Lineup discussion: NL Central

February, 17, 2014
2/17/14
2:35
PM ET
How much has scoring declined in recent years? There were 9,730 runs scored in the National League in 2013. In 2003 (with one additional team), there were 11,945 runs -- a difference of 98 runs per team on average.

St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals

Key question: Who replaces Carlos Beltran as the No. 2 hitter?
Cardinals leadoff hitters led the majors in runs scored and their No. 2 hitters ranked fourth, a key reason they scored 77 more runs than any other NL team. With Beltran hitting second in 83 games, Cardinals No. 2 hitters hit 24 home runs, fourth in the majors behind three teams that hit 25. Assuming Mike Matheny keeps Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot (why change a good thing?), he has several options here, with Kolten Wong fitting the more traditional stereotype of a No. 2 hitter.

Projected lineup:
Matt Carpenter, 3B
Kolten Wong, 2B
Matt Holliday, LF
Allen Craig, RF
Yadier Molina, C
Matt Adams, 1B
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Peter Bourjos, CF

At some point -- maybe even Opening Day -- Oscar Taveras will force himself into the mix, pushing Craig to first base and Adams to a bench role. The Cardinals hit a record .330 with runners in scoring position, so they may be hard-pressed to score 783 runs again -- although replacing Pete Kozma with Peralta will help.

Suggestion:
Why not hit Molina second? He has hit .313/.361/.481 the past three years. He can't run and you may worry about double plays, but he has the bat control (just 55 strikeouts last year in 541 plate appearances) that St. Louis can hit-and-run against ground ball pitchers. Plus, double plays are an issue with Molina no matter where he hits, and he's not even the Cardinals hitter with the biggest problem there; that's Holliday, who grounded into a league-leading 31. Plus, hitting Molina second would alleviate the pressure on the rookie Wong so he can be eased in lower in the order.

Pittsburgh PiratesPittsburgh Pirates

Key question: Will they get enough production from first base and right field?
Pirates first basemen ranked tied for last in runs scored (58), tied for 25th in home runs (17) and 25th in RBIs (71) -- although they did rank 10th in OBP and 13th in OPS. Their right fielders ranked 27th in OBP (.299) and 26th in slugging (.385).

Projected lineup:
Starling Marte, LF
Neil Walker, 2B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Russell Martin, C
Jose Tabata, RF
Jordy Mercer, SS

Here's an interesting fact: The Pirates led the NL in road home runs last year. PNC Park serves to mask some of the team's power. That said, it's not a great lineup once you get past McCutchen. Alvarez traded power for a sub-.300 OBP, and the Pirates need to find a platoon partner for Sanchez. The key could be Marte, who posted a solid .343 OBP thanks to 24 HBPs. But his 138/25 strikeout/walk ratio causes concern that he won't hit .280 again.

Suggestion:
You could argue that McCutchen should hit second, but that won't happen. It will be interesting to see if Clint Hurdle keeps Alvarez in the cleanup spot. He started hitting there in July but moved back down to sixth when the club acquired Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. Unless Hurdle thinks outside the box and goes with Martin or Sanchez, I suspect Alvarez will get the chance to hit there.

Cincinnati RedsCincinnati Reds

Key question: Can Billy Hamilton replace Shin-Soo Choo in the leadoff spot?
Probably not, even if he does steal 75 bases. Choo posted a .423 OBP last year; Hamilton had a .308 OBP in Triple-A. Over 700 plate appearances, that's a difference of 80 times on base. The steals don't come close to making up that difference.

SportsNation

Which team has the best lineup in the NL Central?

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    9%
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    17%
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    9%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,539)

Projected lineup:
Billy Hamilton, CF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Joey Votto, 1B
Jay Bruce, RF
Ryan Ludwick, LF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Devin Mesoraco, C
Zack Cozart, SS

The Reds were third in the NL in runs scored, but they were closer to the No. 12 team (the Padres) than the No. 1 team (the Cardinals). The interesting thing will be if new skipper Bryan Price follows Dusty Baker's lead and separates Votto and Bruce. Considering Bruce is the second-best hitter in what could be a weak lineup, batting him fifth would be a mistake. They're betting off batting them back-to-back and maximizing their plate appearances.

Suggestion:
Move Votto up to second in the order. For one thing, studies show the optimal lineup has your best hitter in the No. 2 spot in the order. Plus, consider this: Votto drew 33 first-inning walks last year. You'd rather have him drawing those walks with no outs or one out than two outs and the bases empty. And hitting him second would allow Bruce to hit fourth and still keep them split if so desired.

Milwaukee BrewersMilwaukee Brewers

Key question: Will Ryan Braun return to his MVP-level performance of 2011 and 2012?
Braun played just 61 games in 2013 due to injuries and his PED suspension. His power was down -- nine home runs -- but he also played through a thumb injury that finally forced him to the DL. He's also transitioning to right field.

Projected lineup:
Jean Segura, SS
Carlos Gomez, CF
Ryan Braun, RF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Jonathan Lucroy, C
Khris Davis, LF
Mark Reynolds, 1B
Scooter Gennett, 2B

Segura presumably moves to the No. 1 spot to replace the departed Norichika Aoki, but he also hit just .241/.268/.315 in the second half while his home run total decreased from 11 to one. At the end of 2013, Ron Roenicke had been hitting Lucroy third and Ramirez fourth. Assuming Braun returns to his third spot in the lineup, Lucroy could slide back to fifth. Even though the lineup is heavily right-handed (Gennett is the only lefty swinger listed above), remember that the Brewers led the NL in runs in 2012 when Braun was healthy.

Suggestion:
If Segura flops in the leadoff spot, move Gomez there and bat the underrated Lucroy in the 2-hole.

Chicago CubsChicago Cubs

Key question: Will Starlin Castro hit leadoff?
Castro had a terrible 2013, but new manager Rick Renteria says the shortstop is still the top candidate to hit leadoff -- while at least acknowledging that he's "not a typical on-base guy." Not that you want that from your leadoff hitter or anything.

Projected lineup:
Starlin Castro, SS
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Nate Schierholtz, RF
Justin Ruggiano, CF
Luis Valbuena, 3B
Welington Castillo, C
Darwin Barney, 2B

How soon until the kids are ready?

Suggestion:
I'm open to ideas.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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