The breakthrough came against a Phillies pitching staff that ranks last in ERA (5.02), but also from a team that had been mostly listless at the plate during a winless seven-game road trip. The Cardinals arrived home on Friday having been outscored, 42-20, while slashing .212/.285/.332 over the previous week. Little had looked right, and that led Cardinals GM John Mozeliak to put the group on notice.
Production over the next four to six weeks, Mozeliak said, would likely determine the Cardinals' position at the non-waiver Trade Deadline at the end of July.
"It's hard to win games when you're scoring 2.5 runs per game," Mozeliak said. "Certainly when you look at how we were thinking this offense would work, it hasn't done so. We can start at the top."
That would be with Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, neither of whom has played up to expectation. Matheny sought to jostle things by flipping their spots in the lineup, and, for at least one weekend, it worked. Fowler's three-run homer out of the second spot in the lineup put the Cardinals ahead for good on Sunday, and it capped a three-game series in which he and Carpenter, hitting from in his familiar spot at leadoff, went 8-for-22 with five extra-base hits, four runs and five RBIs.
"You put that kind of pressure on from the top of the order, or when an opposing teams sees a top of order rolling around, that's what it should be," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's kind of what we envisioned as this season began, seeing those two rolling. You know you're going to have your hands full."
The number of chances the two had to hit with runners on base was boosted by big weekends from bottom-of-the-order hitters Kolten Wong and Eric Fryer. Fryer drove in runs in two of the wins, while Wong, fresh from a rehab assignment, reached base eight times and scored three runs.
And perhaps it's that -- how many different position players contributed in the sweep -- that emerged as the most reassuring detail for the Cardinals. All eight starting position players reached base at least once on Sunday. In both Friday and Saturday's win, seven of the eight did so.
The offense tallied 27 hits and 16 runs in all. Its 13 combined runs scored in the final two games represented the most the Cardinals have scored in consecutive games in more than a month.
"Right now, we're focused on putting good at-bats up, no matter what," said Aledmys Diaz. "Sometimes we focus too much on the results, and we forget the process. So right now we focus on putting up good at-bats and getting on base and trying to score runs."