December 06, 2011
As reported Tuesday by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, outfielder Allen Craig(notes) had surgery to repair a fractured right kneecap just before Thanksgiving. Recovery from the procedure is expected to take four to six months, which puts Craig's availability for opening day in doubt.
The injury in question dates back to early June, when Craig crashed into a wall at Houston's Minute Maid Park. The fractured kneecap kept him out for nearly two months.
Craig struggled upon his return to the lineup, likely adjusting to playing with such an injury. In August, he hit .244/.238/.463 with two home runs and five RBIs in 42 plate appearances.
But Craig clearly got used to playing with his bad knee and figured something out in September. As the Cardinals were making their surge to overtake the Atlanta Braves for the NL wild card, he compiled an OPS of 1.056 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 55 plate appearances.
Craig was a standout in the postseason, as well, despite part-time playing status. He came through with several big hits during the team's championship run. In the first two games of the World Series versus the Texas Rangers, Craig knocked two pinch-hit RBI singles to put the Cards ahead. In fact, four of his RBI gave St. Louis the lead in the series. He also hit three home runs, giving him a pretty strong case for World Series MVP.
It was the kind of breakout performance that most role players ride into a starting job the following season. (Mitch Moreland(notes), for example.) But the Cardinals still had to find a regular spot for him in their lineup. If Pujols were to take Miami's megabucks, that would leave first base open. Lance Berkman(notes) could then move to first from right field and Craig could take that position.
The Cardinals already faced a difficult situation with the possibility of Pujols missing from their lineup. But without Craig to help fill the void until at least May, the task of filling that potential hole looks even more formidable.