JUPITER, Fla. • Matt Holliday’s swing uncoiled, violently obliterating the baseball, while eviscerating the notion that this thing could or would land somewhere on this planet; Jupiter, if you will, to Jupiter.
Ball went far. Monday’s homer against the Mets was a statement of sorts: Holliday is still Holliday, and the Cardinals can still tally some four-base hits.
I don’t think spring will be a representation of summer. Yes, only three teams have fewer spring-training homers than St. Louis. But once the season starts and the at-bats even out, a healthy Cards team will hit the 150-homer mark in 2016, for the first time since 2012. This team won’t be a “home run team” — it’s quite possible no Cardinal will even hit 30 — but the surge of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, the sturdiness of Matt Carpenter, and a healthy Holliday and Brandon Moss will make this lineup more dangerous than last season. And it took historic pitching to make the postseason.
“I always see potential,” Manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday, when asked about the Cards’ power. “But there also comes a time when we have to get the job done, and we all stop talking. That’s really where we are right now. We don’t need to talk about what each individual guy can do. They just have to get it done.
“That’s going to be pretty consistent with everybody across the board.”
This was a surprisingly galvanizing message from the skipper. Walk the walk, he’s saying, and then celebrate with a light jog.
Here’s the uplifting thing about the Cardinals’ makeup: Even without mashing, they make the playoffs. In the past three seasons, only three MLB teams have made all three postseasons: the Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers. Impressive, yes. Yet if you make a list of the home run totals of those 30 playoffs teams (10 per season), the Cardinals have the second-fewest, third-fewest and sixth-fewest.
Last season, St. Louis hit 137 home runs, while the 10 playoff teams averaged 179.7.
But while home run hitting can get you to the postseason, it doesn’t mean you’ll win the postseason. For instance, the Royals won it all in 2015 with 139 regular-season homers, just two more than the Cards, though Kansas City’s penchant for contact hitting became postseason lore.
And also, considering the small sample size of the playoffs, something such as, say, an unfathomable Daniel Murphy homer binge can change the course of history. Also, let’s not forget, the Cards themselves hit eight homers in the series against the Cubs (though to be fair, I believe the Cubs hit 53).
One more thing. Roy Hobbs would struggle down here in Jupiter. With the whipping wind, which ever alters some minor-league roster decisions for the team here, the Cards don’t go yard often. Even in 2012, when St. Louis hit 159 homers in the regular season, the Cards had finished 28th in homers in the exhibition season.
All of this brings us to my favorite quote of March, when Matheny, asked about the notion that the Cards won’t hit a lot of homers this season, said, “I get my hackles up whenever I hear that.”
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Moss is an X-factor, of course, with his home run pedigree but his 2015 season of just-misses, while he recovered from a hip injury. They put Brandon in the corner. He’ll play left field or right, or possibly first base. In the clubhouse Tuesday, the lumberjack lookalike was asked about the Cards’ power. Keep in mind that last year’s club hit 60 homers at home (12th out of 15 in the National League), but 77 homers on the road (seventh out of 15).
“I would say, there are teams, a lot of teams that hit more (home runs),” Moss said. “Those teams don’t play at Busch for 81 games. That’s a big ballpark, a very big ballpark — it’s very underrated for how big it plays. That’s just one of the things we have to deal with as a club that plays there. That’s why our club is so built on pitching and things we do differently — we have a lot of balance in this lineup, a lot of balance to our team. I saw it last year, a lot of balls hit really well, including myself, that didn’t go. And you know, you just have to take that with a grain of salt and continue your approach. You’ll have places you go — Cincinnati, Milwaukee, even Chicago — and the ball flies and you’ll get your homers. But at home, it’s a little bit different.
“I don’t think it matters what anybody says about our team. Obviously you can have opinions about guys and opinions on teams, but what matters is how we play together.”
A nice rah-rah quote, though it’s not necessarily how they play together — it’s how individual sluggers approach at-bats. And indeed, a quality at-bat means a hard-hit drive, not simply one that eclipses a fence.
But for these Cardinals, Wednesday marks the final 2016 game in Jupiter. They’ll depart this wind tunnel after meeting the Marlins and head to Tampa, where they’ll play the Yankees in the last game that doesn’t matter.
“Spring training is great for about three weeks,” Moss said. “The first week of practice, getting to see everybody again, and getting into it, and then the first couple weeks of games, when everything is still kind of new. And then after that, it’s really monotonous. In some cases, spring training is really detrimental past that point, because you start trying different things, like, ‘Hey, I’ll try this for a few days.’ It’s just one of those things where you’re competitive, but it’s not the same as the season. So I know everybody in here is happy the season is about to start.”