The emergence of the Cardinals’ offense in this series isn’t a real surprise; after all, they outscored opponents by 117 runs during the regular season, the fourth-best differential in the major leagues.
What is, though, is how the seventh and eighth batters in their order have contributed throughout the series. Through three games, rookie shortstop Pete Kozma and second baseman Daniel Descalso have combined for seven runs, a pair of homers and six RBI.
En route to an 8-0 win over the Nationals on Wednesday, Kozma ripped a first-pitch fastball deep into the left field bleachers at Nationals Park for a three-run homer in the second inning. The shot gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead and plenty of cushion for starter Chris Carpenter. It marked his third home run since joining the Cardinals.
No one expected Kozma to be in this position. The 24-year-old spent the bulk of the year as a utility player in Class AAA before he was summoned to the majors in late August and found himself in the role of starting shortstop after Rafael Furcal was sidelined by injury.
“We put him in there, gave him the opportunity, and he absolutely ran away with it,” Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said. “Just catching the ball out there was something we were looking forward to him doing, let alone having big hits; and then on top of that, being able to supply some power and some run production.”
Kozma has already been the central figure in two game-altering plays for the Cardinals this postseason – the infield fly call during the wild-card game in Atlanta and an error in Game 1 that sparked a Nationals rally – but he has managed to put those moments behind him and work through the pressure.
“You know, mistakes happen. You see that everywhere,” said Kozma, who received encouragement from his veteran teammates after the error in Game 1. “It’s just how you bounce back, how you’re going to answer the next game, the next pitch. You’ve just got to keep your nose down and keep going.”
Then there’s Descalso, who finished the regular season with a .227 average but belted the first postseason home run of his career in Game 2 and leads the Cardinals with four runs in this series. He recorded three runs in his previous 14 playoff games combined.
“Danny is a better offensive player than what his 2012 stats tell. He’s got a real good idea at the plate, and let alone, he’s as solid a middle infielder as they come,” Matheny said. “He’s getting into a nice rhythm right now, but he’s worked really hard. And it’s been frustrating at times for him through this season, but he’s in a good spot now.”