5 ways the St. Louis Cardinals should construct their lineup in 2023
By Josh Jacobs
#3 - Sandwich the hot-hitter
Something that the Cardinals did in 2021 that unlocked another gear in their lineup that did not work as well in 2022 was sandwiching one of their hitters between Goldschmidt and Arenado, a tactic that could be successful once again in 2023.
1. CF Lars Nootbaar 2. 1B Paul Goldschmidt 3. LF Tyler O'Neill 4. 3B Nolan Arenado 5. C Willson Contreras 6. DH Juan Yepez 7. RF Jordan Walker 8. 2B Brendan Donovan 9. SS Tommy Edman
I used the example of O'Neill as the 3-hole hitter as there is precedent for that trio working in the past, but I could really see any one of Nootbaar, Walker, Yepez, or even Gorman slotting in there if their bat heats up during the season.
Why slot someone in-between one of the best duos in today's game? If their bat is playing well enough to make them worthy of hitting in the middle of the order, it gives St. Louis the ability to get a guy like O'Neill or anyone else even better pitches to see on a more regular basis. With how much Goldy can get on base, and on-base guys like Nootbaar, Donovan, and Edman in front of him, opposing teams will have to go right after hitters in that three spot, not being able to afford to put them on base with Arenado and Contreras following after.
With the length this Cardinals order now has, hitting Goldschmidt second does not "penalize him" with fewer guys on base than normal. The 8-9 hole hitters, depending on the day, would likely be guys like Edman, Donovan, Nootbaar, or Walker, who will provide Goldschmidt opportunities to do damage consistently as well.
Now, this scenario really only works well if the 3-hole hitter is actually hitting - otherwise, you are breaking up a strong duo and giving opposing pitching staffs a "breather" in between them. But if O'Neill returns to form or one of those other guys becomes a great third or fourth bat, it makes a ton of sense to set them up for even more success while maintaining protection for Goldschmidt and Arenado.
The other way this option could work even better than it did in 2021 is if that 5-hole hitter is hitting in a way that teams cannot just give Arenado a free pass. If one of O'Neill, Contreas, Yepez, Nootbaar, or Walker is performing in the 3rd spot in the lineup and one of the others is in the 5th spot, teams will be forced to pick their poison each time through the order. Then the club has scrappy on-base guys at the bottom of the lineup to help set up that dangerous gauntlet once again.