The ripple effect with the loss of David Freese

As we all know by now, David Freese is out with a broken hand that will be surgically repaired today.  Cards GM John Mozeliak says Freese will be out 9-12 weeks.  In 2010, the Cardinals suffered a great deal by the loss of Freese.  The lineup had too many easy outs in a row, too many predictable innings.  So far in 2011, aside from the first week, the Cardinals offense has been on a tear that has kept them afloat, and in the lead in the NL Central.

As soon as the Cardinals figure out how to win in one run games, things will get even better.  I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about the team so far this year.  In one regard, you could say the Cardinals should be 5 games better than they are if they had a reliable closer.  In another, you feel like the Cardinals are ok since Chris Carpenter is winless in 6 starts and Albert Pujols is hitting .241. 

I figure that the lineup is going to balance itself out.  Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are not going to continue to hit around .400, and Pujols is going to get on a hot streak soon enough.  Colby Rasmus is struggling as of late, but I think he’s going to finish around .300 with a great OBP.

Getting back to the loss of David Freese, I wonder just how big of a loss it will be.  It all depends on how Tony LaRussa fills the gap at 3rd base.  While I feel that the Cardinals need to put someone in there that has power potential, I’m not so sure that’s going to be the play for LaRussa, and their lies the problem.  How many games can the Cardinals win with a lineup that features singles hitters in the 6 through 1 holes in the order, and what does that do to the production of Lance Berkman hitting 5th?

Berkman has been ripping the cover off the ball, but that is likely to change if Yadier Molina, Daniel Descalso, Nick Punto or Tyler Greene is hitting behind him instead of David Freese.  So yes, I think it changes the outlook of the team big time.  Opposing pitchers will pitch around Berkman, and put the pressure on the bottom half of the Cardinals order.

So what does Tony LaRussa need to do?  In my opinion, the only real option is to give Allen Craig or Matt Carpenter the AB’s at 3rd base.  Putting Craig there would appear to sacrifice the defense, but the Cardinals are not going to win in 2011 with defense anyway.  I’m not saying defense is now irrelevant, but I’d rather give someone with a strong offensive background a chance at it before it’s declared a failure.  We already have below defenders at SS, 2B and RF.  Berkman is clearly more than making up for the few bad plays he has made in the field.  Let’s see if Craig or Carpenter can do the same.  Craig has played some 3rd base in the minors.

The thought of Rasmus-Pujols-Holliday-Berkman-Freese hitting 2-6 was an exciting possibility before the season began.  After Holliday returned from his appendectomy, we saw what that lineup was capable of.  The loss of Adam Wainwright was serious blow and left a lot of us in doubt.  But I feel now after watching the team for a month that his loss is going to be felt even more with the loss of Freese.  The Cardinals do not have another starter that can dominate a game on a regular basis with long outings, sparing the bullpen.  The Cards have been able to minimize the effect because of some strong performances in the bullpen by Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Mitchell Boggs.  As good as they have been though; they have pitched a lot of innings.  If the starters don’t start going longer, our bullpen strengths are going to get exposed, and the Cardinals are going to need to score late in games.

The need to score late in games doesn’t look as promising without David Freese in the lineup.  Again, without Freese, Berkman doesn’t get as many opportunities.  LaRussa needs to put another threat in the lineup at 3rd to put fear in opposing pitchers, and make them continue to pitch to Berkman.  No one really knows how Craig or Carpenter might do at 3rd until given the chance.  Now is not the time for the Cardinals to wait and see and not take a chance.

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