"I feel like I'm continuing to get better and finding out what I can do," Craig said, shortly after the live batting-practice session. "I'm happy with where I'm at. … I feel like I have made some progress over the last week. I don't see why I can't continue to improve. I'm not a doctor. I've never had this injury before. But over the course of the last six weeks, I've continued to get better. I feel like I timed it pretty well with the World Series starting this week, and I'm starting to feel better."
Craig has had his eyes set on the World Series since suffering a Lisfranc fracture to his left foot in a game against the Reds on Sept. 4. The recovery time was estimated to be four to six weeks, meaning that the Cardinals had to play deep into October to give their cleanup hitter a chance to return.
While there are still questions about how sharp Craig's timing will be after a seven-week break from game play, the Cardinals are convinced that he makes their offense more formidable even if the layoff leaves him slightly limited.
"The thing is for him, he is such a prolific hitter, it's definitely worth the chance," Mozeliak said. "We're trying to get him as much live pitching as we can, but to simulate Game 1 of a World Series is virtually impossible. We'll do the best we can."
With Craig, the Cardinals will have a legitimate designated hitter option for the first two games in Boston. It's an ideal fit for Craig, who has not resumed participating in defensive work. When the series shifts back to Busch Stadium next weekend, Craig will, in the least, be available off a bench that had been weakened by his absence.
And he might actually do even more. The Cardinals are not yet willing to rule out the possibility of Craig being cleared to play first base later in the World Series.
"When he would need to play the field is a week away, so you just don't know," Mozeliak said. "I think where we're at with him is we feel good. There's a chance he could help contribute."
Craig was on his way to challenging for the National League's RBI title and possibly a top finish in the NL MVP Award voting before an awkward turn at first base prematurely ended his regular season. As it was, Craig still finished the year leading the Cardinals with 97 RBIs and a .454 batting average with runners in scoring position. Overall, he hit .315.
Craig opened the season as the team's cleanup hitter and remained in that spot in the lineup for most of the year. While Matt Adams has done well as Craig's fill-in, there was never going to be an adequate way to replace the team's leading run-producer. It was just a matter of playing long enough to get Craig back.
"I mean, it's huge," catcher Yadier Molina said of Craig's impending return. "The bat that he brings the lineup, it could be the difference. I'm happy to have him back. Hopefully he'll help us to win."
Though the Cardinals' offense came to life in the NL Championship Series clincher, it has been looking for a spark for most of the month. The unit has hit .210 through 11 October games; Carlos Beltran is the only player to accrue more than five RBIs. With Craig missing in the middle, manager Mike Matheny has not had the luxury of employing a static lineup, either.
Now, it simply becomes a question of whether Craig can again be immediately effective. The layoff is bound to be a factor; how much of one remains the lone unknown.
"Obviously, games start on Wednesday, so I'm focused on getting myself ready mentally to take at-bats," Craig said. "The most important thing for me is just to focus on competing. I'm really focusing on that more than how I feel."
"There are no nerves about anything, it's just timing," hitting coach John Mabry said. "When he gets his timing back … and obviously being thrown in that situation of that magnitude, he's going to have to control his emotions. And he understands that. He's a pro at what he does. You take what you get out of it. In that spot, we have an opportunity to put a professional hitter in a DH spot who doesn't have to play the field, and we'll take what we get."
Craig will continue to increase what he does and the exertion with which he does it to get as ready as possible for Wednesday. He's just thankful for the chance.
"It's such a cool opportunity to just get back to the World Series and get back out there playing with the guys," Craig said. "It's been tough having to sit and watch and not be a part of it, because we have such a great group and it's so fun to be out there playing. They have done a good job of keeping me involved, even though I haven't been playing. I'm excited I can get out there and finish off the season with these guys."