Upside of Allen Craig's absence is Matt Adams' emergence
ST. LOUIS -- It seems like every time the TV cameras point inside the Cardinals' dugout these days, one player in particular is smiling like he's having the time of his life.
First baseman Matt Adams certainly has reason to be enjoying September.
Thrust into everyday duty for the longest stretch of his young career, Adams has responded in a big way. He has slugged five of the Cardinals' 11 home runs, scored 10 times and hit .313 in the 13 games since Allen Craig was sidelined with a sprained left foot. Only a couple of other Matts, Carpenter and Holliday, have been more productive during this stretch than the rookie slugger.
Adams seems to be getting hotter the more he plays, too. He has had two hits in each of the past three games, lifting his batting average to .275 for the season. After carrying a .300 batting average through most of the season's first four months, Adams slumped in August (.205) when he went to the plate only 42 times. He has made 50 plate appearances in the past two weeks, and the consistent work has paid off.
"I'm getting my rhythm and timing back to where it was in the early part of the year," Adams said before a game on the last homestand.
While Adams, 25, is relishing his chance to play every day in a pennant race, he remains grounded enough to understand his place on the club. He doesn't miss a chance to say how much the team wants Craig back in the lineup.
"The guy's an awesome hitter and we need him," says Adams, who realizes he'll return to the bench when Craig comes back.
But will he? If Adams continues to produce as he has, you have to believe Mike Matheny will find him plenty of at-bats. He has been the team's top power source this month, and the Cardinals need the thump.
Matheny's task won't be easy. Carlos Beltran has been slumping, but sitting one of the best postseason hitters in history would not make much sense. Besides, with Craig coming off a foot injury, the Cardinals aren't likely to put him in the outfield anytime soon when he returns.
Of course, the Cardinals still don't know when or, really, if Craig will be back. They remain optimistic his season isn't over, but only 11 games remain in the regular season. If Craig comes out of his boot this week, he still will need time to get back to game speed.
If the Cardinals win the division, they would open the Division Series in 15 days, on Oct. 3. If they are relegated to the Oct. 1 Wild Card game, Craig would have only 13 days to get back. The Cardinals, 9-4 since Craig's injury, have closed to within two games (including tiebreaker) of the Braves for best record in the NL. They have gone a game ahead of the Dodgers for second-best record which, if they keep, would mean home-field advantage in the Division Series.
There is also next year to ponder. While filling in for Craig, Adams has done nothing to make the Cardinals believe he needs another year as a backup. With 14 homers in 276 plate appearances, Adams is on a pace for 30-plus homers in a full season of everyday play. With Beltran due to become a free agent, the Cardinals could shift Craig to right field in 2014 to open up an everyday job for Adams at first base.
All that will be figured out at the appropriate time. For now, the focus in on September.
"I have to keep showing up to the park, doing my work and I'll be good," Adams says.
And the smiles will keep on coming.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.