What difference a couple of months can make.
For much of the summer, corners of the baseball world were abuzz about the prospect of St. Louis Cardinals long-time rotation anchor Chris Carpenter being traded to a contender. The New York Yankees were one of the clubs most often mentioned as a possible destination.
Carpenter, 36, was in the final months of a contract signed prior to the 2007 season. He was already afforded full no-trade protection as a ten-and-five man, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Cardinals did not make public comments suggesting in any way that Carpenter was available, but the speculation continued.
The trade deadlines passed and Carpenter remained a Cardinal. Further, on September 12, in the midst of St. Louis’ dramatic comeback in the standings, he and the Cardinals announced a two-year extension for a total of $21 million. To read more about his background, what I said at the time and view the results of a reader poll on the deal, click here.
Of course, Carpenter’s season and that of his teammates culminated a month later with the World Championship. The Yankees lost in the first round, with pitching depth a primary culprit.
Though he struggled for wins in the first half, Carpenter heated up when the trade rumors were hottest and more importantly, when the Cardinals needed him the most. From June 23 until the conclusion of the regular season, he went 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 19 starts. The 10 wins were tied for fourth-most in the majors during that span and the 2.73 ERA was eighth-lowest in the National League.
Carpenter and the Cardinals came into the final day of the season with a chance to win the NL Wild Card. Setting a tone for the post-season ahead, that is what they did as Carp struck out a season-high 11 batters at Houston. His two-hit complete game shutout was his 10th as a Cardinal.
A player whose durability has been a career-long question, Carpenter was a rock in 2011. In fact, he made 34 or more starts for the second consecutive year, marking the first time in his 14-year career he has accomplished the feat. 30 of his 34 starts in 2011 were at least six innings in duration, including 21 of seven innings or longer.
Carpenter logged a team-best 21 quality starts while receiving the lowest run support among Cardinals starters – just 4.0 runs per nine innings (team average was 4.7). That and shaky relief were factors in his 11-9 record and the club’s 16-18 record in his starts.
For the first time in his career, Carp led the National League in innings pitched at 237 1/3 and he also tied for tops in the league with his 34 games started. Among National League pitchers, he finished tied for 11th in strikeouts (191), 17th in ERA (3.45), fourth in complete games (4), tied for second in shutouts, sixth in stolen base percentage (45.5%), 13th with 2.09 walks per nine innings pitched, 10th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.47) and tied for 10th in double plays induced (20).
Carpenter’s NLDS Game 5 performance should never be forgotten. He was given just one run of support so went out and tossed a three-hit complete game shutout – on the road against the regular season MLB wins leader, Philadelphia, and their ace Roy Halladay. The win powered the underdog Cardinals into the NLCS.
To finish off his fine season, Carpenter made three World Series starts, pitching 19 innings. He won two contests, including Game 7, and logged a 2.84 ERA.
With co-ace Adam Wainwright out all year, Carpenter “extended” himself more than expected with superb results, both for him personally and for his team. He is now assured of being back for at least two more chances to again finish on top.