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Red-hot Cardinals go from slumping to soaring into playoff contention

St. Louis Cardinals' Harrison Bader, left, celebrates after scoring a run against the Chicago Cubs with manager Mike Shildt, center, and Ron Warner during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 21, 2018, in Chicago. (Jim Young / Associated Press)
St. Louis Cardinals' Harrison Bader, left, celebrates after scoring a run against the Chicago Cubs with manager Mike Shildt, center, and Ron Warner during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 21, 2018, in Chicago. (Jim Young / Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES – Matt Adams could see something special going on with the St. Louis Cardinals from the opposing side of the field with the Washington Nationals.

He recognized the solid pitching and timely hitting that have made the Cardinals baseball’s hottest team in the dog days of August. So Adams couldn’t believe his luck when he found out St. Louis had claimed him off waivers earlier this week.

The move brings Adams back to the organization that drafted him in 2009. More importantly, he’s on a team that has gone from wild-card hopeful to threatening the N.L. Central-leading Cubs.

“They’re playing with a fire and taking every pitch like it’s the last pitch they’ll ever play,” Adams said. “How they go about their daily business is something special to watch.”

St. Louis has undergone quite a transformation since firing manager Mike Matheny on July 14.

At that time, the Cardinals were 47-46 and trailed the Cubs by 7 1/2 games. After sweeping the Dodgers on Wednesday to win their eighth consecutive series, the Cardinals have won 24 of 35 and are 17-4 this month to pull within 2 1/2 games of Chicago.

They’re tied for the N.L.’s top wild-card spot, too.

Riding an eight-game road winning streak, St. Louis visits Colorado on Friday. The Cardinals are 37-29 away from home this season.

“Everyone’s kind of getting amped up,” second baseman Kolten Wong said.

The turnaround is happening under bench coach Mike Shildt, who replaced Matheny when he was fired after seven years in a dramatic move by a club that hasn’t changed managers often. Matheny was just the second since 1996.

Shildt began as a scout with the Cardinals organization and eventually combined those duties with being a part-time minor league coach. Elevating the 50-year-old veteran to interim status has gone over well in the clubhouse.

“Shildt’s been really good at letting us play our own game and letting us play the way we want to play. That’s the biggest thing,” Wong said. “We have so many different personalities and different guys in this clubhouse. You just have to allow people to be themselves and eventually people are going to mesh together.”

Adams is eager to contribute, although there is no defined role for him. He could see time at first base against right-handed pitching or in left field with Marcell Ozuna on the disabled list or in right field.

The Cardinals could use his left-handed bat off the bench. He hit 56 homers in his six previous seasons with the team.

“I just kind of want to stay out of everybody’s way and do my part and mesh with them,” Adams said. “I don’t want to be that guy who comes in here and tries to do too much and messes up something special.”

The Cardinals outscored Los Angeles 13-6 over three games in their first sweep at Dodger Stadium since 2006.

St. Louis is succeeding with a mix of youngsters and veterans that have embraced each other.

Rookies Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Jordan Hicks combined to hold the Dodgers to two hits Wednesday, when rookie Tyler O’Neill tied the game with a homer and Paul DeJong won it with a two-run shot.

Yadier Molina has found his stride, too, hitting a go-ahead two-run homer Tuesday. Wong made what Shildt called a “Gold Glove-caliber” defensive play the same night. The defense is holding the opposition to an average of 3.44 runs, best in the N.L. since the All-Star break.

“These guys have ability and they have aggression. They believe in themselves and they’re in attack mode,” Shildt said. “It’s about not giving in, regardless of the situation.”

In just over a month, the Cardinals have gone from a team in line to miss the playoffs for a third straight year – something they haven’t done since 1997-99 – to contending for a division title.

Adams has fond memories of his previous playoff runs with the Cardinals.

“I want to get back there this year,” he said.


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