When the St. Louis Cardinals arrived at spring training in February, it appeared as if versatility would be this team's strength.
After all, right handed cleanup hitter Allen Craig was part of an imposing first base combination with lefty swinger Matt Adams. At second base the Cardinals hedged their bets on lefty youngster Kolten Wong by adding free agent Mark Ellis to the roster to provide a productive right handed bat against tough lefty starters -- or off the bench in a pinch hitting situation. Righty Peter Bourjos was added to the outfield picture to compliment lefties Jon Jay and OScar Taveras.
The Cardinals, on paper, could mix and match with anybody. It should have been the most versatile St. Louis batting order since switch hitters Vince Coleman, Tommy Herr, Willie McGee, Terry Pendleton and Ozzie Smith populated the lineup in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, every one of those righty hitters washed out for one reason or another. And the Redbirds find themselves in the same boat as they were when they played the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 National League Championship Series -- extremely limited when it comes to lineup options and pinch hitters.
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One of the big reasons behind the Cardinals' offensive struggles this season has been their inability to hide their lefty-dominated lineup from southpaws. Sure, Jay over-achieved against lefty pitchers. But after Allen Craig disappeared from the lineup, Adams was over-exposed, seeing his average drop 100 points and his power dwindle away with only four home runs after the All-Star Game. Adams hit .190 against lefties in 2014 with three of his 15 homers coming against southpaws. And the 15 overall homers number was a HUGE disappointment, too.
Third baseman Matt Carpenter usually holds his own against lefties. But, facing a steady diet of them has to be tough on a guy. He said after the season that he was never able to get into a groove where he felt as if he was swinging a hot bat. And I don't doubt it when he was placed into so many unfavorable positions.
He ended up hitting about 50 points lower than he did the year before and, oddly, hit over .300 on the road but only .237 at Busch Stadium. In 2013 Carpenter hit .360 at home and .276 away from Busch Stadium.
What's the difference? In 2013 he often batted in front of switch hitter Carlos Beltran and the right handed hitting Craig, so opposing managers likely were less inspired to bring in a lefty to face one batter. In 2014 Carpenter batted in front of fellow lefties Kolten Wong and Jon Jay much of the time. So if skippers had a lefty in the bullpen, that's who they were going to see. And that doesn't include all the times the Cardinals were paired up against lefty starters with Carpenter, Jay, Wong, Adams and Taveras all in the order at the same time.
One of the reasons the Redbirds were forced to finally take a serious look at Randal Grichuk was that they were desperate for a righty power bat, no matter how raw. But it 2015 they're going to have to find an imposing right handed slugger that they can count on every day and put him in the batting order SOMEPLACE or they're never going to get out of first gear offensively.
The Giants feature southpaw Jeremy Affeldt in the bullpen who had a 2.21 ERA during the regular season with a 3:1 strikeouts to walks ratio. But a bigger problem could be starter Madison Bumgarner.
In 2013 the Cardinals were carved up by Barry Zito. And that performance may be the biggest bright spot in his otherwise disastrous tenure with the Giants.