Injury to Craig places rookie in the Cardinals' Division Series lineup
ST. LOUIS -- Last October, Matt Adams was watching the postseason from his home in Pennsylvania, continuing to rehab from August surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow.
Adams never expected that just one year later he would be starting in the National League Division Series, which begins with Game 1 on Thursday at 4 p.m. CT on TBS, against the Pirates, for a team that finished the season tied for the best record in baseball.
"It's something special for me to be part of a club like this and have so many great guys in this clubhouse that are willing to help each other out," Adams said. "I feel that if I sit back and think too much about it, it's going distract me a little bit from what I need to go out and do. So I just prepare like I'm playing in any other regular-season game, and just take things one out at a time."
The Cardinals lost starting first baseman Allen Craig to a sprained left foot in early September, leaving a gaping, All-Star-sized hole in the lineup. But Adams wasn't fazed. He just wanted to be himself, and in doing so, the 25-year-old rookie was plenty productive for the Cards down the stretch.
Adams stepped into the cleanup spot and had arguably the best stretch of his young career, batting .326 (29-for-89) with eight homers and 15 RBIs in 24 games, 20 of them starts.
"Matt Adams has been great to watch," Carlos Beltran said. "Since Craig left, Matt Adams stepped in and continued to produce like Craig was doing. Even though we miss Craig, we felt like Matt Adams has done what he was doing. I think Matt Adams did such a great job that we have to be happy for him for the season he had, with such [limited] playing time."
If Adams is going to continue to mask Craig's absence in the postseason -- Craig has been ruled out for the NLDS, and is questionable to return at any point this year -- he will need to consistently find ways to hit left-handers. When he was a pinch-hitter, or an occasional starter, the Cardinals were able to limit Adams' opportunities against lefties. But as an everyday starter, his brief experience and .231 average (12-for-52) -- as opposed to .295 (72-for-244) against righties -- could be exposed.
As a regular starter with Triple-A Memphis in 2012, Adams hit .281 against lefties and batted .284 through a full season with Double-A Springfield in 2011. He put in some additional work hitting lefty sliders against a machine in Spring Training, and has built on that in the film room throughout the regular season.
Though Adams has only had 15 at-bats -- for three singles and a home run -- against lefties since becoming a full-time starter, the consistency and rhythm as an everyday starter has him confident going up against anyone.
"It was important, just being able to prove to myself that I can hit them," Adams said of his expanded role. "You know, just get that doubt out of there and be able to go out there and put a quality at-bat against [lefties]. I've just got to trust myself and be able to go out there and do it."