ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals finished the season last in the National League in home runs. Now, heading into the fourth game of the NLDS, they lead all postseason teams. If Matt Carpenter was a team unto himself, he would tie Washington and be leading the San Francisco Giants.
“He’s got that power, he’s finding that power which is great,” said Randal Grichuk, who has one October homer himself. “He’s come up big in those situations where we need a home run and it’s been huge.”
Carpenter has been the deadliest bat in a lineup that boasts Matt Holliday (20 regular season home runs), Jhonny Peralta (21 regular season home runs) and Matt Adams (15 regular season home runs).
The 28-year-old has three bombs, accounting for half of St. Louis’ postseason blasts in 2014.
“I feel really good at the plate right now. Throughout the regular season, I wouldn’t say it was a struggle but I never really went through a stretch that I felt I was really hot. I just felt like I was just having consistent at bats,” he said, noting the difference from 2013’s campaign in which he led the league in hits, runs and doubles and posted a .318 average. “I would take it now than in the regular season anytime. This is when it matters. This is when it’s fun. I told somebody the other day I would take this season I had this year and do what I’m doing in the postseason 10 out of 10.”
The Cardinals certainly would too.
Carpenter is hitting .500 in October, posting a playoff-leading three homers and three doubles while also topping the list with 7 RBIs. He has accounted for 18 of the team’s 50 total bases (36 percent), and has scored 11 of the 15 runs (73 percent). Even worse for LA, he’s hit all three of his bombs off lefties (one more than he had against southpaws all season), seemingly unfazed by what is supposed to be a statically unpleasant matchup.
“We knew the Cardinals were a team with some good left-handed hitters, and we wanted to try to be able to neutralize them,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Monday night. “Obviously to this point we have not been able to. Carpenter has just continued to pound on us. [Jon] Jay seems to hit our lefties.”
Jay is also sporting a .500 average, but it’s Carpenter who has done the damage. In Game 1, he crushed a solo home run off Clayton Kershaw in the sixth inning, then capped an improbable comeback with a three-RBI double off him the next.
Saturday saw him briefly tie the game in the eighth with a two-run blast off J.P. Howell. Monday he gave the Birds an initial lead with a towering solo shot in the third.
“He’s on top of his game right now and we just have to let him keep swinging,” Grichuk said.
The company Carpenter is keeping illustrates just how hot he is. Monday he became the only Cardinal to homer in three straight playoff games in the same series, and the second St. Louis player to go back-to-back-to-back in the postseason. The other is Albert Pujols, who did it in Game 4 of the 2004 NLDS and the first two games of the NLCS. According to ESPN, he's the first player ever to hit a home run and a double in three straight postseason games.
Already a relentless leadoff hitter, Carpenter has improved his discipline in the role in 2014. He saw the most pitches per plate appearance of his career this season (4.36) and only swung at eight percent of first pitches. In fact, he took a cut at only 33 percent of the offerings he saw.
That restraint allowed him to lead the NL in walks (95), and gave him an on base percentage of .375, despite a 46-point drop in his batting average from last season.
It also may have allowed him to save a bit of his power for October.
“This has been fun,” he said. “And hopefully we can keep riding this out.”
The Birds are one win away, with Clayton Kershaw standing between them and a trip to the NLCS. The Dodger ace will go on short rest and be matched by Shelby Miller in the latter's first postseason start. Lucky for him, St. Louis has the postseason's best bat hitting first.
"Our team is playing well right now. Feel good about our chances," Carpenter said. "We come out tomorrow, short turnaround, and hopefully take care of business and go ahead and try to win this series."
If the first three games are any indication, Carpenter may be able take care of that business himself.