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Lineup Intrigue in St. Louis…

Allen Craig’s triumphant return to the Cardinals roster yesterday gives Mike Matheny a smorgasbord of opportunities. Matheny is on record as saying Craig will allow him to give some guys a day off here and there, and with the Redbirds set to face the “masterful” A.J. Burnett tonight in Busch Stadium, a few names come to mind.

Carlos Beltran needs a breather. The switch-hitting slugger is 5 for his last 36 at-bats. Since being plugged into the clean-up spot with Berkman’s injury, he’s hitting .162 with an OBP of .279 and a slugging percentage of .189. In fact, his overall slash line from the clean-spot this season is an unimpressive .222/.354/.296 with 1 HR and 6 RBIs in 54 at-bats. In just 27 at-bats hitting in the two-spot: .296/.424/.741 with 4 HRs and 5 RBIs. With Allen Craig back from his rehab stint – and clearly swinging the bat well – it’s time to spell Beltran in right field. Give him a day off today and Matheny could return him to the lineup against Bedard for Thursday’s day game. Beltran has already said he actually feels more comfortable from the right-side (Bedard is a lefty), and the stats seem to lend evidence to his preference. His slash line against RHP in 2012: .219/.367/.469. His line against LHP this year: .333/.429/.333. Obviously, his power comes from the left side (with all 5 HRs against RHP); however, giving him a “comfortable” game against a LHP could be just what he needs to break his funk. But when he comes back, he needs to hit in the two hole and let Allen Craig take over the clean-up spot until Berkman returns. Sure, asking Craig to play a night game followed by a day game isn’t ideal for his knee – and God only knows how his knee will respond to playing right field – but the Cardinals insist the extra month of rehab for Craig was aimed at getting the slugger 100%. Shouldn’t that give him the ability to play every day, whether it’s at first base or in the outfield? I think so. (FYI: The last time the Cards faced Burnett, Beltran went 0 for 3 with a rare 2 strikeouts.)

Giving Beltran the day off in RF would allow Matheny an excuse to slot Matt Carpenter in at 1B. Lil’ Carp was the only Cardinal to get more than one hit off Burnett the last time he ambushed the Redbirds (Carpenter went 2 for 3). In the days ahead, Matt’s chances at first base are going to be few and far between. Matheny may want to alternate starts between Craig and Carpenter at 1B, but when you’re filling out a lineup card, it’s awfully difficult to leave Craig off of it. And then Berkman comes back. With a lefty on the mound Thursday, today could be Carpenter’s best chance to see a few at-bats in the seventh spot at first base.

A two-day break could be a great way to keep Skip Schumaker fresh and find at-bats for Descalso and Greene. Coming into Spring Training, the second base job was all but yanked away from Schumaker. The club clearly preferred the defensively sound Descalso and/or the uber-talented Tyler Greene over the outfielder-turned-second-baseman. But once games started to count, both Greene and Descalso faltered. Schumaker’s successful return to the lineup came at the perfect time for him to re-assert himself as the club’s primary second baseman. Of course, Matheny would do well to remember that Schumaker’s rehab was, again, cut short. Running him into the ground by starting him every day won’t do him or the team any favors. With the right-handed Burnett on the mound tonight, Descalso – the only other Cardinals hitter to get a hit in Burnett’s last start against St. Louis – seems like the logical choice to give Schu a breather. And the left-handed Bedard on Thursday should allow for Tyler Greene to steal a few ABs as well. Giving Schumaker time off now and finding at-bats for Greene and Descalso in early May should bode well for the second base position going forward.

Matt Holliday is finding a groove. In his last 10 games, Holliday is 11 for 39 with a .282 average, 2 HRs, 8 RBIs, and 6 walks. If I remember correctly, he’s played in every game on the Cardinals’ schedule to this point. The sheer volume of games played for the slow-starter would likely tempt Matheny to give him a day off now that Craig is available. Resist! Matt finally seems to be comfortable at the plate, and giving him a day off now could derail his momentum. Once Berkman comes back, there will be plenty of opportunities to spell Holliday…but right now, he just needs to be left alone.

I’m a bit surprised that Komatsu was the odd man out when Craig was activated. He should have been, don’t get me wrong, I’m just surprised Mozeliak actually pulled the trigger on exposing the outfielder. He’ll likely lose him now, and Mo doesn’t like to lose promising players. I was concerned when the club picked up a Rule 5 draftee this offseason. The last time we saw that happen, the club kept a player on the 25-man roster all season when other players could have helped this team out more. I was worried Mo would be tempted to do the same with Komatsu. But, it looks like Shane Robinson literally hit his way into a spot on this roster. As the only right-handed center field option on the team, Robinson helped himself out by posting a slash line of .419/.471/.581 in limited playing time. Of course, Jay’s tendency to crash into walls and separate shoulders probably didn’t hurt Robinson’s value either. Good to see a guy who overcame so much after last season’s collision finding success at this level.

Wrap-Up!

That’s it for today…let’s see if the Cards can pull off their first sweep of the season by taking tonight’s contest and shutting the Pirates down on Thursday. I expect good things out of the offense in their second crack at Burnett tonight. This time, they see him coming.

GO CARDS!!!

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