By Dan Buffa
When it comes to baseball, patience is a hard earned trick for diehard fans of the game. Many forget the season is long and 162 games allows for plenty of high peaks and low valleys.
Last week, there were hoards of St. Louis Cardinals fans on Twitter calling for Allen Craig to be transferred to Memphis for minor league tune-up duty. He was hitting .197 and had a home run and a few RBI. Craig was suffering from short term memory syndrome. When it comes to sports fans and social media, a civil soul must learn to balance the maniac freak out groups with the pleasantly relaxed variety. In other words, separate the salt from the pepper.
This is what those fans forgot. Craig was a bargain banger the past two seasons. In 508 at bats last season, Craig drove in 97 runners and hit .315. The season before, Craig hit .307 and drove in 92 runners in 469 at bats. He is a silent yet deadly producer who makes under 2 million this year (part of a 6 year, 36 million dollar extension he signed last year) and apparently a player many fans took for granted.
The panic associated with Craig is tied to the entire Cardinals lineup slumping through the entire month April with the team finishing 15-14 and 5.5 games behind the NL Central leading Brewers. The same team that couldn't hit home runs in 2013 started 2014 off in the same manner and didn't have the ability to get hits with runners in scoring position as it did last season. Craig led that parade last season and was the main suspect in this year's slow start.
In 2013, he was in the top 5 in the National League when hitting with RISP. This season, Craig's swing was suddenly long and he was having trouble with outside changeups and inside fastballs. People freaked out but it was still early. Craig doesn't hit a lot of home runs so the big hits for him come in opposite field doubles and looping singles to left.
Facing the Brewers three best starting pitchers and league best bullpen this week at home, Craig broke out. The quiet slugger collected 7 hits in 13 at bats and bashed 2 home runs and drove in 5 while walking twice. With his team desperate to avoid a sweep Wednesday, Craig went 4-5 and gave a boost to the entire offense.
When Craig hits, the middle of the Cardinals lineup is fierce and turns a group of hustlers into a lineup that can ambush pitchers. He is sandwiched between Matt Holliday and Matt Adams and hits ahead of Yadi Molina. He has the unique ability to hit balls to the gap and drive in runners and doesn't rely on power to produce. There aren't a ton of Allen Craig highlights on Sportscenter because the man is quiet, doesn't hit 40 home runs and goes about his business like a sharp shooter.
This week, Craig reminded the loyal Cardinal fans and baseball minds around the earth that you can rely on his bat and hold it up against any other player in the league. With two outs and runners on the bases, Craig is one of the best in the game. This is I found it disheartening yet common to see so many fans freak out after Craig entered the season with a cold stick. This game isn't easy to follow or watch and demands patience. The same people who were willing to pay for Craig's bus fare last week were praising him yesterday. That's the way it works in this game.
Two weeks ago, Craig went 2-11 against Milwaukee on the road which makes his turnaround this week an inspiring adjustment. In January at the Winter Warmup, Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak told the media that he didn't care about home runs when it came to Allen Craig. After hitting 22 home runs in 2012, Craig dipped to 13 in 2013 and many "analysts" figured he had come back to life. Mozeliak said as long as he is hitting the gaps and driving in runners, Allen Craig will be fine. They don't call him one of the best minds in baseball for any reason folks.
The panic train has been parked and Cardinal fans once again know the name "Craig" stands for runners crossing the plate and the odds resting in St. Louis' favor. As May begins, it's safe to rest your faith in the trustworthy hands of Allen Craig.
Dan Buffa is an sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.