posted on November 28, 2012 08:07
Baseball has always been a game of odd statistics, strange similarities and bizarre coincidences, so a particular circumstance or factoid isn’t truly shocking when it comes to light… but it is still a bit uncanny when two players in the same organization mirror each other so closely. Cardinal outfielders Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman fit the bill in this scenario, sharing a laundry list of personal traits and characteristics, which has made this writer leery of the road ahead.
For starters, both players were aging superstars that represented a bit of a gamble in the free agent pool before being signed by the Cardinals. Both are former Houston Astros and were 35 years old when they came to St. Louis. Both played right field for the Birds, hit from both sides of the plate and were notorious for punishing the Cardinals in their early years, en route to potential – albeit borderline – Hall of Fame careers. That’s a lot right off the bat.
For Berkman, coming to St. Louis in 2011 revived his career and proved to the world that he still had plenty of gas left in the tank. Through the first half of the season he was one of the biggest surprises in baseball posting a .290/.404/.602/1.002 line, mashing 24 homers, driving in 63 runs and earning a trip to the All Star Game. Even more impressive, the oft-injured veteran played 82 games before the All Star break, appearing ageless and silencing even the most unrelenting critics. His power dipped in the second half (seven homers and a .903 OPS), but he raised his average to .315 and was a still a big reason the Cards made their improbable run to squeak into the playoffs after trailing the Braves by 10 ½ games in the Wild Card race in the final month of the season.
Then in the playoffs Berkman found a third gear and put on an electrifying show. He hit .300 in the NLCS against the Brewers and went on to rake in the World Series against the Rangers to the tune of a .423 average. He had 11 hits in just 26 at bats in that series, including the one that pushed the tying run across the plate in the tenth inning of Game 6, setting the stage for David Freese’s 11th inning heroics. Berkman was rewarded with the Comeback Player of the Year award that season.
As for Beltran, his first season with the Cardinals started out much the same way, making waves while debuting his new uni. Prior to the All Star break he hit .296 with a .924 OPS and lead the National League with 20 homers and 65 RBI en route to an All Star Game appearance of his own. And despite his chronic knee issues he managed to play in… wait for it… 82 games. Unfortunately, much like Berkman, he showed his age a bit in the second half of the season, hitting just .236 with 12 homers, 32 RBI and a .742 OPS, but found his stride once again in the post season after another improbable run by the Redbirds. In October Beltran was the most lethal hitter in the Cards’ lineup, batting .444 with two homers and four RBI in the NLDS against the Nationals and .300 with a homer and two RBI against the Giants in the NLCS. He even stole three bases in the playoffs, showing he could find a higher gear as well.
The comparisons for both players debut Cardinal seasons are as eerie as they are interesting, but therein lies the problem. When the organization brought Berkman back for a second tour of duty in 2012… he flopped. His body gave out and he managed just 81 at bats. Betrayed by his ever-mounting injuries he posted a forgetful .259-2-7 line with an .826 OPS. Thankfully, his injuries led to consistent playing time for Allen Craig, who went on to become the team’s most lethal hitter this season, but it was bittersweet as Berkman had become an instant fan favorite that Cardinal Nation had to ultimately watch hobble out the door.
There is certainly no guarantee that Beltran will follow the unlikely path that Berkman has essentially laid out for him, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the similarities continue to pile up in 2013. Beltran has a litany of injuries to contend with on a weekly – or even daily – basis and it almost feels like we’re all waiting for Snow White to bite into the poison apple: the story is already written and it’s merely a matter of time.
Sure, the former Cardinal killer could come back with a vengeance next season and tear the cover off the ball much like he did in the first half of 2012, but don’t go into shock if he winds up on the DL with an injury that just won’t seem to heal. And I would advise against calling your bookie to lay down a prideful Beltran-related wager.
On the bright side, if Beltran’s injuries do him in, Oscar Taveras is waiting in the wings to be next year’s Allen Craig and win over Cardinal Nation with his surprisingly potent offensive prowess. Carlos, I wish you the best and hope next year is gangbusters, but that’s easy to say with a contingency plan as promising as Oscar Taveras.