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Cards outpace Twins as offense comes alive

May 16, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- Steadfast in knowing that the real version of his offense was bound to emerge, even as his teamwide slump seeped into the middle of May, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has largely preached patience. Both in private and public, he has encouraged his veterans to stay the course, to

MINNEAPOLIS -- Steadfast in knowing that the real version of his offense was bound to emerge, even as his teamwide slump seeped into the middle of May, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has largely preached patience. Both in private and public, he has encouraged his veterans to stay the course, to trust their processes. All the while, his actions have been far from static.
Matheny's lineup decisions grew drastic this week, after weeks of constant, minor rejiggering. William Fowler's return to the lineup came after three of four games spent on the bench. Matt Carpenter was dropped to seventh in the order, the lowest he's hit in nearly three years. Both dug themselves into holes too deep for one good day to correct, but both showed signs of life in Wednesday afternoon's 7-5 win over the Twins at Target Field, during which St. Louis' offense revved as Matheny had long deemed inevitable.
"It's the rest of the world that needs to be proved to, not me," Matheny said. "I know what's going to happen. I just want those guys to trust themselves, not buy into the doubt. That's my continued message to them."

Fowler and Carpenter were at the center of a 13-hit attack that began against former Cardinal Lance Lynn and continued against six Twins relievers. Fowler drove in the game's first two runs and reached base four times. Carpenter collected his first three-hit game of the year. It was the type of outburst reminiscent of those that Fowler and Carpenter have made careers out of from the top of the lineup.
"They're counting a lot on us to get things going," Carpenter said. "If we struggle like we have, the lineup is just not capable of doing what you thought it was going to do."

When the outburst came, contributions followed from nearly every slot in the lineup. In Carpenter's usual No. 3 slot, Paul DeJong doubled home a run and scored another. Tommy Pham broke out of a minor funk with a solo homer in the eighth. All but one Cardinals starter finished with a hit, giving the Cards the type of piecemeal victory that's eluded their typically all-or-nothing offense. And it made a footnote of the starting pitching matchup, which was ripe with storylines.
Lynn lost his first game against his former club opposite Miles Mikolas, whom St. Louis chose to pursue instead in free agency. Neither pitcher made it past the fifth, beginning a bullpen carousel that went on to include 13 combined pitchers. Bud Norris' five-out save preserved the win for St. Louis.

"13 hits? Seven runs? And a whole lot of damage out there we let get away," Matheny said. "That, to me, is the team we're going to be."
Point to the weather, point to bad luck, point to the randomness of this grand little game. The Cardinals have considered all of it when looking for the root of their season-long search for runs. More than anything, the culprit has been contact. Only one team in the National League scores more of its runs via the homer. In the long stretches between big flies, the offense goes cold -- particularly with Carpenter and Fowler reaching base at career-worst rates.
Both felt flashes Tuesday of the types of hitters they've been, the types they strive again to be. Once among the game's best all-fields hitters, Carpenter sent knocks down both lines and a two-bagger to the right-center field wall.

"All on three different types of pitches," Carpenter said. "To be able to do that and cover the plate, [it] lets me know I'm where I need to be. Hopefully, this is the day I can look back at and say it got me going."
Fowler said he felt his mechanics "click" into sync in his first at-bat, which resulted in a single up the middle, after which he clapped his hands in relief.
"When I took my first pitch, I realized I was in the right position. From there, you know you're going to be all right," Fowler said. "You're not off-balance, you're not flying. You're just in a good position to hit on a take."

Asked if he could remember the last time he felt that way, Fowler paused.
"It seems like an eternity," Fowler said.
Norris cleans up Holland's mess, again: As recently as Monday, Matheny appeared confident enough with Greg Holland's progress to trust the reliever in high-leverage situations. But Wednesday wasn't supposed to be one of those, when Holland entered in the eighth inning of a three-run game, coming off four consecutive scoreless outings.

Holland retired just one of the five batters he faced, again overriding much of the progress he'd made in several appearances. So it was with one out and the bases loaded that Matheny summoned Norris, who limited the damage by allowing just one inherited runner to score. He followed that with a scoreless ninth, improving to 9-for-9 in save chances. Three have required more than three outs to secure.
"Not many guys in the league who are shutting the door can do what Bud did right there," Matheny said of Norris. "This was a big game for us, and a big opportunity for him."

Fowler was in a 2-for-30 skid before his RBI single in the first inning, while Carpenter's big day broke a 1-for-25 funk. Carpenter's day rose his average to .160, while Fowler is now hitting .158 -- still the lowest marks in the Majors among qualified hitters.
"You just have to keep willing it to happen. It's not wishing, because we know we have the talent. It's there." -- Matheny, on the offense
The Cardinals' next chance to continue climbing out of their collective offensive malaise will come Thursday, when they return home to open a four-game set against the Phillies. The 6:15 pm CT tilt figures to be a big start for right-hander Luke Weaver (3-2, 4.91 ERA), who could be pitching for his rotation spot with No. 1 prospect Alex Reyes set to return later this month. Vince Velasquez (3-4, 5.05 ERA) will oppose Weaver.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.