With two MVP candidates and a first-ballot hall of famer, the middle of the Cardinal lineup is playoff-worthy. Who will be the unsung hero that steps up? The David Eckstein or David Freese character that emerges from the supporting cast? Here’s who will be on the St. Louis roster and have a chance to become an October legend.
Catcher: Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner
The easiest section of the roster to project, no question. It’ll be interesting to monitor Yadi’s playing time, as the wild card round has no scheduled off-days. Also, keep an eye on late-game pinch running scenarios if Yadi finds himself on base in a must-score situation.
Infield: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Brendan Donovan, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong
A pretty stellar group, especially with how strong Donovan and Edman have finished the season. Paul DeJong is somehow a defensive replacement at shortstop, with Brendan Donovan’s versatility giving Oli Marmol lots of flexibility pinch-hitting and making substitutions.
The only other option here is to recall Nolan Gorman. The Cardinals are lacking a bit from the left side on the bench, and Gorman does provide legit pop. However, I think the Cardinals value Paul DeJong’s defense, and will trust that the left-handed outfielders are enough to get the job done.
Outfield: Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, Corey Dickerson, Tyler O’Neill*
*If O’Neill is hurt, his spot will go to Alec Burleson
In a surprising twist, the only guaranteed starter from this group is Lars Nootbaar in right field. Personally, I’d put Dylan Carlson in centerfield every night as well, but the Cardinals have been limiting his at-bats from the left side. If O’Neill is healthy he will be in the lineup for each game.
Corey Dickerson seems to have finally cooled off. You just know there will be a key moment in the playoffs with him at the plate. And lastly, Juan Yepez is probably the best right-handed bench bat the Cardinals have when Albert gets the start at DH.
Ben DeLuzio could sneak onto the roster if the Cardinals want extra speed and defense. And Alec Burleson could play his way into the team with a strong final week. However, this is the crew that got the Cardinals here– it’s likely the one they will enter October with, too.
Designated Hitter: Albert Pujols
No more playing the matchups; Albert Pujols is in the lineup every night. Maybe the Cardinals save Albert for a late-inning pinch hit opportunity if they are facing someone like Aaron Nola on the Phillies. But I want Pujols to bat as many times as possible.
When the lights shine brightest, your stars have to deliver.