St. Louis Cardinals: Predicting the Opening Day lineup for 2021

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt looks on in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals during the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt looks on in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals during the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals have a big new piece to put in the lineup for 2021. What could an Opening Day lineup look

The St. Louis Cardinals have finally completed the trade for Nolan Arenado. Manager Mike Shildt will have MANY options for lineups simply because of Arenado’s arrival. Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt will undoubtedly be penciled in every day at the corners, but the rest of the lineup could possibly see changes on a day-to-day basis.

Previous manager Mike Matheny was somewhat notorious for never having consistent batting lineups, something that Shildt immediately departed from when he was given the reigns. Many could argue that Matheny never had a great offensive roster (aside from Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and prime Matt Carpenter), but in all honesty, Shildt’s rosters haven’t been that much better aside from the addition of Goldy in 2019.

Shildt has gotten more out of the current players on the roster, proven during his great run after the All-Star Break as the interim manager in 2018, and winning the award for the 2019 National League Manager Of The Year.

St. Louis Cardinals
Sep 26, 2020; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dylan Carlson (3) waits on deck ion front of cutouts of fans during the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The infield, aside from the hopeful re-signing of Yadier Molina, appears to be set:

– 1B Paul Goldschmidt

– 2B Tommy Edman

– SS Paul DeJong

– 3B Nolan Arenado

– C Andrew Knizner (Molina)

– Utility: Matt Carpenter, Edmundo Sosa

The outfield is a whole other story. Shildt has many options, and the outfield lineup and positioning will reflect the team’s offensive and defensive strategies depending on the opponent:

– LF Tyler O’Neill (I’m assuming he’ll be mainly in LF due to his 2020 Gold Glove)

Dexter Fowler

Dylan Carlson

Harrison Bader

– Backups: Lane Thomas, Austin Dean, Justin Williams

Fowler, O’Neill, and Bader have considerable big-league experience, and Austin Dean has seen some time in the show as a part of the Marlins and saw some action in 2020. Thomas’ MLB AB’s have been cut a bit short due to injury in 2019, and a battle with COVID-19 in 2020. Williams was a part of the Tommy Pham trade to the Rays but Williams only has six total MLB AB’s.

Assuming there is no universal DH (it looks more and more likely since the Player’s Union has rejected multiple offers from the MLB and the owners), a solid and consistent everyday lineup could potentially look like this:

– 2B Edman

– RF Carlson

– 1B Goldschmidt

– 3B Arenado

– SS DeJong

– C Knizner (Molina)

– LF O’Neill

– CF Bader

– P

Edman’s scrappy style of play, his ability to switch hit, and his speed make him an ideal leadoff hitter. While his numbers may have dipped a bit in 2020, he can obviously handle the bat, and should return closer to his 2019 self in the upcoming season.

Carlson struggled in his first call to the majors in 2020. At times was much too passive at the plate, taking too many pitches and falling behind in counts, and was dominated by off-speed pitches. After a brief demotion, he returned to the everyday lineup and looked like a much different player.

Like Edman, Carlson has great speed and is a switch hitter, and having two speedy switch hitters at the top of the lineup could prove to be quite dangerous with Goldschmidt and Arenado coming up next.

I prefer Arenado to bat behind Goldy, mainly because Goldy has proven he can work deep into counts and also get on base consistently despite his somewhat high strikeout rate.

With ‘Nado lurking behind Goldy, Goldy should get more pitches to hit, since Arenado is an imminent threat no matter what stadium he plays at. And if any of you are worried about Arenado’s 2020, just don’t. He was admittedly playing hurt, and also publicly feuding with his former GM, which is a less than ideal situation.

Ben Fredrickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that Arenado’s career OPS hitting cleanup is a “whopping” .924. Indeed, that is an INSANE number, to say the least. I’m anticipating a jump in Goldy’s overall numbers in 2021, and a healthy and mentally sound Arenado will be right there with him. Cardinals fans haven’t seen this type of production from the middle of the lineup since the MV3 years of the 2000s.

DeJong hasn’t been as consistent as we all would like him to be since his rookie year (where he finished 2nd in the NL RoY voting), but he’s a power threat, and an under-appreciated defender. Due to Arenado’s presence, there is considerably less pressure on him to perform as an offensive centerpiece. He can breathe easy and be more aggressive at the plate, and as a result, his power numbers should jump a bit.

Knizner is in my lineup because Yadi’s return has yet to be confirmed, which is why Yadi is in parentheses. While Knizner hasn’t had many at-bats to prove himself in MLB (69 total), he has hit very well at every level of the minor leagues. Knizner’s best year came in 2019 while in AAA Memphis, where he had 12 homers, 34 RBI, and an OPS of .821 in only 66 games, striking out only 37 times in 246 ABs.

He makes consistent contact and should be a nice back of the order hitter once given the opportunity to perform on a day to day basis.

O’Neill has yet to prove he can be a consistent power hitter, but he no longer will need to be THE offensive force in this lineup. Due to his recent Gold Glove, I believe his spot in left field is his to lose, despite being benched near the end of 2020.

A big issue for O’Neill last year was hitting fastballs, which he typically crushed throughout the minors and in his first call-up to the Cardinals. Maybe it was due to a lack of consistent at-bats, but I still believe he can be that 30-35 home run type of guy in addition to playing stellar defense in left field. This is his chance to breakout.

Fans may be upset with me suggesting that Bader start in center field, but you absolutely cannot deny his defensive ability despite his struggles at the plate vs RHP. The team is flat out better with him patrolling center field, and he will be perfectly fine hitting in the eight-hole. His success against LHP is obvious (a career .855 OPS against LHP), as is his blazing speed, so he is also a great option to lead off against LHP.

St. Louis Cardinals, Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler #25 of the St Louis Cardinals – (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) /

I’ve left Dex out of this everyday lineup considering that Shildt’s focus during his time as manager has been on defense and run prevention, and Carlson’s defense is arguably better than Dex’s at this point of Dex’s career. But on any given day depending on matchups, Dex could easily play right or left field and give one of these guys a break, and Carlson will undoubtedly need a break or two in his first full 162 game season.

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Keep in mind that since joining the Cardinals in 2017, Fowler has an OPS of .764 against RHP, ideal for a leadoff hitter, or 6-7 hitter. The man can get on base, and also has good speed and good baserunning instincts, which is why Mo signed him to begin with. He was never going to be a 35 home run guy that I think a lot of the fanbase craved when he signed that big-money contract.

Fellow Redbird Rants contributor Reed Zahradnik (@Reed_Zahradnik5) has suggested Carlson, Goldy, ‘Nado, and DeJong as the top four in the lineup, which we may see in Spring Training, and at some point in the regular season. Edman may turn out not to be the ideal leadoff man, and Carlson could emerge as one.

The only snag I see here is not enough protection for ‘Nado from DeJong, since he’s been inconsistent with his power. But we could potentially see 3-4 players hit 30+ homers, which would be pretty remarkable and possibly historic.

Next. How Nolan Arenado will boost Cardinals outfield. dark

The simple fact is that Mike Shildt now has two perennial MVP type players that will play every single day and will absolutely help the rest of the Cardinals succeed on offense. He can play with his lineups a bit, but expect him to eventually settle on a consistent, everyday lineup that puts his players in the best positions to succeed.