ATLANTA -- Currently positioned to be the most productive team in decades when hitting with runners in scoring position in decades, the Cardinals' offense continues to pace the National League in most other offensive categories as well. No other NL club has scored more runs or tallied more hits than St. Louis, which also leads the league in on-base percentage and OPS.
They've done it all, too, despite a power shortage.
The Cardinals enter Saturday having hit 83 home runs through their first 100 games. Only two NL teams (San Francisco and Miami) have hit fewer, and it puts the Cardinals on pace for only 134 this season. The last time the Cardinals finished with so few long balls in a non-strike-shortened season was 1993. The Cardinals hit 118 homers that year.
"It doesn't mean much to me," said manager Mike Matheny, whose club still claims baseball's best winning percentage. "It's been about wins and run production, and we've been getting wins and producing some runs. As soon as our guys start thinking about hitting homers, we're in trouble. We just go and take good at-bats. Stats like that get thrown out the window, in my opinion."
Entering Saturday's game, the only Cardinals player to homer since July 10 was Yadier Molina, who has two blasts during that span. His solo homer in Friday's loss snapped a string of six straight homerless games. The Cardinals still won five of those contests.
"I think it helps that we have so many good hitters on the team, so one guy doesn't necessarily have to feel like he has to hit a home run in his spot to drive in all of them," Allen Craig said. "It's kind of like a 'pass-the-baton' kind of thing. If we can just keep the inning extended, that's a big deal."
The Cardinals collected 159 homers a year ago and, for the first time in franchise history, had five players hit 20. This year, it could be a stretch to have three players reach that mark. Carlos Beltran, who has already hit 19 in 2013, should reach it again soon. Matt Holliday (13 home runs) and Craig (10) each have a chance, as well.
Peterson sent back to Triple-A as Holliday returns
ATLANTA -- Brock Peterson spent Saturday morning not preparing for an afternoon game at Turner Field, but packing his bags in the clubhouse so that he could soon return to the Minors. The career Minor Leaguer only hopes that he made enough of an impression during his nine-day stay to warrant a trip back to the Majors in September -- or sooner, if a need arises.
"I'm hoping this opens doors," said Peterson, who was optioned to Triple-A Memphis as the Cardinals activated Matt Holliday from the disabled list. "If something happens again where they need to make a move, I'm hoping I'm the guy at the top of the list. Hopefully, in September if it gets that far, that I'm one of the guys that they think they can use.
"I waited a long time just to get to take the field in a big league game. The wait was worth it."
After spending 11 years in the Minors/Independent league, Peterson collected an RBI in his first Major League at-bat last week. He finished 1-for-7 in his short stint. He was summoned to St. Louis after hitting .306 with a Pacific Coast League-best 22 home runs and 66 RBIs in 93 Triple-A games.
"His at-bats -- every one of them was a tough at-bat," manager Mike Matheny said. "His story is a little bit out of the ordinary. I think it's a great encouragement to so many guys out there who are just trudging along and thinking they may never get their shot. It's a great story. And I think the way that he's hitting, the way that he's producing, he's opened some eyes to what may be a bright future."
Though Peterson played exclusively at first base with Memphis before his callup, the 29-year-old will likely see some time in the outfield moving forward. The Cardinals played him in left field once, and before Peterson left the ballpark, Matheny urged him to find time during Memphis' batting practices to track balls off the bat in left field.
Peterson said he would also like to make some starts at the position to regain some of his comfort there.
"I'm confident I can do it, but it's always nice to have a few practice games under your belt before you're thrown in the fire," Peterson said. "I'll do whatever they want me to do."
Cardinals keep three catchers to aid Molina
ATLANTA -- In weighing whether to keep a right-handed power bat (Brock Peterson) or a third catcher (Rob Johnson) on the roster, the Cardinals ultimately opted for retaining the extra protection behind the plate.
Though Yadier Molina has had no major issues with his right knee since before the All-Star break, the Cardinals still intend to be proactive in giving Molina enough days off to stay fresh. That will be especially imperative for the final two months of the year, as the Cardinals only have four more off days scattered into their schedule. They are currently in a stretch that has them playing 37 games in 37 days.
"We have to be careful with Yadi and watch what we do," manager Mike Matheny said. "He seems to be feeling better. He's moving better. But we've still got to keep our eyes on him, and we're just going to have to use [backup catchers] Tony [Cruz] and Rob as we were using Brock."
With the extra catcher available, that frees Matheny up to use one of the two in a pinch-hit spot without leaving the club exposed at the position. And on the days Molina does not start, he, too, can be much more freely used off the bench.
Matheny's desire to be intentional in giving extra rest does not just apply with Molina. Matheny has been doing so over the last few weeks with Pete Kozma and Jon Jay, too, which has allowed Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson to see the field more often. Finding time off for Carlos Beltran also remains a priority.
Though Beltran has not dealt with many health issues this season, this was about the time last year that his knees started getting cranky and his production waned. He does not seem to be dealing with similar physical issues now, though Beltan has had a slow start to the second half. He came into the weekend with two hits in 18 at-bats since the All-Star break.
"I know he would like his swing to be a little sharper," Matheny said. "He's been working pretty hard to get that locked in again. But I do want to stay on that same pace to make sure he's getting time now and again. And he seems to be better with it than he certainly was at the beginning of the year.
"None of the guys liked the concept early on, and I absolutely appreciate that. … But I think they realize how good they actually feel with those days [off], even though they don't want them. And in the long run, hopefully it will make a difference between how Carlos felt last year and this time."
• The Cardinals have set their pitching plans for Tuesday's doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Matheny announced on Saturday. Tyler Lyons will be called up from Triple-A to start the first game of the twin bill. Lance Lynn will start the nightcap. Lynn will be opposed by Pirates righty A.J. Burnett. The Pirates have not yet announced who will start Game 1.
• Right-hander Zach Petrick has an ERA over 1.00 for the first time since May, though he did lead Double-A Springfield to a win on Friday with another quality start. Petrick allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. He struck out nine and did not walk a batter. In his 83 2/3 innings this season, Petrick has posted a 1.08 ERA.
• Kolten Wong helped lead Triple-A Memphis to a 7-4 victory on Friday with a three-run homer, his eighth blast this season. Wong, ranked by MLB.com as the organization's fourth-best prospect, has hit .296 in seven games since the All-Star break.
• With the Cardinals expected to arrive in Pittsburgh in the early hours of Monday morning, Jake Westbrook, who is scheduled to start the series opener, will fly there in advance of the rest of the team. Westbrook is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.