COMMENTARY | Ryan Braun has been stealing headlines this week, but some rather significant news also came out of the St. Louis Cardinals' camp this week. Chris Carpenter, the team's ace for the last several years, had a recurrence of the nerve injury that kept him out for a large portion of the 2012 season, and he is expected to miss all of 2013 as a result.
In fact, this could bring an end to Carpenter's illustrious baseball career as we know it.
Carpenter is set to turn 38 on April 27, so there may not have been all that much left in the tank for the 2005 National League Cy Young award winner, but he is still considered to be right up there with Adam Wainwright as the leader of the St. Louis pitching staff. He had his share of injury problems in the past, only starting four games combined between 2007 and 2008, and it's no coincidence that Carpenter was healthy in 2006 and 2011 when the Cardinals won the World Series.
His injury could affect the structure of the Central division based not only on how much success he had against its members but also who his replacement will be in 2013. As for his statistics against the Brewers since he joined St. Louis in 2004, they might surprise you.
Starting with the good, Carpenter threw two shoutouts and went at least eight innings four times in his 15 career starts -- including the postseason -- against Milwaukee. When he was on, Carpenter was nearly unhittable, including one instance in 2008 where he came one batter away from a no-hitter, and three from a perfect game.
In that regard, the Brewers won't be sad to see Carpenter go, but when looking at his body of work against Milwaukee as a whole, it didn't go all that well for the 16-year vet. He managed to log a winning record against the Crew by going 7-5, but after that, his numbers are rather unimpressive, as he sported a 4.70 ERA and a 7.34 K/9 IP ratio.
Before his injury problems, Carpenter had won three straight games against the Brewers, and he pitched well for St. Louis after returning in late September last year. Like Wainwright, Carpenter's primary pitch was the sinker, a pitch that gives Milwaukee fits when kept low in the zone because it limits how the Brewers generate runs -- via the long ball.
But in the instances where Carpenter left his sinker up, the Brewers jumped all over the 37-year-old. It was a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Carpenter versus Milwaukee, and in a strange way, his absence from the Cardinals' rotation could actually have a negative impact on the Brewers despite his below-average numbers against Milwaukee.
The danger with Carpenter was never knowing when he was going to be on his A-game. In that regard, it may be better to go up against a pitcher that doesn't have a history of dominant performances against your team. On the flip side, the Brewers had the ability to get after Carpenter. Milwaukee's lineup has a tendency of going through team-wide funks for a period of time, but it's still one of the best in baseball, and for that reason, there isn't a pitcher out there who can claim he always shut down the Brewers.
Still, when Carpenter was on the mound, a shutout was always a possibility, as was some over-the-top feistiness due to his no-nonsense attitude. His prowess on the mound as a competitor and mental tactician is no longer something the Brewers need to worry about, but the Cardinals still have plus arms in the rotation with Wainwright leading the way. Behind Wainwright, Jamie Garcia (3.43 career ERA), Lance Lynn (18 wins in 2012) and Jake Westbrook (3.97 ERA in '12) are no slouches themselves.
With Carpenter out of the picture, who could possibly step up to fill his void in the rotation? The Cardinals seemed to accept the departure of Kyle Lohse to free agency, but he could now become a legitimate option to return to St. Louis. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio made some noise when he said his team hadn't ruled out going after the 34-year-old righty, but Milwaukee doesn't seem like a likely destination for Lohse.
Joe Kelly is perhaps a more realistic option as someone who is already on the roster. He filled in admirably as a starter last season with Carpenter -- and Garcia -- out with injuries. Garcia himself has been rehabbing his shoulder this winter and supposedly will be ready for spring training, but that's still an unknown, so other names like Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller should be in the mix.
Carpenter's leadership will be missed in St. Louis, and all of a sudden, what was one of the top rotations in baseball last season has become an area of concern and uncertainty for St. Louis. That bodes well for teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee. Even though Carpenter's overall body of work against the Brewers wasn't exactly impressive, his injury will have a ripple effect for the Cardinals and the division.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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- Chris Carpenter
- Adam Wainwright