Adams' bat helps Cards fit in at Fenway
Having proved himself as a fill-in, rookie complements Craig in heart of lineup
BOSTON -- Matt Adams doesn't have trophies on his walls, at least not like the ones that David Ortiz has collected. But it shouldn't shock anyone if the St. Louis Cardinals rookie first baseman runs into a game-winning home run to right field or a double off the Green Monster at some point in the World Series, set for a Game 1 air time of 7:30 p.m. ET and first pitch of 8:07 p.m. on Wednesday on FOX.
"Matt is a great player, a great hitter," teammate Allen Craig said on Tuesday.
Great? Not now. Not yet. But the 25-year-old Adams has hit .275 with 19 home runs and an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage in his 135 regular-season games in the big leagues. It's easy to see why guys like Craig and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny are excited about what Adams could mean against the hitter-heavy Boston Red Sox.
With the designated-hitter rule in place in American League parks, National League champs are frequently at a disadvantage in the Series. But Craig is returning from a seven-week absence because of an injured left foot just in time to give the Cardinals two DH-type bats in the middle of their lineup.
"For sure, we're really excited that Allen has healed quick," Adams said. "He's going to be able to be with us for the World Series. That's going to help us out big-time."
Teams are constructed differently in baseball's two leagues, with AL teams generally spending a little more heavily on hitters because their lineups go nine deep, as opposed to the eight hitters and a pitcher in NL lineups. Many years, there's a huge disparity, at least on paper.
Last year, the Giants used backup catcher Hector Sanchez and good-luck charm Ryan Theriot (his teams in St. Louis and San Francisco won six straight postseason series, including the 2011 and '12 World Series) as their DHs against the Tigers, who used Delmon Young in the role. The Giants had used the DH spot to get Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell into the lineup against the Rangers, who went with Vladimir Guerrero as their DH in 2010.
Among other DHs for NL teams in the last decade: Matt Stairs, Chris Conte, Greg Dobbs, Ryan Spilborghs, Chris Duncan, Scott Spiezio, Reggie Sanders, Marlon Anderson, Jeff Conine and a partially injured Jeff Bagwell, in the last games of his career.
In the 24 World Series games at AL parks since 2003, the NL designated hitters have batted .167 with one homer and six RBIs in 78 at-bats; the AL DHs have hit .256 with three homers and 15 RBIs.
That's a significant advantage for the AL, which has never had one of its teams lose a Game 7 with a designated hitter in its lineup. Will this be the year?
Matheny isn't sure what he'll do when the Series shifts to Busch Stadium for Games 3, 4 and perhaps 5 this weekend -- Craig has yet to take grounders, though Matheny hasn't ruled him out as a starter at first base -- but it's a no-brainer to hit him and Adams in the lineup at Fenway Park, even with lefty Jon Lester starting Game 1.
"We're anxious to have [Craig] back, even though we felt fortunate that Matt Adams has been able to do what he's doing," Matheny said. "[This] gives us more depth. We have a couple of hitters that we'd love to have in the lineup, and actually, all season long, we were in that situation [of juggling players], where we had a Matt Adams and Allen Craig and sometimes a Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday that we were switching around, trying to find playing time for all of those bats."
Talk about a good problem to have.
Adams, a 23rd-round pick in the 2009 Draft, has been a pure hitter since arriving in the Cardinals system from Slippery Rock University, which hadn't produced a big leaguer since pitcher Bob Shawkey, who retired in 1927. Adams hit .311 with 50 homers and 151 RBIs in 182 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011 and '12 while waiting for an opening in St. Louis' lineup.
"I can relate a lot with Matt in his journey to big leagues,'' said Craig, who had his coming-out party when he hit three home runs in the 2011 World Series. "You have to pay your dues, wait for an opportunity to come up. That's what I had to do. Sometimes when there's an injury, you're ready to go. The game I got hurt, [Adams] came in and hit two home runs, carried us to a win over the Reds. That was great to do.''
Adams hasn't been overwhelmed in his first postseason. He was 6-for-19 with one home run against Pittsburgh in the NL Division Series, and, after striking out twice in each of the first four games of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, he had a pair of two-hit games, driving in runs in Games 5 and 6. His biggest moment may have been working a disputed walk off Clayton Kershaw in a 48-pitch third inning that allowed the Cardinals to finish off the Dodgers.
Adams arrived in the Cardinals farm system with a nice, short stroke that he says coaches haven't "tinkered with," but he says he's been learning plate discipline a little bit at a time.
"They liked how short to the ball I was, from Point A to Point B," Adams said of his development. "The biggest thing was just making sure I got a good pitch to hit and not chase the bad ones in the dirt that the pitchers want you to chase."
John Mabry, the Cardinals' hitting coach, says Adams remains a highly intriguing work in progress.
"He's a good hitter, and he's learning," Mabry said. "He's still very young. He's got a bright future ahead of him. He's come in this position and filled in more than admirably when Allen Craig went down with an injury. You just have to admire what he's doing."
Don't expect Adams to turn into Silly Putty because of the setting. He'll be in a lefty-versus-lefty situation with Lester, but he's held his own against southpaws this year.
"As long as I stick to my approach as a gap-to-gap hitter, I'll be all right," Adams said.
The Cardinals are happy to have him -- and even happier that they have Craig, too.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.