#5 - Lineup when keys starters have the day off
When it boils down to it, outside of Contreras, there are three guys in the everyday lineup whose absence will shake up the lineup in a major way - Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tommy Edman. The former two are MVP-caliber players who can carry the lineup and will be missed when they are not playing, and the latter is the club's primary shortstop and where their backup options are the thinnest.
I'll show two lineup constructions once again - both with Edman having the day off. One of the lineups will see Goldschmidt have a rest day, and the other will show what should happen when Arenado is off, both again against right-handed pitching.
When Goldschmidt/Edman rest - 1. RF Lars Nootbaar 2. SS Brendan Donovan 3. 3B Nolan Arenado 4. C Willson Contreras 5. LF Tyler O'Neill 6. 1B Juan Yepez 7. DH Jordan Walker 8. 2B Nolan Gorman 9. CF Dylan Carlson
When Arenado/Edman rest - 1. CF Lars Nootbaar 2. 3B Brendan Donovan 3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt 4. C Willson Contreras 5. LF Tyler O'Neill 6. DH Juan Yepez 7. RF Jordan Walker 8. 2B Nolan Gorman 9. SS Paul DeJong
Let me go a bit into my reasoning before you make too many judgements on these constructions. First, there will be days when Goldschmidt and Arenado need full-off days, but they will definitely see a lot of time at DH this season as well. I do think with the amount of DH options the Cardinals have, if a good chunk of them are hitting, it will incentivise them to let the MVP duo have more full rest days than they did last season.
When Arenado is out of the lineup, it is hard to imagine the Cardinals putting anyone else at third base than Donovan, especially if Edman is sitting as well. Edman appeared to slow down in the second half last year due to the grind of playing shortstop every day with few off days, so it is likely the club will want to protect him more if they can. If both Arenado and Edman are out, the Cardinals will need more defense on the left side of the infield, earning Paul DeJong some playing time. I guess Yepez could play third base, but an infield that features Yepez, Donovan, and Gorman without the shift is asking for trouble.
When Goldschmidt and Edman sit though, the presence of Arenado at third base should allow Donovan to slide in at shortstop and Gorman to fill in at second base that day. It is pretty incredible to see the strength of the lineup even when the Cardinals are sitting an MVP-caliber hitter. Just to flex a little more, look at their lineup on a day when BOTH guys are out of the lineup, which should rarely happen, barring injury, but is a possibility.
1. RF Lars Nootbaar 2. 3B Brendan Donovan 3. C Willson Contreras 4. LF Tyler O'Neill 5. 1B Juan Yepez 6. DH Jordan Walker 7. 2B Nolan Gorman 8. CF Dylan Carlson 9. SS Tommy Edman
Again, is this lineup ideal? No. But on a getaway day against the Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, or Oakland Athletics, this lineup is more than capable of winning. Honestly, it can compete with most lineups in today's game. Would that lineup be favored against the best teams? Again, no, but it shows just how deep this team is when rest is needed or injuries happen. It was not all that long ago that the Cardinals' crop of position players was so thin that even the thought of benching one of their regulars was brutal.
Honestly, I could have come up with so many more lineup combinations. What if certain players perform highly this year? What if others struggle? What will St. Louis do when those injuries do happen? I hope what this story showed is St. Louis has a ton of options going into 2023, and while other teams' lineups may become very thin after a few injuries or underperforming talents, the Cardinals should not be in that boat this year.