(BaseballStL) -- When Allen Craig went down with an ankle injury on September 4, the Cardinals’ chances for their first division title since 2009 looked ominously as the Pirates held a one-game edge.
A lot has changed in the three weeks since.
The magic number for the Cardinals sits at one with three games left to play in the season. The Cardinals face the division cellar-dwelling Cubs while the Pirates have to play their final three away against the Reds, the team it would meet in the one-game wild-card playoff on October 1.
One reason for the sudden change in the NL Central has been the emergence of Matt Adams as Craig’s replacement at first base.
The night Craig went down, Adams smacked two home runs. He’s added another six dingers in 20 games since, including a solo shot in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s 4-1 win, to bring his season total to 17.
The power surge isn’t something the 6-foot-3, 260-pound first baseman is trying to do either.
“I tend not to like to swing for home runs at all,” Adams said. “My approach is just hit gap to gap and if I square it up then the bats will be able to carry it out.”
Adams began this season getting consistent at-bats in early April when he was 13-for-24 (.542) at the plate with three home runs. Then the consistent at-bats went dry between his last plate appearance on April 21 to his next at-bat on May 7.
The lull in the number of at-bats preceded a .179 average (5-for-28) with no home runs in the month of May. After batting .283 and clubbing three home runs in 46 at-bats in June, Adams batted .239 in 67 at-bats in July -- the most ABs in any month prior to September.
The return of a healthy starters pushed Adams back out of the lineup in August when he hit .205 in 39 at-bats. It appeared the feel-good start in April was just another hot streak in baseball.
Adams has already seen 80 at-bats this month, the most he’s had in any single month at the major-league level.
This month: he’s first on the team and third in the league with eight home runs, second in runs scored for St. Louis with 16, and third with 26 hits behind Matt Carpenter’s 37 and Matt Holliday’s 28.
He accounts for half of the Cardinals’ home runs hit so far this month.
“He’s just one of those guys that has that scary kind of power you never know when he’s going to just jump on one,” Matheny said. “He’s playing good defense for us, too. All the way around, he’s jumped in and you look at teams that have a chance. Somebody is going to go down and who’s going to step in and take advantage of it? Right now, Matt Adams is that guy.”
And lucky for St. Louis, Adams is feeling like he did in April.
“I feel about the same I did in the beginning,” Adams said. “Coming off a great spring training at the beginning then getting regularly (at-bats) in the beginning and now -- we wish Allen the best and hope he gets back as soon as possible -- the daily at-bats, the regular at-bats are definitely helpful.”
The greater chance for regular at-bats seems likely for Adams with Craig scheduled for X-rays on his left foot on Thursday.
Scott Bierman covers the Cardinals, Rams and Blues for KMOV.com and its associated mobile apps (BaseballStL, FootballStL and HockeyStL). You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Bierman for St. Louis sports news.