Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Carlos Beltran hit his two home runs off Christian Garcia and Sean Burnett; Beltran actually homered off Michael Gonzalez and Burnett.
ST. LOUIS — There are many reasons why the Cardinals entered this division series as the second National League wild card with a postseason dance card punched on the penultimate day of the regular season. Their offense was not one of them.
With a lineup brimming with experienced sluggers, the team holds the potential to inflict damage on even the most poised pitching staffs at any moment. Leave pitches hovering in the strike zone, let them work into long counts or become even the least bit predictable, and the Cardinals will take advantage.
Washington experienced the phenomenon twice in late September, but the Cardinals offered a reminder for good measure Monday as they clobbered the visitors’ pitching staff for 13 hits, including four home runs, in a 12-4 win.
“We know what type of offense we have when we are going out there and grinding and having good at-bats, and we did that today,” said center fielder Jon Jay, who went 2 for 5 with three RBI. “When we do that, we’ve been tough on starters and it doesn’t matter who is pitching out there.”
Jordan Zimmermann, in his first major league postseason start, fell prey quickly as the Cardinals set to ensuring they wouldn’t squander offensive opportunities for a second straight game.
St. Louis batters four through seven — Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, David Freese and Daniel Descalso — kicked off the bottom of the second with consecutive hits; all scored to capture a sudden 4-1 lead. Of the five hits Zimmermann allowed in the frame, three came as the Cardinals jumped on his fastball.
“He attacks hitters with his fastball, he’s going to come right after us and we knew we were going to get fastballs,” said Descalso, who finished 2-for-4 with two hits, a homer and a pair of RBI. “So we went up there ready for them.”
Craig recorded the Cardinals’ first home run in the third to make it 5-1 and send Zimmermann from the game at inning’s end, but the rout was far from over. Against Craig Stammen in the fourth, Descalso hit a homer to right and, after reaching on a walk, Pete Kozma scored to make it 7-1.
In the second, third and fourth innings Monday, the Cardinals recorded eight hits after posting nine in their first 19 postseason innings. In Game 1 against Washington they recorded only three.
“If there’s something we have done good this year, after tough losses we have been able to come back and play good baseball, check that off and move on,” right fielder Carlos Beltran said. “Today was a good example of that.”
Beltran hit home runs off Michael Gonzalez in the sixth (441 feet) and Sean Burnett in the eighth (439) to help complete the thrashing. Each of the Cardinals’ eight position players left Busch Stadium with at least one run scored.
“This offense, we know this offense has the potential to do this,” Manager Mike Matheny said. “It was nice to see this, and hopefully it becomes contagious and the guys just keep going.”
Cardinals note: Game 2 starting pitcher Jaime Garcia will be removed from the active roster and replaced, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, because of an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Matheny said Garcia, who lasted only two innings, received an MRI exam Monday after exiting the contest. Placing Garcia on the disabled list would allow the Cardinals to potentially recall another reliever.
More on the Nats-Cardinals NLDS:
Box score: Cardinals 12, Nationals 4
Boswell: They put a spell on Zimmermann
D.C. Sports Bog: Harper’s war paint in St. Louis
Photos: Scenes from Busch Stadium