Yes, exactly—that Jason Motte picture is exactly right. Recently Mike Matheny's been getting his first taste of the-St.-Louis-Cardinals-are-listless clubhouse psychology, and I don't doubt that there was some truth to it; it can't be fun to play baseball in an environment like that, especially when everyone has an Agatha Christie novel's chance of ending a particular game on a stretcher, shot by a tiny gun concealed inside a snifter of Gatorade.
But here's one of the reason's baseball psychology seems permanently, unavoidably oversimplified to me—the opposite of that listlessness, what happens when you break it, seems to be this picture, no matter what the manager does.
The manager must have something to do with the tone in a clubhouse, but if you break up a long losing stretch with a game like this one, where the defense and the pitching staff are perfect and the bats provide the one necessary run—well, the tone's going to change, and it's probably going to change to Jason Motte yelling into his glove, Marc Rzepczynski yelling into the air, Daniel Descalso and Rafael Furcal twisting their way through an acrobatic double play, et cetera.
Which, so far as I can tell, is a good clubhouse tone. You can give a really good for-the-gipper speech, or you can hope that Lance Lynn, your sixth starter a few months ago, strikes out 12 batters. These are the decisions a first-year manager must learn to make.
Carlos Beltran has 19 home runs now—three fewer than he did all last season—and seven doubles. I don't know what this means, but it's the first time in his 15-year career that Beltran has put up that kind of stereotypical slugger line; in his career he's got 397 doubles and 321 home runs, and the lowest his ratio of doubles-and-triples to home runs has ever been is 0.92, when he hit 14 doubles, 10 triples, and 26 home runs for the 2003 Kansas City Royals. (In 2006 he hit 38 doubles, one triple, and 41 home runs for the Mets.)
Here's a guess: It's probably a fluke, at least in part. Here's another guess, maybe not entirely exclusive of the first one: We are seeing, now, the adjustments a truly outstanding talent can make—the things a five-tool player can do when he's down one or two of them. Beltran's home run last night wasn't the kind of home run you might imagine out of a guy with many more doubles than homers—it was lofty, a golf shot. ESPN's Home Run Tracker has it at 31.9 degrees, his highest-angled shot of the season, and his fourth over 30. The five highest ones have all come since May, when his legs appeared to leave him again after those early stolen bases.
If you go back a little further it's clear he's always hit his share of majestic home runs when he's healthy, so I'm not sure there's actually anything to it. But this is a guy who can, when he's healthy, do anything; when he's not healthy enough to leg out doubles and triples, he's got power enough to lead the National League in home runs.