1. LEADING OFF
While he’s certain to tinker with the order of his hitters at times this spring, there are very few questions when it comes to who bats where for Mike Matheny and the Cardinals. Except at the top.
Jon Jay currently has the deed for the No. 1 spot in the order, but shortstop Rafael Furcal often has talked about how hitting leadoff is part of his “identity” as a player.
Furcal’s struggles allowed Jay to emerge as the Cardinals leadoff hitter for the final two months of the season and through the playoffs. He earned incumbency. In 221 at-bats atop the order, Jay hit .303 with a .362 on-base percentage.
For hitters with at least 200 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, Jay’s average and OBP ranked second in the National League. To hold the spot, Jay will have to remain that steady while assuring that last year’s home-road splits (.384 at Busch, .224 elsewhere) were a quirk, not a concern.
A consistent, high-OBP leadoff hitter would go a long way to solving the Cardinals’ inconsistent, feast/famine offense from a year ago because after the leadoff hitter the All-Stars (past, present and future) are in place: Carlos Beltran, who Matheny likes in the No. 2 spot, followed by Matt Holliday at No. 3 and Allen Craig, who took ownership of the cleanup spot late last season.