What the St. Louis Cardinals Did and Didn't Get This Year

Lance Berkman is helped off the field by Mike Matheny and the man who's responsible for cloning the Cardinals' injury-prone veterans.

Lance Berkman is back on the disabled list, for the third time this year. He's played about a month this year, and as rickety as he's looked he hit about as well as we could have reasonably expected back before 2011—.267/.389/.467, a 132 OPS+. It's wins the Cardinals won't get back, but that's been easy to forget, since the Cardinals have managed to find multiple players up to the task of playing almost exactly like Lance Berkman in the months since.

As much as the Cardinals' struggles this year have been predicated on what they've done in spite of their great run differential, they should've been kept, in multiple areas, from increasing that differential further.

Berkman is the clearest example, if only because he keeps showing up for a few weeks at a time and then returning to the disabled list. His most common replacement, Matt Carpenter, has, luckily, put up an almost identical line to Berkman's (.291/.369/.477), but a cascade of injuries among all these outfielder/first basemen led the Cardinals to call up Matt Adams, who put up 91 less-than-stellar plate appearances. (This might have hurt Memphis, where Adams is hitting .340/.375/.647, more than it did the Cardinals.)

Chris Carpenter's absence, because it's been so complete, has been harder to remember. It reminds me of 2009, where Troy Glaus progressed nicely for so long that I periodically forgot he was a member of the Cardinals, and that they'd ever had any plan for third base beyond Joe Thurston.

But if that absence only led to the first David Freese Ankle Extravaganza, a master class in baserunning gaffes, and the Mark DeRosa experiment. Carpenter's absence has led to the emergence of Lance Lynn as a starting pitcher—one who's performed a lot like Chris Carpenter.

It's another layer of weirdness caked onto a strange season. A Pythagorean W-L record of 63-43 was about as good as I could have expected, but the Cardinals' actual record is down to 57-49. A line at first base of .289/.361/.491 sounded reasonable, but Berkman ranks third on the team in games played at the position.

A record of 13-4 with an ERA of 3.40 seems perfectly appropriate for the Cardinals' hard-throwing, angry ace; I just expected it to come from Chris Carpenter, and not a guy who would in an alternate universe would be keeping people from Bullpen Hysteria and not throwing nearly enough innings.

This kind of thing always happens over the course of a baseball season; it's what makes all the worrying and forecasting we do in March feel a little ridiculous here in August. What's happened in 2012 is strange only because of how tightly the Cardinals have been able to fill the holes that injuries have opened up.

All this is only to say that if Tyler Greene hits the disabled list tomorrow, and Pete Kozma emerges as a strikeout-prone speedster who hits enough home runs to confuse the fans calling for his head, I'll begin to think something frightening is at work. (I first became suspicious when the Cardinals, upon waiving Erik Komatsu, insisted that Shane Robinson begin making sick beatz on his laptop.)

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