Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks off the field with manager Mike Matheny and trainer Greg Hauck during the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
In a close race for the wild cards, Rafael Furcal's injury might be the break the Cardinals need.
Rafael Furcal might be out for the season after departing Wednesday's game against the Nationals, having felt something "pop" -- everyone always says "pop;" no one ever says "detonate," "burst," or "erupt" -- in his right elbow. He is off to get an MRI on the damaged wing. It could be that his ulnar collateral ligament has quit on him.
This would seem like a bad thing for Furcal personally, and for the Cardinals in general, but ... it seems uncharitable to say so, but it's just the truth: It's probably not the end of the world, and potentially could be a good thing for the Cardinals' postseason prospects.
Furcal is hitting .264/.325/.346 overall, with the average major-league shortstop hitting .257/.309/.380. In actuality, Furcal stopped hitting a long time ago. He began the season on fire, batting .333/.391/.460 through the end of May (which got him on the All-Star team).
Then he stopped. Since then, Furcal has hit .217/.280/.267 in 71 games (not including Thursday night's 0-for-2). He last stole a base on July 18, 33 games ago.
Injuries are a possible explanation; Furcal has suffered from a deep shin bruise and soreness in his lower back. Whatever the reason, for a while now he's been a lost cause at the plate. Add in that he plays defense competently but with all the range and flair of your typical aging, mid-30s shortstop, and you have a net negative from June 1 on.
Artists as diverse as Randy Newman and Crazy Horse have recorded Jack Nitzche's song "Gone Dead Train." It's about what you would think it's about without even looking, a male impotence song along the lines of Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway," except more blatant about it: "When the fire in my boiler up and quit before I came, there ain't no empty cellar, need a gone dead train." Folks, whatever ails Furcal, this here is a gone dead train.
The Cardinals are awash in corner guys like Allen Craig, David Freese, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams, not to mention old Lance Berkman, who is likely to be activated from the disabled list this weekend. But alas, they're not so deep in the Clan of the Shortstop. They can throw Daniel Descalso into Furcal's place, and perhaps take a look at 24-year-old Ryan Jackson, who has hit .269/.331/.398 at Triple-A Memphis. Descalso hasn't hit much this season (.220/.295/.315), but did better last year.
Neither player should be expected to make anyone forget Ozzie Smith, or for that matter Rafael Furcal, but then, Furcal was already doing a fine job of that himself. One should never wish harm on a player, not even in pursuit of a pennant, but if fate decreed that Furcal should miss the rest of the season, it was being cruel but simultaneously kind. As long as the Descalso/Jackson combo can hit more than .217/.280/.267 and make a reasonable stab at the balls hit towards them -- hardly a sure thing but more likely than not -- the Cardinals might even improve a bit. And considering the close race for the NL Wild Cards, "a bit" might be decisive.