Cards living up to Matheny's bold prediction

St. Louis swats two more HRs, leads MLB with 166

Cards living up to Matheny's bold prediction

HOUSTON -- Mike Matheny's message that February day in Jupiter, Fla., took many paths, as it was his first opportunity to address the players that would eventually make up his 2016 squad. Expectations were a key focus in the gathering before the team's first full-squad workout, and, at one point, the fifth-year manager zeroed in on what that meant for the offense.

Matheny looked around the room and boldly asserted that this group would be "scoring some serious runs."

Some six months later, the Cardinals boast one of the league's most prolific offenses, which was again on display in their fourth straight victory, an 8-2 win over the Astros on Wednesday.

After building a lead with a succession of singles, the Cardinals did what they've done best all season and put it away with a show of power. Two more home runs -- a solo shot from Jeremy Hazelbaker and three-run blast by Brandon Moss -- gave the Cardinals a franchise-record eighth straight multihomer game. Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals rank first in the Majors with 49 home runs.

Hazelbaker's solo home run

"They expected more of themselves, and I expected more from our offense," Matheny said of that preseason prediction. "I knew that there was more in the tank than what we were seeing. And I knew that the guys were believing that, too."

The execution has been impressive, as a team that averaged fewer than four runs a game in '15 now ranks second in the National League with 599 runs scored. The Cardinals' 166 homers top the league and put the club on pace to finish with more than all but one other Cardinals team in franchise history. The 2000 club set the gold standard with 235.

This club, however, can brag of increased diversity. While Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds accounted for 31 percent of the homers in 2000, the Cardinals feature seven players who have hit 14. With Hazelbaker's homer, the club also has a franchise-record 10 players with at least nine homers.

"The most impressive thing is up and down the lineup, pretty much every guy in the lineup is capable of doing that," said Jedd Gyorko, who has homered 11 times since the All-Star break. "That puts a lot of stress on pitchers when they know they're a pitch away from giving up a run or, if there are guys on base, a big inning. I think that wears down pitchers earlier than normal."

The long ball has keyed this current winning streak, first by helping the Cardinals piece together three straight come-from-behind wins and then, on Wednesday, by building up a lead too insurmountable for the reeling Astros.

Moss has been a particularly big piece, as he has homers in three of those four games. Moss leads the club with 22, giving him a legitimate chance to become the first Cardinal to reach the 30-homer plateau since Carlos Beltran in 2012. That '12 team was also the only one in franchise history to feature five 20-homer players. It's another mark certainly within reach for this year's group.

"I'm happy with the fact that we're spreading the wealth. It keeps your team in it every game," Matheny said. "All the way through our lineup, we have the ability to do damage with the long ball, and that's a nice attribute for an offense to have."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.