Cards' aggressiveness pays dividends

Cards' aggressiveness pays dividends

PHOENIX -- In all those postgame news conferences during which Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has had to defend aggressively running into outs, he has remained consistent in his insistence that pushing the envelope on the bases will offer a long-term payoff. And indeed, in Tuesday night's runaway 9-1 win over Arizona, the Cardinals generated much of their early offense by aggressively taking extra bases.

It started from the top with Matt Carpenter, who, after drawing a nine-pitch leadoff walk, sprinted first-to-third on Tommy Pham's single to right. Pham took the extra 90 feet, too, as Carpenter's hustle drew a throw from right fielder Yasmany Tomas. Both Carpenter and Pham would score on Jason Heyward's two-run single.

Heyward's two-run single

"You know, if he's out right there, you're still going to see us over there high-fiving," Matheny said. "Early in the game when we have an opportunity to set the tone, have an opportunity for a big inning, his aggressiveness allowed us to do that."

Three innings later, the two pulled off the same theft, with Carpenter taking two bases on another single by Pham, who again advanced to second on the throw. The extra 90 feet for both was especially key in that inning, as the Cardinals used a pair of sacrifice flies to build a six-run lead.

"Carpenter was really aggressive, and that was something that's huge," said Pham, who finished with his second three-hit game of the road trip. "Tomas was really aggressive himself, and I just took advantage of him not hitting the cutoff man."

Carpenter has been among the team's most aggressive baserunners all year, though it's also one reason why he has been thrown out on the bases more times (nine) than anyone else on the club. Per Baseball Reference's extra-bases-taken percentage, which calculates how often a player takes more than one base on a single or more than two on a double, Carpenter's success rate is 39 percent.

That's equal to league average but just eighth-best among Cardinals players with at least 80 plate appearances. He improved it on Tuesday.

"[Matheny] is always pushing it and talking about it, and tonight was a great example of it," Carpenter said. "Tonight might have been the best we've run the bases in a long time."

For the 14th time this season, the Cardinals also swiped two bases. Both came in the first inning, which concluded only after the Cardinals had raced out to a 4-0 lead. Heyward's steal of second positioned him to trot home on Yadier Molina's double. Molina then surprised starter Robbie Ray by stealing third for the second time this month. He scored on a subsequent single from Kolten Wong.

"That's something, I think, really set the tone for our club today was the aggressiveness and taking the extra base," Matheny said. "Those sorts of things we've been really talking a lot about since Spring Training. … I think they have bought into it."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.