The St. Louis Cardinals’ run at an 18th National League pennant took a serious hit Tuesday, when the team learned that rookie third baseman David Freese re-injured a sore right ankle in a rehab start with Double-A Springfield, and will miss the rest of the 2010 season.

After injuring the ankle on June 27, Freese was expected to help rejuvenate a limping Cardinals offense sometime this month. Instead, it appears St. Louis will have to do without him.

But without adding another bat, another National League Central crown seems unlikely.

Right now, the plan going forward is to have rookie Allen Craig, who is hitting just .139/.200/.250, and has spent most of this time in the outfield.

Why in the world would a contending St. Louis squad make him the starting third baseman?

With weak bats at shortstop and second base already, the Cardinals cannot afford to have three-quarters of their infield and a third of their lineup below the offensive norm.

Although Craig projects as a strong major-league hitter going forward, right now he’s a “Quadruple-A” type who dominates the minors, but can’t seem to figure out MLB pitching. He’d be a relatively cheap option, but if St. Louis wants to show Albert Pujols that they are committed to winning now , they need to pursue a strong bat at the hot corner.

However, now that the 2010 trade deadline has passed, the Cardinals must try to improve their third base position through some other option.

Look no further than Joe Crede.

As a former White Sox and Twins third baseman, Crede has battled injuries in the past, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best hitting third basemen around, and one of the top fielders to boot. It still baffles me that no team made an effort to sign him.

But why should St. Louis take a chance on the oft-injured third sacker?

For starters, his glove would be an improvement over even Freese’s. Coming into the season, Bill Dewan ranked his as the third best glove available at the hot corner, behind only Adrian Beltre and Pedro Feliz. He also ranked third among free agent third basemen in UZR/150 last season, behind Beltre and Chone Figgins.

Beltre and Figgins snapped up multi-year deals, and Feliz caught on with Houston, making Crede the best defensive third baseman available.

Crede has pop at the plate, too. Although he’s been limited to less than 400 at-bats for the past three seasons, when healthy, he can slug it with the best of them.

In 2006, with a career high of 586 at-bats, he won a Silver Slugger Award, while also setting highs in batting average (.286), on-base percentage (.323), slugging percentage (.506), home runs (30), RBI (94),  total bases (275), and WAR (3.6), along with tying a career high with 31 doubles.

Now, was Crede’s 2006 season a fluke, or was he the real deal?

His AB/HR ratio that season was 18.13, not much less than his career ratio of 22.15. I’m not saying Crede can duplicate the power numbers he displayed in 2006, but he can give the Cardinals a home run threat that their lineup is currently missing.

So, would Crede, who could be had relatively cheaply (his salary in 2009 was $2.5 million), be a good signing for St. Louis?

In my opinion, if St. Louis doesn’t move on Crede, easily the best third baseman available on both the free agent market and on the waiver wire, their shot at the 2010 Central Division title could be shot.

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