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It Doesn’t Matter Where Matt Carpenter Hits In the Lineup, But Right Now It’s OK to Shake It Up

If Matt Carpenter is swinging the bat with precision, you could pick a lineup out of a hat and slot him anywhere. Doesn’t matter. You could fly him to the moon and he’d deposit home runs into lunar orbit and draw walks from alien pitchers.

If Carpenter’s swing is malfunctioning, as was the case in recent times, he’s like any slumping hitter: you could pick any number in the lineup and put him there. And it wouldn’t matter. The results would be poor.

Manager Mike Matheny gave leadoff man Dexter Fowler the night off on Wednesday when the Cardinals embarrassed themselves again with a 6-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Carpenter batted leadoff, returning to his familiar spot atop to the Cards lineup.

This of course set off widespread spasms among the faithful, and I thought some of my favorite fans would require a defibrillator. Because if there is one thing we all love to do, it is to pretend that certain players are psychologically damaged, incapable of performing, and basically useless to the team and the society at large if they’re moved out of a customary lineup spot.

Fowler did come off the bench to shoot an RBI double into the gap to extend the visitor’s lead to 4-1, and Carpenter had a nice game, hitting his 10th homer of the season and later drawing a walk.

See!

Carpenter must bat first!

Um, no. Not really.

As Carpenter told Jen Langosch of MLB.com and other media before the game: “I don’t want this to become the narrative – if I go out and get four hits today that, ‘OK, he’s the leadoff hitter.’  ”

Through his MLB career Carpenter absolutely has delivered the goods as a leadoff hitter. He’s been one of the best., with a .387 onbase percentage and .486 slug (.873 OPS) on the rung. If Matheny wants to use Carpenter at leadoff, then use him at leadoff.

It isn’t about Carpenter’s place in the lineup.

It’s about the placement of his swing.

As Carpenter told Langosch mechanical flaws have negatively affected his launch angle. And as Langosch helpfully explained, Carpenter’s off-kilter swing has caused a significant increase in pop-ups.

When his swing is right — again — Carpenter’s address in Matheny’s lineup is irrelevant. Carpenter’s numbers as the No. 3 hitter this season are below his overall career standards, but it isn’t because his head wires are tangled when batting third or second.

Between April 20 and May 14, Carpenter had a .441 OBP, .648 slugging percentage, and 1.089 OPS as a No. 3 hitter. The splurge over 93 plate appearances featured four doubles, a triple, seven homers, 20 RBIs.

Wait a minute.  I thought Carpenter’s mind was discombobulated by his new residency in the lineup?

If that’s true, why did he massacre pitching over that three-week stretch?

The idea that Carpenter metaphorically breaks out on in a rash as a non-leadoff man is ludicrous and an insult to him.

“Struggles are struggles,” Carpenter told reporters in Cincinnati. “I had a stretch where I was hitting really well in the three-hole, but I hit a funk. (I’m) trying to find my way.”

So what’s Matheny’s plan?

For Thursday’s day game at Cincinnati, Matheny has Carpenter leading off and Fowler batting second.

Fowler has 3,264 career plate appearances as a leadoff hitter. He’s batted elsewhere in the lineup, wit the No. 2 spot as the most frequently used alternative (769 PA.) I think it’s silly to relocate Fowler from his post at leadoff.

First of all, he has a career .364 OBP at No. 1.

And he can supply power there.

Second, Fowler’s overall season numbers are disappointing, but for some reason few have noticed that his recent offensive trend is good. In 40 games and 161 plate appearances since April 19, Fowler has a .360 OBP and has slugged .540 for a .900 OPS. And he ‘s done this while dealing with a shoulder injury. In other words: he’s Dexter Fowler. He’s done nothing to warrant a bump from the No. 1 line on Matheny’s card.

This is fascinating.

If Matheny moves Carpenter to his former lineup chute, batting him first, the manager would essentially be agreeing with the theory that Carpenter is mentally soft and can’t deal with being transferred from the No. 1 spot . That Carpenter is a fragile snowflake. Which, of course, is 100 percent wrong.

These are desperate times for the Cardinals. The offense is dozing, having scored only 7 total runs in the first three games at Cincinnati. If Matheny wants to remix the lineup, fine. Shaking things up, if ever so briefly, might loosen an uptight, pressing team.

I usually would bark about something like this. But my goodness, I understand why Matheny wants to try something …  anything …  to awaken this offense.

Heck, Matheny can even do what Billy Martin did when managing the Tigers and later the Yankees. With his teams stuck in a dire slumps, Martin picked his lineup out of his baseball cap several times — and actually won games. Even with light-hitting shortstop Eddie Brinkman — career .300 slugging pct. — drawing the cleanup spot from the Martin’s hat one day.

That said, I won’t back away from this opinion: if Matt Carpenter’s hitting mechanics are aligned, you can put him anywhere and get positive results. He isn’t a head case. He doesn’t need a psychiatrist. He just needs to be his own swing doctor and find a cure. And he will. I hope the new lineup format works. If it does … well, an advance tip of the cap to the skipper.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: MLB Is Having Another Home-Run Derby Season and the Cardinals Aren’t Participating