Why Chris Carpenter Will Put Giants on Brink with Another Clutch Performance

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Why Chris Carpenter Will Put Giants on Brink with Another Clutch Performance
John Gress/Getty Images
Chris Carpenter starts Game 2 of the 2012 NLCS for the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter isn't unbeatable in the postseason. However, he's pretty close. 

In 16 playoff starts with the Cards, Carpenter has a 10-2 record and 2.88 ERA. Last year, during a surprise run to a World Series championship, the 37-year-old right-hander went 4-0 in six starts, compiling a 3.25 ERA. That includes three appearances in the World Series and pitching Game 7 on three days' rest.

Carpenter's postseason success is one reason it would have been in the San Francisco Giants' best interest to win Game 1 of the NLCS Sunday night (Oct. 15) while facing Lance Lynn.

Of course, it would have helped the Giants to win the series opener, regardless of who they faced. Winning any game—and establishing a 1-0 series lead—is important in any playoff matchup. 

But after a 6-4 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, San Francisco faces Carpenter in Game 2 and the very real possibility of falling behind 0-2 in the NLCS with the following three games to be played at Busch Stadium. 

Carpenter didn't face the Giants during the regular season, as he only made three starts after recovering from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, in which he had a rib removed to relieve pressure on nerves in his right shoulder. 

The procedure, performed in July, was supposed to keep Carpenter out for the rest of the season. Recovery is typically three to four months.

But Carpenter was apparently on a different schedule, according to MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, making sure he was in strong condition before the surgery. That helped him accelerate his rehabilitation schedule from getting ready for spring training next year to being able to pitch by the end of this season. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Does Chris Carpenter make this pose before each playoff start?

Results from the surgery vary between pitchers, but some have never been the same following the procedure.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, for example, wasn't able to regain his prior form. After having the surgery in 2008, he made eight appearances the next year, giving up 10 runs and 16 hits in 10.1 innings. In his first full season since the procedure, Bonderman went 8-10 with a 5.54 ERA. 

Carpenter was able to make three starts for the Cardinals at the end of the regular season, allowing three runs or fewer in each appearance. He also pitched at least five innings in all three starts.

Though he faced the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros in two of those games, Carpenter did pitch against the Reds in his last start of the season, showing he could handle playoff-caliber competition. 

In his first appearance of the postseason, Carpenter pitched into the sixth inning again, throwing 5.2 scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of their NLDS. Kyle Lohse might have been St. Louis' No. 1 starter in the regular season with a 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA, but the Cards have their true ace back for the playoffs. 

With only three starts during the regular season, Carpenter hasn't faced the Giants this year. The last time Carpenter pitched against San Francisco was May 31, 2011. In that start at Busch Stadium, he allowed two runs and seven hits over five innings, also striking out eight batters. That was a good outing, but it doesn't give us much to go on, unfortunately.

What about individual matchups against Giants hitters?

Buster Posey has only batted against Carpenter four times, getting two hits. Pablo Sandoval is 2-for-7 (.286) with one RBI. Hunter Pence has more experience versus Carpenter, having played for the Houston Astros, an NL Central rival of the Cardinals. But he's 5-for-27 (.185) with one home run and six RBI. 

Tony Medina/Getty Images
Ryan Theriot is batting .467 against Chris Carpenter.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy might want to find a spot for Ryan Theriot in his Game 2 lineup. He's batting .467 (7-for-15) against Carpenter with a 1.167 OPS, along with a double, one triple and an RBI.

Carpenter has only pitched twice at AT&T Park during his career, and hasn't appeared there since 2009. So that doesn't tell us much about how he'll perform in San Francisco against this particular Giants team. 

What we do know is that Carpenter has thrived during the postseason. He's the ace, capable of making two to three starts in a series, that any team hopes to have while making a playoff run.

Last year, that worked wonderfully for the Cardinals as Carpenter helped the team to a World Series championship—the second he's won in St. Louis. 

For the Giants to get past the Cardinals in the NLCS, they'll have to beat a pitcher who doesn't lose much in the playoffs. If Carpenter pitches as he typically does, San Francisco could be halfway toward elimination from the postseason. 

 

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