ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Trying to figure out what Tony La Russa was going to do with his batting order on a daily basis was nothing short of an exercise in futility. I’m serious. Look it up in the dictionary. Pretty sure it’s there.
TLR loved to change things around in his lineup simply for the sake of doing so. It irritated fans. But he was convinced it gave his team the best chance to win because it allowed him to keep his bench players “alive” by not rotting away all season. He also changed the order daily based on how players were hitting, who did what against that day’s pitcher and - it seemed like - the placement of the moon in relation to Earth.
Mike Matheny’s been a little more consistent with where he’s hit certain batters. Now, things have changed a little more over the last couple months because of injury. Carlos Beltran was set in that #2 spot until Lance Berkman went down the first time and all of a sudden they needed a new clean up hitter. Jon Jay’s shoulder injury also affected him as well.
But now that this team is just about as healthy as it’s going to get offensively—Berkman’s not going to be 100% again, sorry—it’s time to determine what lineup and batting order Mike Matheny should use more often than not the rest of the way. We’re into August now. Matheny told me they’re playing with, not a little, but a lot of “urgency”.
So I’d think more often than not he’s going to try and stick to the best lineup he can, ride that out and see where it gets him. If you’re going down...may as well go down with your best.
First, the easy ones. Rafael Furcal is your most experienced leadoff hitter. Even with his struggles (he’s hitting just .111 in the last couple weeks) there’s no one else that profiles well there. Jon Jay is more of a contact hitter as opposed to a true leadoff guy. And Skip Schumaker, while finally showing patience at the plate to go along with a good average, has been tremendous in his platoon role. Hitting him 1st every day might risk overexposure. Furcal gets the nod based on history and experience.
Matt Holliday hits 3rd. Next.
The flavor of the week at 2nd base hits 8th (I’d go with Descalso over Schumaker based on defense). Pitcher 9th. Moving on.
That leaves 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 among Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay.
The main domino that’s got to fall first is Jay. Is he looked at as a high on-base guy who sets the table along with Furcal in the 2-spot, therefore creating more power and depth at the bottom? Well, as Mike Matheny said yesterday “that’s tough to do”. Folks, you want your best hitters hitting as many times as they can. Jay is a nice hitter. A very good one. He could hit .300 with his eyes closed probably. But he’s not Carlos Beltran, he’s not Allen Craig and he’s not Yadier Molina. Jay works best, in this championship-caliber lineup, as a depth guy who can help you turn over the order and get it back to the top.
Jay hits 7th.
Freese and Molina are 5th and 6th in some order. For most of the season Matheny has had Freese directly in front of Molina when all has been right. I’m okay with that.
Now it comes down to who bats 2nd and who bats 4th between Beltran and Craig. Despite the fact Beltran has 273 at-bats this season in the cleanup spot and just 93 in the 2-hole I still prefer him more towards the top with Craig 4th.
Here’s why: Beltran’s hitting much better in the 2nd spot compared to the 4th. At 2, he’s got a .323/.402/.699 (BA, OBP, SLG) line compared to a .275/.343/.487 line when hitting 4. Craig, on the other hand, is better at cleanup than towards the top. He’s got a .979 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) versus just a .766 at 2. Translation: Craig’s power evaporates when towards the top. That man was born to drive in runs. He’s a natural middle-of-the-order hitter. I can’t fathom there were too many times in his life he’s ever been asked to be a table setter for anyone.
Beltran, on the other hand, has a ton of experience hitting both towards the top and in the middle of an order. He’s also a switch hitter than creates more headaches for opposing managers with him next to Furcal as a 1-2 punch. Plus, could you imagine the pitches Beltran might see hitting in front of Matt Holliday? Especially if Holliday is as hot as he’s been?
Put all that together and it just makes sense.
So going forward my batting order consists of:
1) Rafael Furcal - SS
2) Carlos Beltran - RF
3) Matt Holliday - LF
4) Allen Craig - 1B
5) David Freese - 3B
6) Yadier Molina - C
7) Jon Jay - CF
8) Daniel Descalso - 2B