Redbirds extend dramatic offensive turnaround
Cards are on a tear after totalling just nine hits in first two-plus playoff games
WASHINGTON -- Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday grounded out to second base to end the bottom of the first inning in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Monday. St. Louis hadn't gotten the ball out of the infield, and frankly, it looked like lack of offense could end up being the undoing of the defending World Series champions.
At that point, while the sellout home crowd at Busch Stadium looked on glumly, the team that had finished second in the league in both batting average and runs scored had amassed nine hits in 19 postseason innings.
That seems like a long time ago. In the 17 innings since, St. Louis has scored 20 runs on 27 hits, including Wednesday's 8-0 bashing of Washington at Nationals Park.
The only Cardinals starter who didn't get a hit was catcher Yadier Molina. Even starting pitcher Chris Carpenter got into the act, going 2-for-3 with a double. Cards manager Mike Matheny had talked earlier about how important it was to get his Nos. 2-3 hitters, Carlos Beltran and Holliday, going. Beltran had two hits, including a double, Wednesday to lift his NLDS average to .417. Holliday had three hits and two RBIs.
Beltran was asked after Tuesday's workout if he sensed that the St. Louis lineup was getting ready to go on a collective tear.
"They say hitting is contagious," the outfielder said. "Sometimes we feel like we're about ready to break out, then we don't do it. If you look at our hitters, we have a good lineup. But we need to do it on the field."
The Cardinals did it on the field in Game 2. And they did again in Wednesday's Game 3.
Teams usually aren't as bad as they look when they're not hitting. The Cards certainly aren't as bad as they looked while getting just three hits in Sunday's Game 1, leaving 10 runners on base and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The only two runs they scored came when Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez walked four batters and threw a wild pitch, to go along with a sacrifice fly.
And as Holliday pointed out, Thursday's Game 4 will start at 0-0 again.
"We've got a lot of guys swinging the bat real good right now, but we still have a big task ahead of us," Holliday said. "We want to win another game against a really good team. I feel good about how we swung the bats, but we have to turn the page and try to get another win."
Shortstop Pete Kozma, who hit a big three-run home run in the second inning that helped break the game open early, was asked if he can sense that the hitters are feeding off each other.
"For sure," Kozma said. "We're just meshing really well together right now, and everyone's getting along and everyone's got each other's back."
From the perspective of Nats manager Davey Johnson, his staff just has to start making better pitches.
"[Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson] just made bad pitches," Johnson said. "I talked to [catcher Kurt] Suzuki. He wasn't hitting his spots, and good hitters will jump all over that. That's what happened early. I thought he got a little sharper as the game went on, but a couple of really bad pitches early, that's the story.
"I don't consider the pressure of the situation making bad pitches. You just try to make your pitches and you don't give in to the hitters. Jackson was missing early on, and then when he had to come in, he came right down Broadway. Experienced hitters lay off the stuff around the zone and tomahawk the stuff in. Even the shortstop, that was a cookie."
The Cardinals, of course, are hoping they can stay hot long enough to lock up their seventh NL Championship Series appearance in the last 13 seasons. Molina said before the postseason began that he liked this team's chances, maybe even more than the club that won it all just a year ago. And nothing he's seen since has changed his mind. Not even those 19 innings during which the offense sort of disappeared.
"I feel good about this team, I really do," Molina said. "Hopefully we can continue to play the game the right way and continue to win games."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.