Cards find power stroke right on time vs. lefties

Cards find power stroke right on time vs. lefties

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny never lost his faith.

His team, which was such a productive offensive unit a year ago, seemingly struggled all season long.

  Date   Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   STL 10, LAD 9 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   LAD 3, STL 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   STL 3, LAD 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   STL 3, LAD 2 video
Those key hits with runners in scoring position never came with the frequency of 2013, and the power production was stymied.

"Our focus is winning games," Matheny said at one point mid-season. "The power will come."

The Cardinals did win games, claiming another National League Central title during the regular season.

Finally the power has come -- just in time for the postseason.

A team that ranked 29th in the big leagues with 105 regular-season home runs only hit .238 in the four games of the NL Division Series with the Dodgers, but the Cardinals had seven home runs and scored 18 runs.

And despite a heavily left-handed lineup, the Cardinals did most of the damage against the Dodgers' left-handed pitchers, particularly NL Cy Young/MVP Award favorite Clayton Kershaw, in eliminating the Dodgers.

"They have a good club," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They have guys who are professionals. The more you get through their order, you get through three times, it always gets tougher because you've got to change your mix."

Much like he did in a Game 1 that went bad, Kershaw dominated the Cardinals for six innings in Game 4, but that third time wasn't charming, the Cards rallying for a 3-2 victory that sent the Dodgers home for the winter and advanced the Cardinals into the NLCS for the fourth consecutive year.

Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta, both right-handed hitters, opened the seventh with singles, and then Matt Adams, who hit .190 with three home runs in 121 at-bats against left-handers during the regular season, unloaded the game-winning three-run blast into the Cardinals' bullpen.

"It was no secret that I struggled throughout the season against lefties," said Adams. "And that's one thing going in the series we knew, that a couple of starters and a lot guys in the bullpen were lefties. We did a lot of work coming up to the series hitting on the curveball machine down in the cage, trying to see the ball coming that way a little bit more."

It paid off.

In the 10-9 Game 1 victory, Kershaw had a 6-1 lead through five innings. Then left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter led off the sixth with a home run, and the Cardinals knocked out Kershaw amid an eight-run seventh that included RBI singles by Adams and Jon Jay and a three-run double by Carpenter.

While the Dodgers pulled out a 3-2 victory in Game 2, the Cardinals had tied the game in the top of the eighth after Oscar Taveras led off with a single off lefty reliever J.P. Howell, and Carpenter followed with a home run.

And the Cardinals rebounded for 3-1 victory in Game 3 when the left-handed-hitting Kolten Wong unloaded a tiebreaking two-run home run off left-handed reliever Scott Elbert in the seventh inning after Carpenter had gone deep against left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu in the third.

"They go through different periods of time when they're taking better at-bats than others against left-handed pitching," Matheny said. "A lot of times, it's how often are they allowed to stay in the game. I pull them a lot of times, not letting them start against the lefties so we can keep everybody sharp, and so they are not going to be as comfortable.

"But when you keep throwing them in there, they are going to feel more comfortable. I think it paid off for us here."

The Cardinals, it could be said, hit the jackpot. Their prize is a return to the NLCS, where they will face the Giants.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.