The St. Louis Cardinals’ 16-run output in Game Three was the kind of thing we came to expect from Albert Pujols and company this season — besides the offensive explosion against the Brewers in the NLCS, the Cardinals scored the most runs in the National League by 27, a greater number than the distance between second place (Cincinnati and Colorado, tied) and seventh place (Philadelphia).
With a heart of the order like the Cardinals can boast, with Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Yadier Molina occupying spots three through seven, nobody should be surprised — those five combined for 129 runs above average despite dealing with injuries along the way.
But there was one weakness all season for St. Louis — namely, the top of the order — and in the World Series, that weakness has risen to the forefront.
In St. Louis, the leadoff position produced a .254/.310/.351 line on the season, or an 83 sOPS+ (split relative to the league; that is, the Cardinals’ leadoff spot produced 83% of the offense of the average leadoff spot). Even though the Cardinals have flung Ryan Theriot from that spot and replaced him with Rafael Furcal, Furcal was only a .231/.298/.348 hitter on the season and a .255/.316/.418 hitter with St. Louis.
Now, this weakness is biting the Cardinals in the World Series — Furcal is a mere 2-for-16 with three walks in the series. Throw in the struggles of Jon Jay and Allen Craig (as a two-hitter, not as a pinch-hitter), and the Cardinals have received a mere 3-for-31 performance from the top two spots in their lineup, and largely as a result, St. Louis has only scored six runs in the other three games of the World Series.
To me, particularly as I watched the Cardinals decimate Milwaukee pitching in the NLCS, this is the most interesting aspect of the Cardinals’ lineup construction. Once Albert Pujols reaches the plate, not only is the aspect of dealing with perhaps the game’s greatest hitter daunting, but there also looms the prospect of Holliday, Berkman, Freese, and even Molina — there isn’t a true sigh of relief until the eight spot is reached and Nick Punto or Ryan Theriot mercifully make outs. But there is one chance at getting through the lineup unscathed — or at the least, containing it — get the first two hitters out.
Furcal, Jay and Craig had solid seasons as Cardinals, combining for a solid 22 runs above average. But compared to the gauntlet presented afterwards, Furcal and Jay in particular are easy outs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there is an easy fix. Perhaps David Freese could be moved to the second spot, but it would be reactionary to move Allen Craig from that spot after his excellent performance this year, particularly in the second half. It could be wise to consider such a move in an NL park, moving Jay down to the seventh spot, but right now, what the Cardinals really need is for whoever sits in the first two spots to hit the baseball and give the heart of the order the chance to do what they do best: drive in runs.
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