Allen Craig’s ninth inning catch at the wall to ensure the Cardinals’ victory Sunday may have stirred some memories of another catch Craig made in St. Louis. In game 7 of the 2011 World Series, Craig made a leaping catch at the wall to rob the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz of a homer in the sixth inning, and then made the final out on a deep fly ball in the ninth. Craig has spent most of his time since that World Series at first base, replacing Albert Pujols for the Cardinals. But now Craig has slid in to left again to replace the injured Matt Holliday, just as he did for the end of the 2011 World Series. Finally starting to get some recognition for his powerful bat, Craig is now beginning to show his versatility in the field which makes him such a valuable commodity.
Allen Craig earned his first All-Star appearance this year, but if it had not been for some injury trouble, he may have had already garnered that distinction earlier in his career. The 29-year-old is a career .310 hitter, and he drove in 92 runs last year despite only playing in 119 games due to time missed with an injury. He has solidified first base and the middle of the Cardinal lineup in the wake of the Pujols departure and been one of the club’s most valuable players. In fact, the emergence of Cards catcher Yadier Molina as an MVP candidate as well as second baseman Matt Carpenter becoming a breakout star has overshadowed Craig’s own banner year. But Craig has always been this good, and the only difference this year is his consistent health.
As Craig was breaking into the majors in 2010 and 2011, the Cardinals organization always maintained that he had enormous potential considering his approach at the plate and his versatility. That potential never truly came into fruition until the aforementioned 2011 World Series. Craig broke through and displayed his ability in the clutch at the best possible time. Craig arguably should have won the World Series MVP. David Freese’s game 6 heroics got most of the attention, and rightfully so, but Craig made more crucial plays throughout the series. He had the game-winning hit in Game 1, the home run that started the comeback in Game 6, and another home run and the run-saving catch in Game 7. There has been no doubt about his abilities since then.
Craig is currently second in the National League in batting average as well as third in the league in runs batted in. He could legitimately win two components of the Triple Crown, and perhaps that would earn him some of the attention he deserves. Craig is an everyday first baseman, but his ability to play the outfield gives the Cardinal lineup some flexibility and could give the potent Matt Adams more playing time at first base as well as Holliday some time on the sidelines.