The St. Louis Cardinals begin Spring Training workouts next week. Some roles on the 25-man roster are up for grabs, but the eight who will start in the field are more or less set. With that in mind, how should mnanager Mike Matheny compile his lineup for Opening Day?
Sunday, April 2 will be New Year’s Day in the Gateway City. For the first time since the 2011 season, the St. Louis Cardinals will be playing at Busch Stadium on Opening Day. They’ll host the Chicago Cubs, fresh off of their first World Series Championship in 108 years.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon will have a dynamic group of players to choose from when filling out his lineup. In the home dugout, Mike Matheny will counter with what figures to be a new-look batting order.
Let’s start with who will be on the field, barring any unforeseen developments in the seven weeks leading up to the opener.
Yadier Molina is the capstone of the defense – he’ll start behind the plate.
This offseason, the team made a commitment to Matt Carpenter as its first baseman. He’ll get the nod there.
Similarly, the Cardinals made a re-commitment to Kolten Wong as the every day second baseman – part of an effort to make the team more athletic.
With Wong at second, we’ll likely see Jhonny Peralta at third base to begin the season, although Jedd Gyorko could push for time with a strong spring. I’m a big supporter of seeing Gyorko in the lineup, and wouldn’t be surprised if he squeezed Peralta for playing time at the hot corner.
Aledmys Diaz will begin his second full season at shortstop. His shaky defense should improve, and by the way, he can rake. He’ll be the starter at short.
In the outfield, the Cardinals will trot out a new look. Randal Grichuk will take over in left field as the Matt Holliday era has come to a close. Free-agent pickup Dexter Fowler will be in center field, and Stephen Piscotty returns to his starting position in right. The outfield play, at the plate as well as defensively, should be an area of strength for the Cardinals this season.
Now that we’ve essentially come to a consensus about who will be on the field (we’ll leave out the debate over who should start on the mound in this article, although we all know Carlos Martinez deserves the nod).
Let’s examine how this lineup will end up looking, one through eight.
Fowler will be leading off. Since his major-league debut in 2008, his on-base-percentage is good for fourth-best from that spot in all of baseball. The Cardinals signed Fowler to be a leadoff hitter, and that’s exactly where he should and will be.
In the two hole, the St. Louis Cardinals have a couple of options. They’re likely to settle on Diaz, although Piscotty could end up taking a fair amount of at-bats from that spot if a better cleanup option emerges. On Opening Day, however, it should be Diaz hitting after Fowler.
Holliday’s departure left a void in the three hole for the Cardinals. Their in-house solution should work brilliantly – Matt Carpenter will descend from his perch atop the lineup into a true run-producing position.
Carpenter has all the tools to be a lethal hitter in this spot, especially since he’ll be hitting after on-base machines Fowler and Diaz. Watch for Carpenter to continue his power surge and push towards triple digits in runs batted in 2017.
At this time, the best option the Cardinals have to bat cleanup is Piscotty. He ended up settling in this spot last season, and put up solid numbers, especially with runners in scoring position. He’s not a slugger, but will record enough extra-base-hits to make the investment worth it.
The other route they could go for cleanup is Grichuk, but he was quickly removed from the four hole last year after getting brief exposure. Grichuk is a more dangerous home run hitter than Piscotty, which is why placing him fifth will be a better fit.
Fowler, Diaz, Carpenter, and Piscotty all have above-average potential for extra-base hits, so having Grichuk in the middle of the lineup to drive in runs and hit long balls will be a good spot for him.
Here’s the part of the lineup where we get a bit more ambiguity. Remaining are Molina, Wong, and Peralta.
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Although many consider Wong to be a slap hitter whose speed and athleticism better serve the eight hole, I think we might see the side of Kolten that we’ve only seem glimpses of in the past: the dynamic second-baseman who packs a punch, driving balls down the lines, into the gaps, and clearing the boards, like we saw in the 2014 Postseason. If this is the Kolten Wong who will show up in 2017 for the duration of the season, he should be hitting behind Grichuk, in the six hole.
This could be the year he puts it all together, similar to what many are saying of Grichuk, and that is why he should be hitting further up in the lineup than eighth. The sixth batter should be an on-base threat with the ability for extra-base hits and RBI’s, and Wong fits that description.
This takes nothing away from the remarkable year (especially the second-half) Molina put together at the plate last season. He should be hitting seventh, but it’s not reasonable to expect the same numbers from Yadi this season.
Nevertheless, no one could have expected Molina hit at a .365 clip post-All-Star break last year. It shouldn’t be put past the veteran catcher to excel once again in 2017.
That leaves us with third baseman Jhonny Peralta hitting eighth. Entering his age-35 season and the last year of his four-year contract with the Cardinals, Peralta is somewhat of a question mark. Coming off a year where he missed half the season with a thumb injury adds complication to Peralta’s outlook.
Some of us at Redbird Rants are bullish about Peralta’s 2017 campaign. Like Molina, we shouldn’t be completely surprised if he exceeds expectations.
To recap, I believe the Cardinals’ Opening Day lineup should look like this:
- (CF) Dexter Fowler
- (SS) Aledmys Diaz
- (1B) Matt Carpenter
- (RF) Stephen Piscotty
- (LF) Randal Grichuk
- (2B) Kolten Wong
- (C) Yadier Molina
- (3B) Jhonny Peralta
- (P) Carlos Martinez
The Cardinals should boast a formidable offensive attack again in 2017. They’ll be looking for a more athletic and balanced approach in place of the home-run happy team from last year. Their lineup has the pieces to be a juggernaut similar to the 2013 squad. If the Birds can get the bats going, it could be a long summer for National League pitching staffs.