With the calendar turning to a new year, it seems fitting to take a look ahead to the 2019 season. More specifically, what should we expect from the Cardinals 1-4 hitters next year? Adding Paul Goldschmidt to that mix was a clear improvement and could prove beneficial to the other guys around him as well.
1. Matt Carpenter
For the first time in two years, Matt Carpenter will start the season where he belongs, in the leadoff spot. He owes this largely to Goldy, whose presence in the middle of the order will render Carpenter’s unnecessary.
This will be extremely beneficial not only to Carp, but also to the entire team. Most of Carpenter’s success throughout his career has come from the top of the order. From the one hole, his career slash is .287/.389/.495. His OPS in the second and third spots are significantly lower at .728 and .734, respectively.
Most projections for Carp in 2019 have him around 25 home runs, 87-94 runs scored, 68-71 RBI and an .830-.833 OPS. These numbers would definitely be acceptable from the Cards’ third baseman. However, he may outperform them. After all, he will be hitting from the leadoff spot for an entire season, and he’ll be in front of Goldschmidt.
The latter will presumably result in him seeing more good pitches to hit, making the 25 home run estimate a good one. It’s also reasonable to think it will result in him scoring more runs. His ability to draw walks in front of Goldy will land him closer to the 100-plus Runs Scored plateau than his projections show.
2. Paul Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt was acquired to strengthen the middle of the order. The Cardinals expect him to drive in runs and provide power that will make opposing pitchers wary. That’s exactly the type of hitter he’s been throughout his career, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be the same in 2019.
Goldy will have the pleasure of hitting behind Matt Carpenter, who has been one of the league’s best leadoff hitters in recent years. He won’t have as much protection behind him unless Paul DeJong has a big year, but Marcell Ozuna will be waiting behind him to help out. On top of that, he’s going into a contract year, which generally provides extra motivation to play well.
Most of the 2019 projections for Goldy have him at 26-27 homers, 84-89 RBI and an .874 to .884 OPS. For the same reason, Carpenter has a real chance at scoring 100 or more runs, Goldschmidt has a good opportunity to drive in 100-plus again. His OPS will hopefully be in the .900 range, as opposed to what the projections show, but it’s hard to tell how the change of ball parks will affect him. For that same reason, it’s hard to set a number for his home run total. He seems more likely to hit 30-35 than 26-27, though, based on his career numbers. Over his six full big league seasons, he’s only hit less than 33 two times.
3. Paul DeJong
The three spot, again, will be a very important one for the Cardinals next season. Unless, of course, Goldy slides down, Paul DeJong will have a big job providing protection for the perennial All-Star.
After a big rookie campaign that landed him second in the Rookie of the Year voting, DeJong took a step backwards in 2018. He hit the so called “sophomore slump,” though he still had a decent season. Over 115 games, he hit 19 homers, drove in 68 runs and had an OPS of .746. The Cardinals are hoping he’ll bounce back this season and be even better than he was in 2017.
He should have plenty of opportunity hitting behind Goldschmidt and Carpenter. Teams may opt to pitch around those two guys to get to DeJong late in games, until he proves he can make them pay consistently. That means he should get more good pitches to hit as well. Partially because of that, he’s projected to hit 21-25 home runs, drive in 67-82 and post an OPS of .760-.787. If he hits the high side of those numbers, with an OPS preferably closer to .800, it’ll be exactly what the Redbirds need.
4. Marcell Ozuna
Marcell Ozuna had a rough 2018 compared to his monster season in 2017. He wasn’t really the big bat the Cards hoped they were getting last offseason. He never got over the hump and turned out to be more of a base hit guy than the 37 homer guy he was the year prior.
His situation will likely be similar to what it was last year, unlike the previous three guys, unless Goldschmidt winds up hitting third. Should Goldy stay in the two hole, though, Ozuna probably won’t be treated any differently by opposing pitchers than he was in 2018. If anything, they might give him more to hit just based on his performance in 2018 versus 2017.
Ozuna is currently projected to hit 24-28 homers, drive in 84-96 and put up an OPS anywhere from .802 to .837. Like DeJong, the Cardinals would be more than happy with the higher side of those numbers. In fact, if Ozuna were to hit 28 homers, drive in 96 runs and have an OPS of .837, it would have a huge positive effect on the Cards’ season. It’s probably more reasonable to expect him to hit 25 homers with 85 RBI and sit right around .800 for his OPS, though. He should be better than he was in 2018, but don’t expect any miraculous turn around, no matter how nice it would be.
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