What's there to say about Chris Carpenter at this point? If anything he seems sharper now than he did in 2006, when last he was more than a constant, nagging medical concern. He's throwing his fastball, which is the kind of fastball that a lot of relief pitchers get away with for ten years, less than he ever has—less than half the time up to yesterday's start—and his breaking balls, especially the new-ish slider that he's gone to so often, have gone from good to vicious, an adjective in the set of pitching terms that begins with "carved up."
In a fluff piece written for the Sports Illustrated World Series magazine after 06—momup is a formidable collector of Cardinals ephemera, and I am a formidable reader of anything next to me when I have nothing better to do—Carp attributed his newfound success to the ability, as an older pitcher, to focus exclusively on the next pitch he's going to throw. That seems about right, and the remarkable thing is that he's so good about it that he has the same effect on fans. I was in the car listening to the radio when Laynce Nix—Laynce Nix! Three-time failed Ranger CF of the future, a guy who couldn't even hit in Arlington!—continued his ascent up the St. Louis public enemy chart, and as soon as it left the park I... I calmed down. Carp threw a strike. My car continued up the street in an orderly fashion. The game ended.
All I can say is that you know you're good when Tony La Russa, who last admitted to enjoying something after watching the third Indiana Jones movie, for fear of giving secrets away to the other team, calls you "a pleasure to watch."
Carpenter did his job and granted sportswriters use of the term Stopper for the next week, but Albert doing all the heavy lifting wasn't exactly the perfect salve for our continued offensive fear and trembling. I'll take hits from all three outfielders, but I'd like an extra base or two before I resume counting my chickens.
But one interesting thread on offense has been Brendan Ryan's quiet charge back to offensive respectability, and last night's 1-3 performance has brought his batting average all the way up to .281, the exact point at which people will stop paying attention to what a middle infielder is doing on offense. I've been extremely critical of Ryan in the past, because of how spare his track record as even a passable AAA hitter has been up to this point—and, admittedly, because I'm loath to give backup infielders, with their small samples, the kind of defensive credit that would be needed to carry his 2008 bat.
But as of today, when he's within thirty points of OPS of matching the 2007 stint that got everybody so excited in the first place, and made a backup infielder out of a long-time suspect who couldn't stay on the field, the egg is on my face. .340/.380 isn't going to bust any games wide open, but on a team that settled for Cesar Izturis last year it's a revelation.
I have a feeling that this might eventually become a Chris Duncan situation, where a guy's minor league numbers are, for whatever reason, totally inadequate to describe his major league talent. Ryan was last a prospect to be followed in 2005, when he impressed in Palm Beach and treaded water in Springfield; in 2006 he didn't stay on the field and in 2007 he was brought up to the majors as a last resort, and his ugly numbers in Memphis did little to reject the notion that he was overmatched in AA and experiencing a Bo Hart moment in St. Louis. 2008 did little but propogate that notion. But now he's hitting again.
In the meantime, I throw up my hands. His minor league track record can be read too many ways to be useful; his major league track record isn't quite long enough to be satisfying. All I will say is this: I don't care how many runs UZR says he saves, the way he throws terrifies me; every 4-6-3, no matter how beautiful, ends in a sidearm slider that I am convinced is going to either send Albert careening into Hee Seop Choi or bounce into the hands of a lucky fan. It works, but I don't want to look at it.
Good to see Jess Todd up; bad to see Brian Barton, after hindsight wrecks the notion of outfield depth, traded for a guy who the Cardinals are willing to risk DFAing. Boyer's five inning crawl is the kind of move I'm fond of in Baseball Mogul, which doesn't have waiver rules or a 40 man roster—it's all too easy to abuse AAAA swingmen in blowout situations when you can toss them back over the next day.
Todd... well, in a sick way I'm hoping he looks as much like a reliever as was insisted when he was converted. It would cost the Cardinals some theoretical depth in the rotation, but I would stop wondering what might have been.
Sorry for the slim pickings; I'm going to be offline for the next week, traveling, but the VEB wheels will keep on turning. All my writing tics will return to the front page next next Tuesday; in the meantime, somebody let me know if Strasburg falls to nineteen.