The St. Louis Cardinals‘ 2021 lineup never quite lived up to expectations. The Red Birds mustered up 706 total runs last year, the 11th-fewest in baseball. That same offense let them down in the NL Wild Card game, as St. Louis’ 90-win season ended with a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Many of the same faces are back in 2022, along with the return of an old friend. So as first-year manager Oliver Marmol hands in his lineup card for St. Louis’ April 7 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who can we expect to see take the diamond for the 11-time champions?
Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado give the Cardinals some serious star power
1. Tommy Edman (2B), 2. Paul Goldschmidt (1B), 3. Nolan Arenado (3B)
Even though Mike Shildt is no longer managing the Red Birds, Edman is the clear choice to open up Marmol’s lineup. The 26-year-old has become an everyday player after making his MLB debut in 2019. While he hasn’t reached the .300 mark since his rookie year, Edman still finished 2021 with 168 hits, 11 home runs, and 30 stolen bases. If he builds off of his .308 OBP, he can be one of the more well-rounded leadoff hitters in the game.
Next up is Goldschmidt, a slugger who’s as steady as a rock. The 34-year-old was St. Louis’ primary two-hitter last year, hitting .294/.365/.514 with 31 home runs and 99 RBI. He even stole 12 bags, his sixth season in double figures. Goldy is easily the Cardinals’ most dependable hitter and a guy this lineup needs in order to reach its full potential. A .300/30/100 campaign is the baseline of what you can expect from the four-time Silver Slugger.
While Goldschmidt could also be an option for the three-spot, this is where we’ll place Arenado. The six-time All-Star wasn’t quite the same level of hitter he was during his eight-year tenure with the Colorado Rockies. But he should still be productive in his second season under the Arch. Arenado, who’ll turn 31 this month, still managed to club 34 homers in his debut campaign with the Cardinals and should be able to hit for similar power in 2022.
For a time, both Goldschmidt and Arenado were considered two of the top-10 hitters in baseball. While they may fall just short of that reputation now, they each boast All-Star upside at the top of St. Louis’ batting order.
A future HOFer could be sandwiched between two young outfielders
4. Tyler O’Neill (LF), 5. Yadier Molina (C), 6. Dylan Carlson (RF)
The Cardinals have been patiently waiting for the Canadian O’Neill to break through. Finally, their wish was granted last season. In 138 games, O’Neill put his power to good use, clubbing 34 home runs to best his previous career high of nine. But he also hit for a strong .286 average and earned an OPS of .912, the highest among all of St. Louis’ everyday players. The 26-year-old has the chance to be a really solid player for a long time in the heart of the Cardinal lineup.
While it may feel odd, a 39-year-old Molina started more games in the five-spot than any other Red Bird in 2021. For now, that’s where he’ll stay. The 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove recipient still has a little bit of juice left in his bat. While his average and OBP continue to drop, Yadi will likely knock in double-digit home runs before calling it a career at the end of the season.
St. Louis’ x-factor is Carlson, its youngest projected starter. The 23-year-old was third in Rookie of the Year voting last season, slashing .266/.343/.437 and hitting 18 homers and 31 doubles. There is clearly a lot of potential for Carlson, the 33rd overall draft pick in 2016. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he finishes the season as the Cards’ two-hitter, thereby pushing all but Edman down one spot in the order.
Yadi’s retirement tour may steal some of the attention away from O’Neill and Carlson, but it shouldn’t. These young outfielders have the potential to make St. Louis’ lineup one of the toughest in baseball.
Albert Pujols returns for one last hurrah
7. Albert Pujols (DH), 8. Paul DeJong (SS), 9. Harrison Bader (CF)
The Cardinals’ bottom three is riddled with question marks. One of the dilemmas for Marmol is figuring out who St. Louis’ regular DH will be. In all likelihood, newcomer Corey Dickerson will earn the brunt of the ABs against righties, while the future Hall of Famer Pujols will slide in to face lefties. This will be it for the 42-year-old, as he returns to the Cardinals just 21 homers away from 700 all time.
Another question mark is at shortstop, where DeJong lost a good deal of playing time last year to Edmundo Sosa. Following an All-Star season in 2019, the 28-year-old DeJong hit a miserable .197 in ’21 with a career-low OPS+ of 86. While he will likely get the first crack at the gig, he’ll understandably have a short leash with the 26-year-old Sosa waiting in the wings.
Finally, Bader has always been more glove than bat. But the previously-weak-hitting outfielder is coming off of career highs in home runs (16), average (.267), and OPS (.785). All while securing his first Gold Glove for his work in center field. The 27-year-old is still wildly streaky, hitting 11 combined homers in July and September but none in August. The Cardinals could use a bit more consistency from their expected nine-hitter.
This lineup underperformed for much of last season. In fact, if it wasn’t for an improbable 17-game winning streak throughout September, the Cardinals would’ve very likely missed the playoffs. That said, there’s a good chance St. Louis will be an above-average offensive team as it looks to bring playoff baseball back to Busch Stadium.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.