ST. LOUIS — Perhaps winning back-to-back games against the lowly Cubs will propel the Cardinals on a run worthy of the preseason expectations.
Or maybe a season so far defined by mediocrity will continue. Through the first lap of a four-lap season, the Cardinals haven’t lost more than two consecutive games. But they have won more than two in a row only once, in mid-April when they put together a four-game winning streak.
Now if the Cardinals really want to make a change that would qualify as a shakeup, they don’t need to call up Oscar Taveras and make him feel like the season is riding on his sweet left-handed swing.
Mike Matheny has a way to ignite his disappointing offense without having to change a single player. It’s simple. Put Peter Bourjos in the leadoff role. The Cardinals were seeking speed when they traded for Bourjos. It’s time to let it loose.
Yes, the Cardinals have a strong argument for not making a change at the top. They already have an All-Star leadoff hitter, Matt Carpenter, and he hasn’t been the weak link in the offense. He’s had an off week, but six games ago he was sporting a .392 OBP and he ranks top 10 in runs scored in the NL.
But there are at least three reasons to believe Bourjos fits better at No. 1, and Carpenter actually makes one of them. As good as he is leading off, couldn’t he be even better one spot lower?
His ability to work counts plays in the two-hole, too, especially when Bourjos is on base. Bourjos hasn’t been in many good spots to steal, in part because he’s spent much of the season hitting hit in front of the pitcher. Even when he’s been in a good situation, he’s seemed hesitant to go. After his rough start, you can understand why he would not want to make a mistake. But get over it. If he is caught stealing, at least that’s a legitimate out on the bases. The Cardinals have run into more than their share that were your basic base-running errors.
On the heels of signing a big contract extension, Carpenter might not be eager to "give himself up" at times to move Bourjos over, but Carpenter has shown to be a team-over-me type player. Who knows, having to situational hit occasionally might even help reduce his strikeouts.
Reason No. 2: Dropping Carpenter to second would allow Matheny to put his home-run hitter, Jhonny Peralta, in the cleanup spot. Isn’t that where you want your slugger? If Allen Craig, Matt Adams or even Yadier Molina surpasses Peralta in home runs, move him into the fourth spot. For Bourjos to work in the leadoff spot, he’ll need to reach base a fair amount. If he’s getting on with Carpenter and Matt Holliday, who is drawing walks at a career-best rate, in the second and third spots, the cleanup man should not hurt for RBI opportunities.
Reason No. 3: Move down Adams or Craig and the rest of the lineup immediately becomes deeper. With Wong returning to second base, it should be speedier, too. And don’t put Wong in the eight-hole. It’s not a great spot for speed. Matheny admitted it wasn’t working for Bourjos when he moved him to seventh after his recent return to the lineup, with Mark Ellis eighth. Batting in front of the pitcher diminishes the value of bunting, and Wong and Bourjos are the club’s best bunters. It also reduces the opportunities to steal — really, does it make much difference whether there’s a man on first or second when the pitcher’s batting?
But if Wong bats seventh and an RBI man is behind him, getting into scoring position becomes a whole lot more important than being on first, so there’s more incentive to run. Depending on how the Cardinals’ lineup has been hitting, Adams or Craig could occupy the eighth spot, with the other in the six-hole.
Now you’re looking at a deep lineup: Bourjos, Carpenter, Holliday, Peralta, Molina, Adams/Craig, Wong, Adams/Craig, pitcher.
The six and eight spots, and even the fourth spot, could change depending on matchups, who’s hot and so on. If anyone believes he’s too good to hit eighth, simple: Produce and move up. And if everybody’s hitting, who cares where they’re hitting in the order?
The key to making this work, of course, is Bourjos. Nothing short of a .340 OBP would be acceptable. Anything over .360 and the offense would really have something. Three-sixty is not out of reach, either. Bourjos was at .392 last year before he injured his wrist.
Over his past 10 games this month — since he went back to playing regularly — he’s at .400.
A small sample size, sure. But the Cardinals have tried numerous other changes based on even smaller samples this season. And none of them provided the kind of jolt that could come with moving Bourjos to the top of the order.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.