Craig tees off against Brewers to help Cards avoid sweep
ST. LOUIS — Anyone who has been fretting over Allen Craig’s slow start can stop. Like immediately.
Showing that he absolutely has emerged from an early-season funk, Craig homered, doubled twice and singled to lead an offensive outbreak that carried the Cardinals to a 9-3 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
He also drove in three runs and lifted his batting average over .200, raising it to .220 from .192 with one big afternoon.
"It’s just one of those days. I swung at strikes and didn’t swing at balls," Craig said. "When they were in the zone, I hit it hard. When guys are hitting, that’s what they do. Hopefully, I can keep it going."
Ten games into the season, Craig was hitting just .105 and had been removed from the cleanup spot. But there was no overnight turnaround or magic adjustment he made to turn around. Though his average didn’t show it, Craig says he has felt better at the plate for "a couple of weeks."
"I’ve been hitting the ball decent," he said. "Just hasn’t been good enough."
He was plenty good enough on the just-completed home stand, going 9 for 25 with two homers, six RBIs, three walks and only three strikeouts.
"I do the best that I can," he said about dealing with his slow start. "Frustration is a part of the game. It would be nice to go out and play great every game, but every season adjustments need to be made. I work hard to be the best that I can. I believe in myself. I believe every year is going to be a good year."
He no longer will have to hear manager Mike Matheny talk about him being close to breaking out.
"That’s just the nature of it," Craig said. "That’s going to be the topic of conversation until the results get better."
They were better against the Brewers, in a big way.
"Big day for Allen. It was nice to see some big production that we know is going to come from certain guys," Matheny said. "He’s in a good spot now and hopefully, we’ll keep passing that one to a couple of other fellows."
— Power production. Matt Adams’ 439-foot, three-run homer in the third not only wiped out the Brewers’ 3-1 lead, it gave the Cardinals a home run in four consecutive games for the first time this season. They also smacked six doubles and, including Craig’s third homer, finished with a season-high eight extra-base hits.
— Tony Cruz. He enjoyed a far better day than his 0-for-3 line in the box score would indicate. Cruz snuffed a potential Brewers rally when he threw out Scooter Gennett trying to steal second when the Brewers already were up 3-1 in the third. At bat, Cruz drew two well-earned walks, including one when he fouled off seven two-strike pitches. He saw 20 pitches in his first two plate appearances, moved over a runner in his third plate appearance and, in his final at-bat, drilled a line drive that was hard enough to be a hit but went right to third base.
"Those are all quality at-bats for a guy who is not getting that much game time experience," Matheny said. "A good day by Tony all the way around. Too bad the line drive at the end didn’t give him some kind of reward."
— Ted Simmons. Why, you say, is the man they called Simba on the rise after being shunned in online voting for a place in the Cardinals Hall of Fame? Well, because his chances are climbing for next year. At least they should be. Simmons didn’t figure to beat out Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds because they were such fan favorites of a younger (translation: more computer-savvy) fan base. But you can make a case that Simmons was a better player. He made as many All-Star teams as the two center fielders combined (eight). For all those who will vote next year, consider this a hint.
— Shelby Miller and home runs allowed. Miller turned in a quality start by pitching six innings and giving up three runs. He also equaled his season low with three walks while he struck out only one, a season low. His only real problem was the long ball. He served homers to Mark Reynolds (fastball down the middle) and Carlos Gomez (belt-high changeup), the sixth and seventh he’s allowed this season in 34 1/3 innings. At this rate, Miller would give up 40 homers in a 200-inning season.
— Jhonny Peralta. He’s now the Cardinals’ only regular with a batting average under .200 (with more than 50 at-bats) after an 0-for-4 dropped him to .196. Peralta had just upped his average to .204 with two hits Tuesday night. Average aside, Peralta’s six homers lead the team and set a franchise record for shortstops in March/April.
— Schedule grind. After playing 20 games in 20 days, including two frustrating extra-inning losses this week, the Cardinals will enjoy a day off Thursday. "We feel it," Matheny said. "I haven’t blocked one ball and I feel it," Matheny said.
Matheny even spent Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, though not so much because he was fatigued as frustrated following an 11-inning loss. "By the time I got through sulking it was way too late to drive home," he said.
Strong pitching but lackluster hitting led to a 10-10 record during the busy stretch. Matheny hopes the strong offensive outburst in the finale will carry over when the Cardinals begin another three-city trip Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
"We’re due for a good long run," Matheny said.
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