St. Louis Cardinals: Speed at the bottom of the lineup is working so far
By Matt Graves
Many fans were worried about the bottom of the St. Louis Cardinals’ order in 2020. So far, the setup is working exactly as advertised.
Lineup construction is often debated much more than it really matters. After the first inning, the order doesn’t always matter much because you never know who will start each inning. That doesn’t mean that the batting order is devoid of strategy though.
Many St. Louis Cardinals fans were critical of the team because of the way the lineup has been constructed through two games. Why all the fuss? The Cardinals were the only team in baseball to have their outfielders bat 7-8-9 in the order. That says more about the Cardinals’ roster makeup than anything, but it was done with purpose.
When we were looking at predicting the starting lineup, the bottom of the order had a clear advantage that helps set up the top of the order. From Dexter Fowler and his 70th percentile sprint speed in the seventh spot, the Cardinals have Tyler O’Neill (99th percentile), Harrison Bader (97th percentile), Kolten Wong (67th percentile), and then Tommy Edman (96th percentile). That is a ton of speed on the basepaths coming up before the 3-4-5 spots of Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, and Matt Carpenter.
On paper, having speed on the basepaths before the big RBI bats is a great plan for a lineup without a ton of power. The big question is whether or not those speedsters would make it on base.
Through two games, fans are seeing exactly why this lineup setup works so well. After knocking off the Pirates 5-4 on Opening Night, the Cardinals thumped them 9-1 on Saturday.
In these games, the 7-8-9-1-2 portion of the lineup batted a combined 9-35 (.257) with two walks, six runs, and six RBI. While a .257 batting average isn’t great, that is dropped by Bader who has yet to get a hit.
It has been somewhat surprising that this group has as many RBI as they do, but that effort has been led by O’Neill and Fowler who have started off hot. Both Fowler and O’Neill have one homer and RBI singles under their belts in two games. In Saturday’s game, Edman tripled home Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong, providing the best baserunning clip we have seen so far with the combined speed of the three on the bases.
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So far, this group is getting on base enough so that their speed can be a huge asset, proving this lineup’s strength.
Sure, any of this can be qualified by saying that the Cardinals are putting up all these runs against the Pirates, a team destined for the bottom of the standings. However, winning just these first two games is equivalent to more than a five-game win streak in a normal season. If there is any year to take each game at face value, this is the year.
I don’t expect Fowler to continue his power output, but O’Neill could. The team is going to need to get something from Harrison Bader at some point, but even in Saturday’s game, he reached on an error, stole second, then later scored with Kolten Wong on Paul DeJong’s single.
Regardless of the opponent, the small test case is a proof of concept for a lineup with speed at the top and the bottom of the lineup.
I would love to see this group try and steal more bases, as they have only attempted two so far. That is the only way they haven’t exploited their strengths.
I have no clue if this level of performance will continue from the bottom of the order, but through two games against one of the worst teams in the division, fans are seeing why a lineup constructed like it is right now can be so much fun.