News came out about an hour ago that Albert Pujols has a fracture in his left forearm and will miss four to six weeks while recovering. Any time you lose the best player in baseball, it’s a pretty big blow, but given the short timeframe and the Cardinals options, this shouldn’t end up affecting the standings too much.
The obvious answer for St. Louis is to shift Lance Berkman back to first base during Pujols’ absence. While Berkman has been a revelation offensively, he’s been as lousy as expected in the outfield, posting a -4.8 UZR in just 463 innings out there. Historically, he’s been an average to above-average defensive first baseman, and it might be nice for the 35-year-old to get a rest from chasing down balls in the outfield for a while anyway.
Moving Berkman to first base opens up right field for Jon Jay, who has been producing enough to get a larger role on the team anyway. Jay is hitting .313/.364/.436 in limited duty, and while UZR hasn’t liked his glove so far, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be at least a small upgrade over Berkman in right field.
The drop-off from Pujols to Jay in the line-up (and from Jay to whomever replaces him as the team’s fourth outfielder until Allen Craig gets healthy) is still significant (probably about half a win per month), but over just one month’s worth of games, the difference shouldn’t be so large as to really swing the NL Central race one way or another. Every game in the standings is precious to the Cardinals in their bid to hold off the Brewers and Reds for the NL Central title, but a going from Pujols to Jay for 100 or 150 at-bats won’t be the end of the world, especially with the benefit of getting Berkman back to first base for a little while.
If Pujols ends up missing two months and Jay is unable to sustain his BABIP-fueled batting line, this could cost the Cardinals a full win. That’s certainly a loss, but it’s one they are equipped to deal with.
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