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Failing to clarify La Russa’s 2011 batting order

With the best of intentions, I tried to clear up lineup questions with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals by asking the manager himself.

Those who frequent The Cardinal Nation Blog are well aware of the discussion and debate we’ve been having here for weeks about Tony La Russa’s projected batting order for his 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

I don’t waste a lot of time opining about my personal preferences as they really don’t matter to anyone. Instead, I try to gather intelligence on what might actually happen, apply a healthy dose of logic and report it to you.

The best way to try to help put some clarity around the issue is to ask the source. Near the top of my to-do list for this past weekend’s Winter Warm-Up was to again quiz La Russa on his lineup thinking. I did that, in a room with several dozen other scribes on Sunday.

The manager acknowledged hearing that some others have suggested Lance Berkman in the number two spot, but the guy with the marker and blank lineup card each day reiterated the new right fielder is his number five hitter.

First reported by some others based on the La Russa interview and repeated across the internet was news that Colby Rasmus is being considered as the team’s leadoff hitter along with newly-acquired Ryan Theriot and returnee Skip Schumaker.

I happened to be the writer that asked the manager those questions so was especially focused on the answers. I am not sure what was reported was what was meant. Then again, it could have been.

Upon listening to the tape, I realized that I had worded my question in a vaguer manner than I intended. Coming off a discussion of the three through five spots, I wanted to know about the first two spots in the order, but my exact word was “top”. Whether La Russa interpreted that to mean leadoff only or his first two spots is unknown.

Here is the exact transcript from the audio.

BW: “When Lance was signed, you said were thinking about him in the number five spot perhaps. Is that your current thinking and how do you see the rest of your batting order?”

TLR: “It’ll all develop, but if you had to write a lineup today, I’d have Matt – he hit fourth last year and was great. Lance can hit anywhere. He could hit third, he could hit fourth, he could hit fifth. The thing with Lance is that he is a middle of the lineup hitter and… pick one of the spots. Albert is our third place hitter and plan on keeping Matt fourth and Lance fifth.”

(At this point, the manager was reminded of a question that someone had previously asked, but he wanted to also cover here.)

“Somebody asked about Lance second. I’d try to avoid that. He’s a great on-base percentage guy, but one of the reasons you want him as a middle of the lineup guy is to create a more fair challenge for Colby and David Freese. Those guys don’t need to hit fifth.”

BW: “Who do you see at the top?”

TLR: “We’ll see. I know Skip has hit up there and hit .300. Ryan’s hit up there and hit .300. Colby’s hit up there, and I just think…”

Matthew Leach interjects: “Is Schumaker a second-place hitter? That’s something you haven’t done…”

TLR: “He could be. He could be. He gives you… The thing is who leads off, you have the balance of… I just think you don’t want to make too many statements. Even in your own mind, you don’t want to make decisions. Just see how the combinations play out.”

Joe Strauss: “Do you go into spring assuming the lower part of the lineup is the same as the end of last year with the pitcher hitting eighth or is that something that the team tells you in spring training?”

TLR: “Did we finish a lot with the pitcher hitting ninth?”

Group: “Yes.”

TLR: “Yes, I think it has a lot to do with… in a perfect world, you have somebody you can hit seventh and somebody you can hit ninth. If you’ve got guys that you hesitate to move into that ninth spot, then the pitcher can hit ninth. Right now with the lineup, I think I would have the pitcher hit ninth, knowing the guys we have.”

In other words, apparently La Russa doesn’t think he has a “second leadoff hitter” to place ninth, yet he has three contenders for the top of the order (however he defines “top”) and a set plan for three through five.

The bottom line is that I seem to have failed in my mission to establish complete clarity!

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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