Searching for the perfect (or at least better) Cardinals’ lineup

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St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dylan Carlson hits a RBI single during the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on April 17. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports)

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Fifteen games into the 2021 season, the St. Louis Cardinals look aimless one day and hopeful the next. Leaving Philadelphia after another series loss, they will carry a record of 7-8 into a mid-week series with the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital. So far, one series win and four series losses.

The problems aren’t hard to find with this particular team. Fabric wise, the paint is still drying. You don’t acquire a superstar like Nolan Arenado and just watch a World Series contender formulate in front of your eyes. Those are week-of-the-trade feelings, ones saturated in way too much syrup. Yes, there is a thing as too much pancake topping, but the Cardinals would welcome too much of anything at the moment.

One game finds them struggling to get five quality innings out of a starter. The next will see their lineup produce more strikeouts than hits. A runner might find third base, but their cup of coffee will remain hot as the inning fizzles. The bullpen is working overtime, and the outfield is still a gigantic question mark.

I know… as a Hall of Fame manager would urge, it’s only the third week of the season. Warning signs are speed humps, not bumps, at this point. When a team has to worry about scoring four runs and not committing five men to a pitching job, there are already leaks on the ceiling. The strongest asset of this team are the finishers: a bullpen with multiple blends of closing talent. Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks and Genesis Cabrera make you forget about the old-looking Andrew Miller and undesirable Tyler Webb. But if the majority is fried by June 1, what good are they in September?

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While the cure lies with the rotation going deeper into games, the instant medicine sits with the bats. Can manager Mike Shildt resist stacking two of the biggest strikeout kings — Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter — in the everyday lineup? The opposing pitcher with at least two above-average pitches is salivating at the lips. You can push Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado in the first three lineup spots, but if 5-9 are next to useless or inconsistent, the more at-bats idea isn’t a solid plan.

Here’s what I think Shildt should do. Let me put out a disclaimer: sportswriters don’t make lineup cards; we just put the real one out there and/or discuss what our proposed group would look like. Before you read further, just know this is my version and while it may never reach the skipper’s office, it is what I believe to be a formidable plan to produce a more reliable offense.

The top five spots are simple. Tommy Edman has been the most impressive element to this early portion of the season. Taking over the shoes of fan favorite Kolten Wong was one deep task, but he’s also proven to be an adept outfielder. He is getting on base, reducing his strikeouts while drawing walks, and throwing some extra-base power out there on occasion. He stays at the top. What if he ends up being a much-cheaper yet pretty good version of Wong?

Dylan Carlson bats second. This is the crucial element of the new arrangement. Get creative with the No. 2 and be youthful for a change. While a wild Austin Dean weekend had me thrown for a temporary loop a week ago, I think this spot needs to become the big-time rookie’s preferred launch pad. Right before Arenado/Goldschmidt, Carlson’s power could find quite a few mistakes. I am not worried about his pressure standards. The kid wants it, so give him the spotlight.

I could flip the top big guns for a simple reason. Arenado has looked like the more reliable slugger in the early going, so drop Goldschmidt back a slot and see how they reshape the lineup. You could bat “Goldy” and “Nado” in either order, but they need to move down. The 2-3 punch was a fine idea, but the rest of the lineup needs support-so you stretch the eight count by lowering your boom in the 3-4 spot. Call it old school and unconventional with the sabermetric crowd, but it might work.

Yadier Molina drops to the fifth spot. In a normal-functioning lineup, he bats no higher than sixth, but desperate times call for sharp-minded hitters. Molina can work a hitter over or spot an early mistake. He just smashed two home runs during Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.

Justin Williams has been barreling baseballs and started to see some luck bounce his way, so slot him in the sixth spot. He brings a speed element to the promise of an extra-base hit. Coming into Sunday’s game, Williams has six hits in his last seven games.

Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter fill out the rest of the hopefully less-bad eight. Both strike out a bit much. Heck, between these two and Williams, you are looking at 45 strikeouts in just 114 at-bats. But that’s where Dean (who drew two walks on Saturday) and John Nogowski come into the equation. The latter can only backup Goldschmidt at first, but both offer a different kind of attack as a hitter.

Until Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader get healthy (healthier at this point), the lineup is going to swing around depending on the ability of the team to get something out of the bottom four spots in the lineup. As the esteemed Ben Cerutti, who writes for the great Birds on the Black website mentioned during my visit to his podcast, producing a solid 1-5 is the key to a good lineup.

Attention, Mr. Shildt: Stop batting Carpenter fifth. DeJong could flip with Williams due to a ten game on-base streak, but don’t get your hopes up. Most nights, DeJong’s somewhere-hidden power threat is completely missing in action.

So, for the time being, you stretch your two best hitters to 3-4 and make it faster to get back to Edman at the top. Wait for Carpenter’s above-average exit velocity to turn into actual hits, or for Carlson to just go completely berserk at the plate for a couple weeks.

It’s just an idea. One of hundreds that won’t get to Shildt, but still make the game a little more fun to discuss. Thanks for reading and please keep your seatbelt fastened during this turbulent-yet always interesting-young season.