St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Shildt made lineup change at perfect time
By Matt Graves
Mike Shildt’s most recent lineup change has appeared to make a world of difference to this point for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ offense has been a point of contention already in 2021. Some games they chain hits together and blow up, then the next they disappear.
Manager Mike Shildt insisted on starting the 2021 season with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado at the second and third spot in the lineup. While this did a fine job of getting the team’s best hitters to the plate in the first inning, it overall wasn’t working for one reason or another.
To begin the year, Shildt also had Dylan Carlson lower in the order, frequently between 6-8 in the order. Some fans hated this at the start, but after the way 2020 went, I thought it made a lot of sense. Rather than put the pressure on the 22-year-old right away, he was able to get his feet underneath him.
When he debuted back in 2020, Carlson was not thrust high into the lineup but did get substantial playing time. When he struggled and didn’t get any rest, he got buried and it took a mental reset back at the alternate training site to get himself right.
Over the first 10 games of the season this year, Carlson had just a .182/.282/.485 slash line. He was hitting for power, but still not exactly what you would want from the second hitter in the lineup.
However, from the 11th game to the 18th, Carlson showed huge improvements, batting as high as fifth. His slash line over this time jumped up to .333/.467/.583. This came during the Philly and Washington series, both of which the Cardinals lost.
Coming home to Busch Stadium to face off against the Reds this weekend, Shildt finally chose to make the move to the lineup that most saw as the better option. This lineup may not allow the team’s two best hitters to bat in the first inning, but it does set the table much better. Heading into Friday’s game, Edman and Carlson had a .340 and .360 OBP, respectively.
Over the weekend, fans got to see this new lineup in action, working like a well-oiled machine even with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado both scuffling right now.
In the two spot over the weekend, Carlson went 7-12 with two runs and one RBI. This is a whopping .636 batting average. The perks of this lineup were the most evident in Sunday’s game when Edman and Carlson both singled to start the game. Edman’s speed allowed him to go first to third, then all it took was a Goldschmidt fielder’s choice and the Cardinals were on the board.
This has just been a three-game sample, but the theory behind leaving Carlson lower in the lineup to start is holding. He struggled a little, got his feet underneath him, gained confidence, and is now feeding off that confidence in a higher pressure spot.
There isn’t a way to say for sure that this is going to hold up and there isn’t a way to say for sure that Carlson wouldn’t have had the same path to where he is right now. However, it certainly seems like keeping Carlson down lower to start the year was the right move. Heading into this week’s four-game series against the Phillies at Busch, Carlson is second only to Yadier Molina in OPS and is the first Cardinal to hit 1.0 bWAR.
Carlson has been impressive so far this year, but it’s still imperative to remember he’s a rookie that will go through struggles. Right now though, he’s the perfect table-setter at the second spot in the lineup. Credit to Shildt for making the move.