MIAMI -- As Matt Carpenter's sizzling summer crept into August, the Cardinals wondered internally whether a simple switch could actually squeeze more production out of their first baseman who, in recent weeks, has swung his way to the top of the list of the National League's most valuable. Their premise
MIAMI -- As Matt Carpenter's sizzling summer crept into August, the Cardinals wondered internally whether a simple switch could actually squeeze more production out of their first baseman who, in recent weeks, has swung his way to the top of the list of the National League's most valuable. Their premise was simple: Should the league's best power hitter bat leadoff?
In the end, the Cardinals concluded that the difference in even a slight drop in the lineup, or in slotting another hitter in front of Carpenter, in the No.9 hole, would be negligible. That Carpenter's latest drive registered as a solo shot will do little to quell the debate. That it proved the game winner in Tuesday night's 3-2 victory over the Marlins at Marlins Park, though, should at least push the discussion to another day.
"You're going to see him there for a while," Shildt said afterwards. "I do get the dialogue, but he's hitting leadoff and having success, so I don't know why we'd interrupt that."
The evidence for sticking with the status quo is compelling, and Carpenter seems to add to it by the day. His latest blast marked his NL-leading 30th of the year, untied the game in the eighth off Elieser Hernandez and was his fourth in the past five games. It also extended MLB's longest active on-base streak to 26 games. Carpenter is hitting .365/.491/1.000 over that stretch, which has propelled him into the heart of the NL Most Valuable Player Award conversation.
"You talk about an MVP, you talk about a guy who makes his team better and pulls his team up," Shildt said. "That's clearly what Matt is doing."
Tuesday provided the latest example. Carpenter's blast made Miles Mikolas a winner for the 12th time and salvaged a night the Cardinals spent mostly dormant opposite rookie right-hander Pablo Lopez. They'd managed just three singles before Paul DeJong's game-tying homer in the seventh, while Mikolas thrived without missing many bats.
Mikolas twirled seven strong innings despite striking out just one as he pitched in front of 50 family and friends from nearby Jupiter, Fla. His wife, Lauren, recently gave birth to premature twins.
"They're still in the hospital," Mikolas said. "But they're OK."
After Mikolas exited, Dakota Hudson fired a scoreless eighth. Bud Norris then worked around a walk to notch his 22nd save, putting the Cardinals in position to claim their fourth consecutive series. They are 8-4 since revamping their roster prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"The only thing I'm watching is the standings," Carpenter said. "And we're creeping up it."
Of course, Carpenter's story is incomplete without mention of his horrid start, which -- if you can believe it -- saw him benched for three games in May and pulled for late-game pinch-hitters. Carpenter was hitting .145/.294/.282 on May 15. He has hit .334/.434/.714 with 28 home runs in the 75 games since. This from a player who vowed in Spring Training "not to chase the home run," whose previous career high OPS was .885. It is .987, higher than any NL hitter.
The turnaround has even Carpenter searching for non-salsa answers.
"It's just not who I am," Carpenter said. "It's not who I was. It's not the hitter I've ever been. I'm developing into somebody I've never dreamt of or tried to be like. I don't have an explanation for it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
His trademark power largely missing since recovering from a broken hand last month, DeJong pounced on an 0-1 Lopez curveball to tie the game in the seventh. The home run snapped an 11-game homerless stretch for DeJong, who now has two in 27 games since returning from the DL. He also doubled in the fifth. His manager recently noted signs of a potential breakout coming.
"He took a nice approach yesterday, driving a ball to right," Shildt said. "He's working toward a place where he's comfortable."
Twenty-six of Carpenter's 30 home runs have been solo shots. His 26-game on-base streak ties a career high, set across two seasons from Sept. 18, 2014, to April 28, 2015.
Carpenter became the 15th Cardinals left-handed hitter to whack 30 homers in a season and the first since Jim Edmonds (42) in 2004.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Harrison Bader once again showed off the athleticism that makes him one of the Majors' most elite defenders when he left his feet to make a pivotal play in the eighth. In robbing Martin Prado of a hit, Bader helped keep the tying run off the bases in a one-run game. Bader raced in to cover 80 feet in 4.3 seconds, completing what Statcast™ rated as a five-star catch, with a 15 percent catch probability. It marked his sixth such play of the season, tying him with Lorenzo Cain for the Major League lead.
"I knew I'd have to dive off the bat," Bader said. "Had it the whole way."
HE SAID IT
"It's funny because I meant what I said in Spring Training, when I said it felt like at times last year I was chasing home runs. And it put me in a bad spot as a hitter. And I was going to be really adamant about not doing that. And I really have. But it's made me hit home runs at a pace I never dreamed of. It's kinda funny how that's worked out." -- Carpenter
For the Cardinals to win their fourth consecutive series, they'll need to capture Wednesday's rubber game from Marlins Park. The club's decision to use Tyson Ross out of the bullpen means John Gant (3-4, 4.12) gets another turn in the rotation. The right-hander will face St. Louis-area native Trevor Richards (3-6, 3.92) in the 6:10 p.m. CT series finale.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.