After Chris Carpenter's pitching "win" against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS in which the Nationals had seven hits in Carpenter's 5 2/3 innings pitched and took 14 of their 27 plate appearances against the veteran righty with men on the bases, a lot of ink was spilt on the subject of Carpenter's postseason greatness. One of those pieces was written by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. It was entitled "Carpenter's Is At His Best With Most At Stake." The article covered the usual bases, citing Carpenter's then pitching "record" of nine pitching "wins" and two pitching "losses" to support the assertion that he "might be the majors' best big-game pitcher." In the piece, Kepner also features an insightful quote from Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak:
"To have a Carpenter back on the mound when nobody expected him to pitch this year is uplifting [...] One thing about Carp is he's such a competitor. He's one of those guys who can will himself to win, if that makes sense. So trying to use a more analytical approach with him, I would throw that out the window and say, 'Give him the ball -- and that's a pretty good bet to make.'"
The celebration of Chris Carpenter, Big-Game Pitcher is based on the rigthanded workhorse that was: a pitcher who has posted a career 51.5 percent groundball rate, led the league with 237 1/3 innings pitched in 2011, out-dueled none other than Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NLDS, and scored a pitching "win" in Game 7 of last year's World Series.
The Chris Carpenter of these playoffs is not that pitcher.
The fact that Carpenter underwent major surgery in mid-July has been beaten to death. We all know that he had a rib removed as well as muscle tissue in order to alleviate symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. In the popular imagination, this fact doesn't seem to matter because Carp is so tough he doesn't care. But Carpenter's surgery does matter.
Whether the surgical procedure itself has affected him physically, the veteran just hasn't had enough time to get himself physically prepared to pitch in the big leagues, or a combination of the two, Carpenter is plainly a shadow of his yesteryear self. Carp's stuff has simply not been as sharp. His command and control are not what they were. His velocity is down. The bite on his pitches is lacking as compared to what one is used to seeing. As Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com put it on Twitter during the Giants' Game 6 win: "Hate to say it, but Chris Carpenter looks like a guy who had season-ending surgery three months ago."
Carpenter's starts this year have shown that the "will to win" doesn't necessarily mean a pitcher will triumph. The Cardinals have proven that being a competitor isn't always enough to overcome injury and a lack of preparation. Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny have demonstrated that sentimentality can handicap a team's efforts to win.
The reality of a diminished Carp has been clear since his first start of the year at Wrigley Field. Nonetheless, the Cardinals installed Carpenter as a member of the postseason rotation. In doing so, the organization seems to have thrown analytical thought out the window--whether that be looking at Carpenter's stats, accepting what is plain to see when watching him pitch, or both. Instead, they made roster decisions based on a player's reputation. Because of the Cardinals' sentimentality, they handicapped their club in two games of a seven-game series and helped ensure that the fate of their 2012 season will be decided in a Game 7 on the road against Matt Cain.