The St. Louis Cardinals are just days away from opening the 2020 season. With that in mind, what’s the most likely lineup we will see on opening day?
As someone who doesn’t believe in jinxes, I can fondly say I am looking forward to the St. Louis Cardinals starting their season in just two days against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Barring 2020 going full 2020 on us, Jack Flaherty will be taking the mound against Joe Musgrove on Friday night at 7:15 at Busch Stadium.
It is almost surreal to think this is so close given how long we have been without our hometown team on the diamond.
While we know that Flaherty will be on the mound, the lineup is still up in the air. However, the intrasquad games that the team has been playing over the past week have given us a great look at the most likely lineup we will see.
Who is in the field?
The vast majority of the starters for the Cardinals are not up for debate. Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, Yadier Molina, Dexter Fowler, and Harrison Bader will each be starting at first base, second base, shortstop, catcher, right field, and center field, respectively.
The only positions up for debate are left field and third base. However, based on what manager Mike Shildt has said both in person and with his intrasquad lineups, Tommy Edman will likely be the starting third baseman and Matt Carpenter will be the full-time DH. In left field, all signs point to Tyler O’Neill winning the starting job.
The question, then, is about where to put all of these guys in a lineup.
What the intrasquad games have taught us
The Cardinals are not a team that hides their hand very well when it comes to what they want to do with their own roster. Going back to the lineup used in the intrasquad games so far, a reasonable expectation at the top would be Kolten Wong, Tommy Edman, then Paul Goldschmidt.
Wong has been searching for that leadoff spot for years and after his most complete season in the league, he’s earned the first crack at leadoff. The biggest question for Wong is whether he is going to repeat his .361 OBP. If he can, his speed at the top of the lineup will be great.
Tommy Edman coming up after Wong adds another speed threat to the top of the lineup, especially if Edman can repeat what he did last year. Edman’s hit tool is going to let the Cardinals get really creative and have some fun with hit and runs, bunts, and steals at the top of the lineup. Goldschmidt, looking to ascend back to the elite offensive bat he’s been his whole career, is a clear choice for the third hitter.
At cleanup, Paul DeJong is going to try and step into Marcell Ozuna’s shoes. Behind DeJong, Matt Carpenter makes sense as a 5th batter, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved up with how hot he’s been during Summer Camp. Yadier Molina has been following Carpenter in the sixth spot, beginning the potential dropoff in the lineup if Molina continues his age-related decline.
From there, the three outfielders have been next. Fowler, a still above-average offensive player in 2019, makes sense batting in front of the powerful and speedy outfielder, Tyler O’Neill. Harrison Bader is an easy pick to round out the lineup as his speed as a “second leadoff man” from the 9th spot in the lineup could make for even more fun.
Altogether, that gives us the lineup we see on the left.
Right away, plenty of people aren’t going to fear this lineup. Adding Dylan Carlson to it wouldn’t make much of a difference either. However, what this lineup will excel at is speed. Between O’Neill, Bader, Wong, and Edman, you have players who ranked in the 99th, 97th, 67th, and 96th percentile in sprint speed. The slowest of the group, Wong, still led the Cardinals with 21 stolen bases in 2019.
It just comes down to how often that group can get on base.
This lineup will rarely blow teams away with power, but that doesn’t mean they are destined for failure. It’s going to be all about speed and manufacturing runs this year.
Last year, the Cardinals were tied with the Nationals for the league lead in caught stealing percentage among teams with more than 100 team steals. They were also tied for third with the Nats for total steals.
Playing a pseudo-Whiteyball game is what will work best with this lineup, and with the DH the Cardinals are even more set up to do so this year than last.
A perfect world scenario
In a perfect world, the Cardinals lineup is fueled by O’Neill, Bader, Wong, and Edman setting the table for Goldy, DeJong, and Carp to wipe clean. If the Cardinals lose their aggressiveness on the bases that they gained last year, their offense is likely doomed. This team won’t win by trying to hit home runs.
The good thing is that I believe Mike Shildt knows exactly what kind of team he’s working with, just as he did last year. The makeup of the team hasn’t changed, and I’d love to see Shildt double down on the small ball. The way this lineup is set up plays into that, especially after the first time through the order.
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There aren’t any changes I would make to the proposed lineup right now, as long as their gameplan is speed. Moving O’Neill higher makes sense from a power standpoint, but putting him behind on-base guys like Carpenter and Fowler makes sense as well.