Slump­ing to soaring

Red-hot Car­di­nals be­come di­vi­sion con­tenders in dog days

The Western Star - - SPORTS -

Matt Adams could see some­thing spe­cial go­ing on with the St. Louis Car­di­nals from the op­pos­ing side of the field with the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als.

He rec­og­nized the solid pitch­ing and timely hit­ting that have made the Car­di­nals base­ball’s hottest team in the dog days of Au­gust. So Adams couldn’t be­lieve his luck when he found out St. Louis had claimed him off waivers ear­lier this week.

The move brings Adams back to the or­ga­ni­za­tion that drafted him in 2009. More im­por­tantly, he’s on a team that has gone from wild-card hope­ful to threat­en­ing the NL Cen­tral­lead­ing Cubs.

“They’re play­ing with a fire and tak­ing ev­ery pitch like it’s the last pitch they’ll ever play,” Adams said. “How they go about their daily busi­ness is some­thing spe­cial to watch.”

St. Louis has un­der­gone quite a trans­for­ma­tion since fir­ing man­ager Mike Ma­theny on July 14. At that time, the Car­di­nals were 47-46 and trailed the Cubs by 7 1/2 games. Af­ter sweep­ing the Dodgers on Wed­nes­day to win their eighth con­sec­u­tive se­ries, the Car­di­nals have won 24 of 35 and are 17-4 this month to pull within 2 1/2 games of Chicago.

They’re tied for the NL’s top wild-card spot, too.

Rid­ing an eight-game road win­ning streak, St. Louis vis­its Colorado on Fri­day. The Car­di­nals are 37-29 away from home this sea­son.

“Ev­ery­one’s kind of get­ting amped up,” sec­ond base­man Kolten Wong said.

The turn­around is hap­pen­ing un­der bench coach Mike Shildt, who re­placed Ma­theny when he was fired af­ter seven years in a dra­matic move by a club that hasn’t changed man­agers of­ten. Ma­theny was just the sec­ond since 1996.

Shildt be­gan as a scout with the Car­di­nals or­ga­ni­za­tion and even­tu­ally com­bined those du­ties with be­ing a part-time mi­nor league coach. El­e­vat­ing the 50-year-old vet­eran to in­terim sta­tus has gone over well in the club­house.

“Shildt’s been re­ally good at let­ting us play our own game and let­ting us play the way we want to play. That’s the big­gest thing,” Wong said.

“We have so many dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ent guys in this club­house. You just have to al­low peo­ple to be them­selves and even­tu­ally peo­ple are go­ing to mesh to­gether.”

Adams is ea­ger to con­trib­ute, although there is no de­fined role for him. He could see time at first base against righthande­d pitch­ing or in left field with Mar­cell Ozuna on the dis­abled list or in right field.

The Car­di­nals could use his left-handed bat off the bench. He hit 56 homers in his six pre­vi­ous sea­sons with the team.

“I just kind of want to stay out of ev­ery­body’s way and do my part and mesh with them,” Adams said. “I don’t want to be that guy who comes in here and tries to do too much and messes up some­thing spe­cial.”

The Car­di­nals outscored Los An­ge­les 13-6 over three games in their first sweep at Dodger Sta­dium since 2006, putting the five-time de­fend­ing NL West cham­pi­ons into a tail­spin.

St. Louis is suc­ceed­ing with a mix of young­sters and vet­er­ans that have em­braced each other.

Rook­ies Jack Fla­herty, Dakota Hud­son and Jor­dan Hicks com­bined to hold the Dodgers to two hits Wed­nes­day, when rookie Tyler O’Neill tied the game with a homer and Paul DeJong won it with a two-run shot.

Yadier Molina has found his stride, too, hit­ting a go-ahead two-run homer Tues­day. Wong made what Shildt called a “Gold Glove-cal­iber” de­fen­sive play the same night. The de­fence is hold­ing the op­po­si­tion to an av­er­age of 3.44 runs, best in the NL since the All-Star break.

“These guys have abil­ity and they have ag­gres­sion. They be­lieve in them­selves and they’re in at­tack mode,” Shildt said. “It’s about not giv­ing in, re­gard­less of the sit­u­a­tion.”

In just over a month, the Car­di­nals have gone from a team in line to miss the play­offs for a third straight year - some­thing they haven’t done since 199799 - to con­tend­ing for a di­vi­sion ti­tle.

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