The Cardinals travel to the north side of Chicago to rekindle a rivalry that fans everywhere support. Cardinal fans hate the Cubs. Cubs fans hate the Cardinals. The teams always find a way to be competitive and to challenge each other despite the standings or the individual records.
The series will start Tuesday night and take on a intense side almost immediately as Chris Carpenter and Carlos Zambrano take to the mound. The two hurlers are some of the most hot-headed pitchers in recent memory. From hit batters to fights with water coolers, these two pitchers are listed in the dictionary under “intense”.
The problem here is not that Chris Carpenter is intense, it is that it has become the only thing that he is. Carpenter is still a solid pitcher and a guy that can carry a team through some rough patches, but most of his games have turned into a debate over two questions: Who is going to get hit by a Carpenter fastball and What will piss off Carp this time.
In his last outing against the Florida Marlins, tempers flared as the game was played, to be honest, the way it should be played. A potential double play was broken up with a hard slide that caused Yadier Molina to throw a ball into right field. Hanley Ramirez stayed near the plate after the play to check on the Cardinal backstop and Carpenter took exception. After words were exchanged, it appeared that our first question would be muttered and the second one had been answered.
Later in the game, on a play at first, Carpenter took exception to the umpire’s call of safe and turned to argue. This produced Tony LaRussa from the dugout, presumably to take up the argument for his starter. I am not sure I have ever seen a manager come to the field of play and simply say one or two sentences to his pitcher and turn and go back. I cannot tell you what was said, but it seemed to be along the lines of “the call was right, go pitch”.
Carpenter is a veteran pitcher that has brought home championships and Cy Young awards to St. Louis. He has always been a tough competitor and always been a pitcher that would stand up for his team. Recently, however, it seems that he is more focused on the unwritten rules of the game than he is on keeping the ball low in the strike zone and getting the ground ball outs that makes him successful.
The downside to all of this is showing up in his record and his consistently high pitches this season. A pitcher that has made a solid career in pitching low in the zone and inducing ground balls, Carpenter is surrendering more fly ball outs and struggling to keep his pitches low in the zone to get the ground balls that make him successful. His counterpart in Tuesday’s game is a glaring example of what can become of a pitcher that allows his emotions to run his game. The emotion can capture a player and become the focus of every moment of the game.
There becomes a real problem when fans, writers, opponents, and teammates start focusing on something other than the athletic ability of the player in front of them. Carpenter is still a talented player on a winning ball club. He is dangerously close to becoming a distraction for a team that is playing well above anyone’s expectations at this point, despite some needed adversity.
What does it take to get Chris Carpenter his first win and what advice should be given to the Cardinals starter? I think it’s simple:
Shut up and pitch.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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