tier free agent Carlos Beltran was leading the National League in homers, and despite Adam Wainwright having a poor regular-season return from Tommy John surgery (except AFTER I bench him in my fantasy league), the pitching staff looked great.
Well, not so fast.
Berkman’s on the DL for the second time. So is Matt Carpenter, who had been doing solid short-term replacement work for him. Beltran’s historically balky legs are looking a bit balky. Allen Craig’s return from the DL has been pushed back. That means it's hard to give Beltran a lot of rest. While Yadier Molina is having a great year for average, he’s not a big bopper for power. If Beltran gets hurt, or simply struggles, that leaves just David Freese, who so far in his career has been a walking injury machine.
Meanwhile, the pitching will surely show some regression to the mean.
So, what will the remaining six furlongs reveal?
Before the start of the season, I predicted that the Cards, even with the second wild card, would not make the playoffs this year. Add in that Berkman is now facing surgery for at least a torn meniscus, and possibly an ACL to boot, and trouble looms; preliminary word has him out until the end of July at the earliest. I may turn out to be wrong, especially if Matt Holliday stays healthy all year and lights up, but I’ll still stand by it as a reasonable proposition.
Let's also not forget that he and Waino are on the far side of 30, too. Beltran's at 35. So, rebuilding may be coming up in years ahead.