ST. LOUIS — Matt Carpenter became a high-end leadoff man because of his smarts, production and ability to work counts.
Now, add bat to be feared.
The lefty swinging third baseman led the St. Louis Cardinals’ sudden power surge in the NL Division Series, ending some of the chatter about the team’s season-long, long-ball shortage.
The Cardinals hit 105 homers during the season, second-fewest in the majors ahead of only the cross-state Royals, also still playing this October. St. Louis belted seven against the Dodgers, with Carpenter connecting in three straight games.
The homers accounted for 13 of the Cardinals’ 18 runs in the four-game series.
“Yeah, we’ve heard a lot about that this season, the lack of homers,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve got guys who can do it but we’re still not preaching it.
“They’re just taking good at-bats, and when they do the ball’s going to jump out from time to time,” Matheny added.
Carpenter totaled eight home runs in the regular season, none of them in consecutive games, before joining Albert Pujols as the lone Cardinals player to homer in three successive postseason games. The feat is all the more exceptional given all three came in lefty-lefty matchups.
Carpenter led the Cardinals with seven RBIs in the series. He said the key is staying in there to be able to reach the breaking balls heading for the other side of the plate.
Carpenter’s consistent, intensely-focused approach reminds Matheny of Pujols in his prime.
“I think it’s a confidence thing, too,” Carpenter said. “For the most part, the overall theme is you want to stay on them and try to use the whole field.”
Left-handed batters hit five homers off Dodgers lefties in the series after totaling eight during the season. Matt Adams had the biggest of the five, hitting a go-ahead three-run shot off likely NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in the clinching Game 4.
Adams batted .190 with three homers and 15 RBIs against lefties. His extra work paid off in the clutch. He had to be prepared for Kershaw and lefty relievers.
“It was no secret that I struggled throughout the season against lefties,” Adams said. “So I did a lot of work coming up to the series just hitting on the curveball machine down in the cage.
“Just trying to see the ball coming that way a little bit more,” he said.
Matt Holliday and rookies Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk also connected in the series. Cleanup man Jhonny Peralta set a franchise record with 21 homers by a shortstop and Holliday had 20 in the regular season, but the only two others in double figures were Adams with 15 and Wong with 12.
The Cardinals have been on a homer decline since totaling 162 in their 2011 World Series title season, with 37 from Pujols and 31 from Lance Berkman. They had 159 in 2012, getting 32 from Carlos Beltran and four others belting 20 or more. Last year, they sunk to 125, led by 24 from Beltran.
Carpenter took Kershaw deep in Game 1 to begin St. Louis’ climb out of a five-run deficit, tied it in the eighth of Game 2 with a two-run shot off reliever J.P. Howell and homered off Hyun-Jim Ryu in Game 3.
He’ll be facing another lefty, Madison Bumgarner, in the NLCS opener Saturday.
“He’s a different breed,” Carpenter said. “He’s funky, throws from behind you and there’s some deception there.”
Carpenter was a first-time All-Star in 2013 and led the majors in runs (126), hits (199), doubles (55) and multihit games (63). His signature hit came in the NLCS Game 6 clincher, when he doubled off Kershaw to end an 11-pitch at-bat and start the go-ahead rally.
His numbers fell off across the board a bit this year but he again was an All-Star and led the NL with 95 walks while batting .272 with a .375 on-base percentage.
“He doesn’t get intimidated by a situation or by the circumstances that he’s in,” Matheny said. “And I think we have quite a few guys in that spot. ... I would argue that I’ve seen him take the exact same approach against guys that aren’t as well-known or had as much success.”