The St. Louis Cardinals have faced their share of adversity in 2012. Sometimes, when that happens, a surprise player steps up and makes a huge contribution in unexpected ways.
In 2012, that player has been Matt Carpenter.
Utility players often find themselves sliding under the radar and not getting the attention they deserve. Carpenter isn't asking for attention, but his level of play is demanding it.
When then 24-year-old Carpenter arrived for spring training in 2011, he was ready to do whatever it was going to take to make the big league team. He arrived for the day early and always left late.
As a result, he hit .333 in 51 at bats with a .924 OPS.
He knew that making it to St. Louis as a third baseman would be difficult with David Freese blocking the way and was ready to do whatever necessary to change his fortune.
He began working to learn other positions. The goal was to make himself a useful tool to his club.
His spring training success didn't land him an immediate promotion, but he did spend seven games as a major leaguer. The trip didn't help his case.
He compiled only one hit in 15 at bats.
Clearly unhappy about his season, he showed up in 2012 ready to get things done.
When his stellar 2011 spring training didn't earn him a trip, he obliterated those numbers in 2012 at Jupiter, Fla.
Does Matt Carpenter factor into the Cardinals long-term plans?
Carpenter hit .357 this year in spring training with nine doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs. The front office noticed.
In 2012 he's played 98 games with the Cardinals and has no doubt earned his place on the roster.
Following are three reasons why Matt Carpenter will play a key role in the 2012 Cardinals playoff push.
He can play anywhere on the field
Carpenter is quite competent anywhere on the field.
He can play first base, anywhere in the outfield and at the corners on the infield. The rumor is that he even has a catcher's mitt with him...just in case.
Matt Carpenter is the kind of player who in a slaughter, might even step in to pitch an inning or so.
The best way to characterize Carpenter is as another John Mabry.
Carpenter is a smart baseball guy and knows what it takes to be in the lineup and has trained himself accordingly.
The interesting thing is that his defense is actually pretty good wherever he plays. That's very important right now.
He has been extremely successful with runners in scoring position
Matt Carpenter has been huge with RISP this year.
His .339 RISP batting average is enough to show his value, but a deeper look shows even more.
His OPS with RISP is a strong .925. He has 37 RBIs in key situations as well as seven doubles, two triples and a home run.
His on-base percentage with the bases loaded (.375) is actually better than his overall OBP (.369).
He may not be a flashy home run hitter, but his consistency is plenty reason to put him at the plate when a game is on the line.
He's been invaluable to this team
His carefully crafted slide into home plate on Sunday afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers is a perfect example of his capability.
He's an extremely smart baseball player with an immense knowledge of the game and knows when to make his move. Without that slide on Sunday, Allen Craig's tenth inning single could have been a moot point.
He's off to a slower start in September, but Carpenter finished the month of August hitting .372/.408/.558.
On numerous occasions this year he has saved games and runs with both his bat and his glove.
Left-handed pitchers seem to be his biggest weakness, as is a common tale for the Cardinals this year.
He also seems to play considerably better in day games (.336) as opposed to night games (.263).
Those aren't numbers I would get too wrapped up in though.
Carpenter isn't flawless and still has room to grow, but at only 26 years old, he has a bright future ahead of him—and the Cardinals hope to reap the benefits.