ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- In February, the Cardinals pretty much had their roster roles figured out. Every position had a name inked next to it, save for first base; a spot that would be won by either Matt Adams or Brandon Moss, depending on who swung the bat better.
Halfway through June, the on-field product is significantly different than the draft drawn up in spring. Jhonny Peralta now mans third base and Matt Carpenter is back at second. Kolten Wong is in Triple-A, laying waste to inferior competition in response to his demotion. Newcomer Aledmys Diaz is the full-time shortstop and Randal Grichuk’s recurring role in center field is now more of a timeshare with Stephen Piscotty. As for Moss and Adams, the pair’s offensive output has created an entirely new problem.
“I like what they’re both able to do and the way they’ve been swinging it. It’s going to be a challenge to keep them both in there,” said Mike Matheny Tuesday. “We’ll keep trying to find ways to get them playing time and at bats.”
Improbably, both big-swinging lefties won the competition. Moss, eager to re-establish himself as a power threat after a disappointing 2015, leads the team in homers with 15. That number ties him for sixth in the National League, is four shy of last year’s output and is halfway to his career high of 30.
Adams, seemingly overlooked by fans and media alike, has reached his terrifying final form. The 27-year-old has built himself into an all-fields hitter with consistent power, muscling nine homers in just 147 at bats, comfortably on pace for a 30-homer season.
“We both can do a lot of damage when we’re in the lineup,” Moss said. “I could see with Matt that he was going to have a good year. He was healthy.”
Adams was somewhat shortchanged last year, succumbing to injury before he had a chance to swing his way out of an early season slump. He entered this spring as a forgotten man, a left-handed slugger who struggled against fellow lefties and hadn’t done much slugging in his first full season. But he was finally healthy and armed with the knowledge of how to beat the shift employed against him. All that was missing was the power and enough opportunities to demonstrate he was still dangerous.
“He didn’t get off to the best start (last year), like he didn’t this year, but right about the time he was starting to get hot he got hurt. That raises the pressure a little bit when you come back and try to make up for [it],” Moss said.
Adams had a rough April, but has since hit nearly .360 and slugged well over .600 with seven homers. He has left the park left, right and center and has proved to be a terrifying compliment to the rejuvenated Moss, who is driving up the price of his services (he is a free agent at the end of this season) with each monstrous blast.
“We both can do a lot of damage when we’re in the lineup,” Moss said, his point proven by the pair of homers the duo hit Tuesday night. “It’s good to have both of us as left handed hitters in there.”
The latter part of that comment is important. The overwhelming majority of pitchers are right-handed, and having multiple lefties who wield game-changing swings is a tremendous advantage. The Cardinals have lacked for left-handed threats in recent seasons, and were hoping to- at the very least- increase the menace of their bench in late-game situations with Moss and Adams on the roster.
Instead, they have two hitters producing at such a high level they can’t afford to shelve them. That necessitates creative roster management, and sometimes results in players manning positions they’re unfamiliar with in order to make room for both lefties in the lineup.
“If Stephen can continue to play center field, he gives us options out there. But we know that’s not where he’s most comfortable,” Matheny said, acknowledging the reality the 2016 Cardinals face.
In their most recent run of success, St. Louis has focused primarily on run prevention. They rode tremendous defense and historically great pitching to 100 wins last year, an echo of their successful recipe in the preceding three seasons. This season, the Cardinals trail only Cincinnati in errors across both leagues and are 16th in staff ERA. Run creation has become paramount and the Cardinals have employed the strategy of riding their best offensive options to great success, boasting the highest run total in the National League. Roster decisions are made based on which players can provide the highest output. That’s why Wong is in the minors and the infield drawings look unrecognizable from the spring sketches. It’s why Piscotty has been deployed in center and both Adams and Moss are in the batting order. It’s why Moss, who many disregarded as a busted trade at the end of last year, is now so valuable. He can play both infield and outfield, and his swing means that versatility is crucial.
“I’m one of those guys that can move around. If you hit, the at bats will be there. You can’t really worry about that,” he said.
Right now, neither he nor Adams have to worry. Offense plays, and the pair is as dependable as it gets. Leave the worrying to opposing righties.