Predicting St. Louis Cardinals' Starting Lineup Halfway Through Spring Training
The defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals entered spring training with very few position battles. Manager Mike Matheny has a lineup full of consistent, proven players at almost every position.
Predicting the lineup for the team is not entirely difficult, though there are a few positions that will remain in flux. Players may fill a few different lineup spots depending on other starters that day or the opponent's starting pitcher. It is a popular subject this time of year, as evidenced by the United Cardinal Bloggers and their recent responses to a roundtable question posed by Ben Chambers of The View From Here asking them to predict the lineup themselves.
Ultimately, the lineup will not vary greatly. The impressive part may be just how solid the lineup is every day.
The best way to look at the lineup may be to break it down into pieces. The leadoff spot, the "two-hole", the middle of the order and the bottom of the order. Looking at each one individually will give a good examination of just what the Cardinals have to offer in 2014.
All statistics are from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Matt Carpenter: The $50 Million Leadoff Man
Over the weekend, the Cardinals announced a six-year extension worth over $50 million for Matt Carpenter. The team's projected third baseman for the 2014 season should stay at the top of the order where he found a tremendous amount of success in 2013.
Carpenter led the league in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55) while posting a .318 batting average and reaching base almost 40 percent of the time. Adding to the astonishing season, Carpenter played second base for the Cardinals, a position he was not accustomed to prior to last year.
St. Louis sports writer Rob Rains, on his own website, pointed out just how amazing Carpenter's climb through the system has been in a recent profile:
The Cardinals did not take much of a risk in drafting Carpenter. He was the 399th overall pick in the 2009 draft, selected in the 13th round. As a senior with virtually no bargaining power, Carpenter signed for a $1,000 bonus and a plane ticket to Batavia, N.Y. in the short-season New York-Penn League.
Carpenter is poised to be a cornerstone of the organization for quite some time. For the time being, he will likely continue to lead from the top of the batting order.
Expect Jhonny Peralta to Hit Second
Before the Cardinals locked up their own proficient hitter in Carpenter, they reached out into free agency to bring in an answer to their shortstop deficiency. Jhonny Peralta, fresh from a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, joined the Cardinals on a four-year contract.
Peralta is the type of hitter the Cardinals seem to enjoy having at the second spot in the order. He hit a career-high .303 last year for Detroit. More importantly, he has the power bat that has become a staple of Cardinal lineups.
There will be times during the season that the lineup is juggled and Peralta finds himself at the bottom of the lineup. However, it is quite possible that Peralta will hit in the 2-hole for the majority of 2014.
The Power-Packed Middle of the Lineup
The middle of the Cardinals batting order may be the most impressive it has been in a long time. Allen Craig, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina will find themselves in the heart of the order throughout the 2014 season.
Holliday will likely find himself at the third spot in the lineup in 2014. One of the most consistent hitters in the league, Holliday will look to continue to post numbers near his career averages. Table setters Carpenter and Peralta will ensure that Holliday has plenty of run-producing opportunities.
What Holliday does not drive home, Allen Craig has a good chance to. While he may not post gaudy numbers similar to his 2013 batting average with runners in scoring position (.454) or drive in as many runners as he did in those situations as he did in 2013 (83), it is still safe to assume that Craig will continue to be the run-producing machine he has been in the past. It is also safe to assume that he will do so from the cleanup spot.
The fifth and sixth spot in the lineup will likely alternate based on the pitcher of any given game. With right-handed hurlers on the mound, "Big City" Matt Adams will likely hit fifth and catcher Yadier Molina will bat sixth. However, when a lefty pitches against the Cardinals, Molina will probably find himself hitting fifth while the left handed slugger Adams slides down a spot.
No matter the order that those four hitters find themselves, the middle of the St. Louis lineup is a run-producing and fear-inducing machine. The Cardinals' high expectations in 2014 are largely based on the formidable bats in the middle of their lineup.
Center Field and Second Base Will Round out the Batting Order
The bottom of the lineup may see the most change during the 2014 season. Various players will be used to compose the last two spots on the field and in the batting order. Depending on who is on the field for the Cardinals and who is on the mound for the opponent, it may be very different from game-to-game.
Young prospect Kolten Wong was penciled in to be the club's second baseman early on. In a move to provide some insurance for the unproven Wong, general manager John Mozeliak inked veteran Mark Ellis.
One of the Cardinals' biggest moves of the offseason was the trade that sent local hero David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for a a package of players that included Peter Bourjos. Bourjos figures to see a significant amount of playing time in center field. Incumbent center fielder Jon Jay should not be completely counted out, however, and may see his share of at bats as well.
Those four players figure to see the majority of time in the final two spots of the batting order. When Jon Jay is in the lineup, he will likely hit seventh. When Wong finds himself starting at second base, at least early in the season, he will likely hit eighth.
The bottom of the order may be shaken up quite frequently but the four men that will share the two slots are talented. The bottom of the order should still be productive if not consistently drawn out.
Mike Matheny Has the Right Pieces for a Great Lineup
Ultimately, Matheny has the opportunity to put eight very talented individuals on the field every day. He may tinker with the lineup at various points of the 2014 season but the talent will be there, regardless of where they hit.
The possible success of Wong could drastically change the lineup at some point during the season. As for the way the lineup will look on March 31 for Opening Day, it will resemble the one laid out in the previous slides.
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