Tony La Russa's Tinkering with the Cardinals' Lineup Provides Early Boost

Aren DowCorrespondent IApril 14, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 10:  National League All-Star Manager Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during the 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game at AT&T Park on July 10, 2007 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Out of the 162 games last year, Tony La Russa trotted out 140 different lineups.

2009 has been no different.

With a four-man outfield, Troy Glaus injured, and Skip Schumaker making the switch to second, there would undoubtedly be changes to the order day-to-day.

Albert Pujols has been a lock at the No. 3 spot, but there has been a shuffle of players around him.

Colby Rasmus and Khalil Greene have alternated batting before Pujols so far this year. The two spot was the place Ryan Ludwick found his home and thrived last season.

So far this year, Rasmus has as well. He is 4-for-12 batting before Pujols and 0-for-6 batting elsewhere in the order. The spot hasn't benefited Greene as he is batting right around his average. Hopefully one of them can blossom the way Ludwick did last season and provide some offense in front of Pujols.

Perhaps that is La Russa's mindset, that either Greene or Rasmus will produce a better offense as a whole by moving Ludwick to the cleanup spot. 

So far, this move has looked genius.

Ludwick is batting .461 behind Pujols, providing a much needed complement to "The Machine". There was much speculation about Ludwick matching last year’s numbers, but so far he has provided.

Ludwick really should be playing every day, as he is the most complete outfielder, not to mention the only right-handed one. His bat is more of a sure thing than Rick Ankiel's, and his glove is better than Chris Duncan's.

Ankiel has been the odd-man out around Pujols, and whether or not that is related, his bat is off to a slow start. He has more strikeouts (seven) than hits (five) so far. Maybe pitchers are figuring him out, or maybe it's the out of place beard Ankiel is sporting to why there has been a lack of production so far.

Conversely, Schumaker is locked in early this season, giving the Cards a solid leadoff man.

Well, at least when he does leadoff. The knock on Skip was that he couldn't effectively bat against left-handers, but he has been dominant hitting .400 so far.

Yadier Molina has floated around with Ankiel in he bottom of the order, and has struggled. Despite the early homer and triple, the Cardinal catcher with "deceptive speed" has hit into several double plays. Hopefully he can come around, but he should be hitting seventh or eighth.

After breaking down the numbers, I really wanted to be able to provide a solid, final lineup I was happy with. The problem in laying out a constant lineup is the four-man outfield. However, here are some constants I would like to see La Russa have.

1. Schumaker leading off. He is continuing last year's tear, and has proven to be a reliable leadoff man.
2. Pujols batting third. Duh.
3. Ludwick batting cleanup. I think he can really thrive here. It does break the R-L-R-L option the Cardinals have, but the offense has really worked out well this way.
4. Until Troy Glaus comes back, put Thurston, Barden, or Freese in the nine spot. Pitcher in the eighth.
5. Limit Greene in the two spot. Despite the one three-hit game, he kills the start of the order. I really like Rasmus here. When Rasmus doesn't play, I'd like to see how Duncan performs here, but he's not ideal either.
6. I agree with Ankiel being the bottom part of the lineup. He strikes out too much. You don't want that in front of Pujols. You want someone who can at least move the runner.

That being said, job well done for Tony La Russa so far. While the Cardinals rotation has stolen the show, the St. Louis offense has scored the sixth most runs in baseball. Hopefully he keeps on tinkering that lineup to perfection.

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