Lance Berkman’s knee injury creates a lot of questions for Cards but also his career

If the St. Louis Cardinals are to successfully defend their World Series title, they'll  have to do so without Lance Berkman.

That's the word from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss, who reports the first baseman believes he may have torn the ACL in his right knee during Saturday's game at Dodger Stadium. Berkman will undergo an MRI on Monday to see if the news is as bad as he expects it could be.

If Berkman's worst fears are indeed true, it obviously deals a serious blow to the Cardinals. Though St. Louis sustained Berkman's previous 21-game visit to the DL and got off to a 22-19 start — good enough for first place in the NL Central — losing the 36-year-old slugger for the entire year would be a much different story. Lose Berkman for the rest of 2012 and it suddenly becomes much more imperative for players like Rafael Furcal, Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn to continue the hot starts that have allowed the Cardinals to earn a run-differential of +57, best in the National League and second in the majors to the Rangers.

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That's not to say the Cardinals can't overcome such a big injury. If they won the 2011 World Series title without Adam Wainwright atop the rotation, they can win in 2012 without Berkman. But it's going to take Allen Craig getting (and staying) healthy so he can replicate at least some of the numbers that Berkman (and Albert Pujols before him) posted at first. It'll also take Carlos Beltran continuing to be the Lance Berkman of 2012 — the smart and value-laden free-agent pickup who posts a top-1o MVP finish.

Putting the Cardinals' chances aside, a more melancholy question might be whether the last image we'll see as Berkman the player will be of him being helped off the field at Dodger Stadium. He tore the same ACL in 2005 and isn't at the point of his career where such a rehab will be easy. Since he's always contended that he doesn't want to finish his career as a full-time DH, perhaps the broadcasting booth — where he's almost guaranteed to be a hit — will look a little more attractive.

Berkman talked about his future in the Post-Dispatch: 

"If I've torn my ACL or something like that, I'd certainly get it fixed. But you don't know how psychologically you're going to come back from something like that," said Berkman, 36. "I'm not talking from the standpoint of being scared of hurting it again. I'm talking about doing everything it takes to come back and play again at an elite level. I think that's a legitimate question I'm going to have to answer if, in fact, it turns out to be something more serious than we hope it is."

But if Berkman does get the bad news confirmed at some point on Monday, at least he'll receive it after finally earning a World Series ring by being one of the title team's main cogs. There's a reason why so many baseball fans are down after hearing this news and most of it has to do with that awesome 2011 — .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs — that he posted after most people thought his career was more or less over.

Let's hope he has one more surprise left in his tank.

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