Former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter recently made a surprise return to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals following a season-long stint on the DL. As October nears, Carpenter's return could prove vital to a Cardinals team looking to repeat as World Series champions.
Here are five reasons why Carpenter's return will ultimately benefit the Cardinals.
1. He Provides Valuable Postseason Experience
Carpenter has been stellar in the playoffs throughout his career. The five current Cardinals starters have a combined playoff record of 3-6. Carpenter alone is 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA.
St. Louis' pitching staff has been solid all year, but the question has been about how well they could perform in the playoffs. Carpenter could provide that much-needed experience that would be needed to beat teams like the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
Carpenter was a huge part of the Cardinals' run to glory in 2011, posting four wins. While he hasn't pitched all season, you can't put enough emphasis on how important it is for him to provide that invaluable experience and leadership deep into October.
2. He could be the Reason the Cardinals Make a Run to the World Series
More than any other sport, baseball is about one man beating another with pure talent and skill. Managers can't do much to impact how a batter sees a pitch or where a pitcher locates his fastball. With that in mind, Carpenter's biggest value could be based on whether or not he can make that one pitch to turn a game in St. Louis' favor.
Carpenter had that "it" factor last season, consistently coming up clutch in the playoffs when the Cardinals needed him most. If it comes down to a two-on, two-out situation in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cardinals will have full confidence in placing the ball in Carpenter's hands and allowing him to operate under pressure.
In situations like this, a big-time professional pitcher really shows his colors. If Carpenter can draw back on what made him so dominant over his career, he could make that one pitch that ultimately decides whether or not St. Louis gets to the World Series or not.
3. He May be the Ace St. Louis has Been Searching For
The Cardinals are currently eighth in the major leagues in ERA, clocking in at 3.75. Don't let that number fool you: the Cardinals have pitched well, but do not have a seasoned ace in which they can lean on. Lance Lynn has been superb in his sophomore season, but he has battled bouts of inconsistency and his lack of experience in the postseason makes him a wild card in the rotation.
Kyle Lohse has been incredible, but can he really sustain the statistics he's been putting up? He's a career 4.50 ERA pitcher who's stumbled into a great situation and put up great numbers. And don't forget that he was absolutely miserable in the playoffs last season, going 0-2 with an ERA over seven.
Carpenter may be St. Louis' last hope. In the playoffs, you need a pitcher who you know can win you a game under any circumstances. Since the Cardinals don't seem to have a pitcher that fits that mold, St. Louis must hope that Carpenter can rediscover his Cy Young form and pitch a couple of stellar games.
4. He Takes Pressure off the Bullpen
Aside from Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs, the Cardinals' bullpen has been a weakness for most of the season. In the playoffs, the back end of the relief pitching will not be able to hold up against some of the best offensive lineups in baseball.
Herein lies another aspect of Carpenter's value to the Cardinals. If he can go deep into a postseason start, he could prevent the bullpen from blowing it. He could also give the relief guys rest, allowing them to go out and pitch well in the next game.
It's up to Carpenter in terms of how efficient he can be, because that's the only way he'll be going deep into a ball game coming off an injury. But if he can throw a 90-pitch, seven-inning game, the Cardinals will have a better chance of pulling a few wins out.
5. He Gives the Cardinals the Ultimate Intangible: Hope
St. Louis has been one of the most consistent teams in baseball. They are the defending World Series champions. They have solid pitching, great hitting, and a superb manager. What more could they need?
Well, when it comes to repeating as World Series champs, nothing is easy. There's no question that the Cardinals have had stretches this season where they've had to reach deep down to find motivation and keep going. And now that Carpenter is back with the team, it provides an extra shot of adrenaline for a team that desperately needed one.
Carpenter's return is akin to a player who fights through a sprained ankle to continue battling in a game. The Cardinals will look at their veteran and see a man who has worked hard, very hard, to get back into playing shape to help his teammates makes another run at glory.
He provides that glimmer of hope, and should motivate the players to give it their all on ever pitch, just like he did with every rehabilitation session.