Can Chris Carpenter be Chris Carpenter this season?
Without Chris Carpenter last season the Cardinals would not have made it to the playoffs let alone winning it all. Carpenter became superhuman in the second half of last season donning the nickname “Darth Carp” for his mad man antics, in some places they even played the Darth Vader music from Star Wars when he would appear on the mound. But many fans seem to forget about his awful first half of the season, many fans said things like “he’s too old” and “he’s done” as Carpenter started the year 4-7 with a 3.85 ERA going into the All Star break. Carpenter claimed that the stress of not having Wainwright on the team and probably his upcoming contract talks (Carp signed a two year deal in September) were factors of him having such a slow start. Carpenter did have a huge innings workload throwing 237.1 innings in the regular season along with an extra 36 innings in the post season which is a hefty workload for a man who was nearing his 37th birthday. So is it possible that Carpenter may be effected by this or will he be even better than last year? Here are some things that could affect Carpenter both positively and negatively heading into the 2012 season?
The return of Adam Wainwright:
With former Cy Young runner up Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John surgery this season I think his return will affect many things in a positive way including the performance of Carpenter. As I mentioned earlier Carpenter struggled a bit in the beginning of the season because his role on the team changed from veteran number two starter to the number one starter and leader on the team. The same can go for the young Jaime Garcia who was changed from a number three starter to a number two which also seemed to affect his emotions and performance. With Wainwright back the workload will be lifted off of Carpenter just a bit, however Waino is returning from injury so he is not expected to be at full force this season, however I see this changing as the year goes on. When healthy Wainwright and Carpenter make up one of the best front of the rotation pairs in all of baseball even with Carpenter getting older.
As I mentioned before Carpenter pitched a lot last season, leading the NL with his 237.1 innings pitched and an extra 36 innings in the post season. Any pitcher these days could be fatigued by that amount of work so it could very well be a factor for Carpenter even though he has been quoted as saying he feels fine, the Cardinals are not necessarily buying into it and they have already stated he might have a lessened role in spring training (see here.) He might not have as long of a leash heading into the season but who knows things change all the time and it is all about how he feels in the end, and I think he will pitch as many innings as he wants to, would you mess with him?
Chris Carpenter is not the same 30 year old that won the Cy young back in 2005. He is heading into his age 37 season and as we saw last season is heading into a decline, however I don’t know if Carpenter will allow a decline he might look at age and punch it in the face before he were to allow it to overcome his performance. Many pitchers have had success in the later years of their careers from Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson,Phil Niekro, and the list goes on and on of pitchers who still showed strength as an older pitcher. However like in anything age is always a factor even for a superhuman like Carpenter and eventually his performance will suffer from it. I still think Carpenter will have a good year even if he is 37.
Chris Carpenter and the rest of the Cardinals pitching staff are lucky to have one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time, Yadier Molina on their team. Yadi is one of the best defenders with not only his glove and arm, but his uncanny ability to call a game. Many pitchers are attracted to St. Louis because of these abilities and I feel Yadi makes his pitchers that much stronger. Also, Tony Cruz who will most likely win the backup job this year is noted as one of the best defensive catching prospects in the Cardinals farm system. So Carpenter will have two good backstops to make a great battery, with Molina catching Carp I think he will be just fine.
New manager, Mike Matheny:
Remember that game that Carpenter was one out away from a complete game shutout and TLR pulled him out in order for the bullpen to blow it? Well I remember and it was one of my final straws as a TLR fan. With Tony no longer managing I think Carpenter will have more control than he already did. There have been many times that TLR pulled him no matter how hard Carpenter tried to battle him to leave him in. With new manager and Carpenters former catcher Mike Matheny, I think that Carpenter will be able to persuade the young manager more than he would have TLR. With more control I think it should be fun to watch the season that Carpenter will have.
Chris Carpenter is heading into one of his final seasons in the majors. He is 37 years old and is coming off of a “down” year and one that he pitched a massive amount of innings, but I still for see a terrific season from Carp maybe even a run at the Cy Young. He is a mad man, Super human, Sith lord, Cy young winner, whatever you want to call him he is not right. He is one of my favorite Cardinals to ever wear the birds on the bat and he is truly a team leader and franchise icon. With the return of good friend Wainwright and with a refreshing new manager and pitching coach I feel like Carpenter will put all of the facts aside and show everyone in St. Louis why we all love him, good luck to Chris Carpenter and the rest of the Cardinals and lets win us another Championship!