It seems crazy to think about considering how wrecked by injuries the Cardinals have been all season, but they could be on the verge of having too many quality hitters to fit into the lineup.
Lance Berkman is nearing a return from knee surgery and looks likely to come off the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break, so assuming the rest of the Cardinals’ hitters can stay healthy in the meantime manager Mike Matheny will have a decision to make regarding Allen Craig.
Craig has been filling in for Berkman as the Cardinals’ primary first baseman, with Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran playing the outfield corners and Jon Jay in center field. Matheny could shift Beltran to center field on occasion, opening up right field for Craig, or he could take an even bigger hit defensively by using Craig at second base over the three-headed monster of Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Skip Schumaker.
Because of Beltran’s legs and Craig’s glove neither of those options are ideal, but when Craig is hitting .322 with 13 homers, 11 doubles, and a 1.046 OPS in 40 games–including two homers last night and four homers in his last 16 at-bats–it’s awfully tough to bench him. He’ll come back down to earth a bit at some point, but Craig has now logged 518 career plate appearances–slightly less than one full season’s worth of playing time–and has hit .300 with 28 homers, 33 doubles, and a .909 OPS.
Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area hints that the Giants may be done with outfielder Hunter Pence. It’s not clear just how seriously the club is contemplating such a decision, but there are six days remaining on Pence’s rehab assignment, at which point they’ll be able to recall him, reassign him to the minors or release him.
The 35-year-old outfielder has struggled to make a full recovery after spraining his right thumb during the first week of the season. Pence bounced back for a 17-game run with the Giants in April, during which he slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 with one double and one stolen base in 61 plate appearances, but was eventually placed on the disabled list with recurring soreness in his finger. He currently sports a promising .318/.359/.388 batting line with four extra-base hits (including a grand slam) over 92 PA in Triple-A Sacramento.
Despite his recent resurgence in Triple-A, the Giants may not need the additional outfield depth just yet. Mac Williamson, who was recalled in the wake of Pence’s DL assignment, has already cemented the starting role in left field and is off to a strong start at the plate as well. Of course, if the Giants decide to say a premature goodbye to their veteran outfielder (who, it should be said, helped them to two World Series championships over the last seven seasons), it’ll cost them the remaining balance on his $18.5 million salary for 2018.