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The St. Louis Cardinals Need All That Depth We Were Bragging About

May 16, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia (54) pitches in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.  Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
May 16, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia (54) pitches in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Beltran's intermittently sore knee suggests a few things about this St. Louis Cardinals team:

1. The Cardinals are going to play their veteran hitters a lot like they play their high school pitchers, which should make for plenty of day-to-day playing time for Allen Craig even if Beltran and Lance Berkman avoid the disabled list for the rest of the season.

I like this part of their gameplan; because of Craig they can afford to do it, and if it means they hit like Berkman did last year and Beltran has this year it's certainly worthwhile to just count on them for 140 games out of every healthy 162. The odd exception so far has been Rafael Furcal, who's on a 158-game pace. Tyler Greene's solid hitting—the double leaves him at .235/.316/.456, and before Wednesday's game his rest-of-season ZiPS line was up to .234/.311/.372 after a starting projection of .233/.309/.364—could open the door for more time off for Furcal, who appeared in 150 games (and 100 games) one time in the previous five years, except that Skip Schumaker will be roaming the outfield for the next few weeks. Which brings us to

2. Carlos Beltran probably won't be playing center field very much, or any time soon. This is bad news for the Cardinals inasmuch as their replacements for Jon Jay are now a guy who nearly hits like a center fielder but can't field center—that's Schumaker—and a guy who can field center but won't nearly hit like a Major Leaguer—that's Shane Robinson.

With both of the team's possible CF gadget plays—Tony La Russa seemed weirdly fond of Allen Craig out there—recovering from lower-body issues and too important to the offense to risk, the Cardinals' depth for Jay looks likely to oscillate within a few runs either way of the replacement level. Adron Chambers, whose defense at least hasn't been found wanting yet and who has a longer track record of Pacific Coast League adequacy than Robinson, might be worth a shot, but the next in-house option after him is turning on the Oscar Taveras signal.

2a. Which—come on—I would be really excited about, consequences be damned.

Jay isn't likely to be out nearly long enough to chance something like this, but Oscar Taveras's current Davenport Translation at AA Springfield is .281/.323/.548, and I'm down for any excuse to gawk at it.

3. This team needs all the depth it's shown so far—and it needs it even more than it's shown already. Already the Cardinals have dipped into the bullpen, with Lance Lynn, and Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig have both proved crucial. Now Jon Jay, a player the Cardinals didn't even budget DL time for, is sitting there.

Having a lot of front-line talent like this team appears to is a definite test of your fan-optimism or pessimism. Optimistically, it allows a team to lose a guy like Chris Carpenter for three months at a time and still compete for first place in its division. Pessimistically, it's a problem of having a ton of moving parts; where on a Pujols-led team it didn't much matter who was sucking at shortstop or in left field at a given moment, this team has a number of valuable players, each of whom runs the risk, in every inning, of jumping a little too late into the outfield wall.

4. Optimist again: Each one also has the chance of breaking out and providing a little more than already anticipated, as Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal have done already. Jaime Garcia's outstanding outing was just one more example of that.

Jaime Garcia might never quite be an ace, and that might always leave him with the easily rattled fussy-guy tag Al Hrabosky seems desperate to hang off his jersey. When you develop a top prospect into a really good pitcher and he doesn't become a really great pitcher that kind of thing seems almost inevitable; Jaime Garcia has great stuff, and he seems capable of great things, but the really good pitchers have to come from somewhere, don't they?

In any case, Garcia, stuck between the two overachieving veterans in contract years at the back of the rotation and the two underachieving, injured aces at the front of it, proved himself capable again of those great things. And as long as he's around, getting passive-aggressed at by Cardinals broadcasters, the team has the chance to reap the benefits of Jaime Garcia maybe stringing together a few more great things in a row.