Chris Carpenter was out for the year. He was dealing with neck problems, and then he had a rib removed because he was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. That was in July. He was supposed to be out for the year.
Well, he's back and starting for the Cardinals in Game 2. And if that seems weird, note that Carpenter has surprised people before with his restorative powers. The reason he's on the Cardinals in the first place is because he had shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. The Blue Jays didn't want to pay him his final year of arbitration because who recovers from torn labrums? They were right. He missed a year. And, really, he wasn't that good before the injury. He was going to be 29 when he returned.
He came back from the shoulder surgery and was immediately one of the best pitchers in baseball. Ooookay.
Then he missed a year with Tommy John surgery. When he came back, he left after three starts because of shoulder problems, eventually diagnosed as nerve irritation. He missed both his age-32 and age-33 seasons with these problems, which usually means a pitcher is close to done.
He came back from the elbow surgery and shoulder problems and was immediately one of the best pitchers in baseball. Oh, come on.
So that's the pitcher the Giants are dealing with for Game 2. It's going to be him, sitting atop a pile of Twinkies, commanding his army of cockroaches after the nuclear apocalypse. Actually give Omar Vizquel a rival army of cockroaches, and that's a pretty sweet start to a graphic novel. And in 2012, Carpenter has made four starts -- three in the regular season, and one in the postseason. Some notes on those:
He's done pretty well
Warning: This analysis was processed on machinery that came into contact with the Cubs and Astros. Which is to say, of his four starts since returning, half of them have been against two of the worst teams in all the land.
But he pitched well -- in 17 innings over his three regular-season starts, he walked three and struck out 12, which is close to the strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last three seasons. It's a ludicrously small sample, of course, and there is the Cubs/Astros factor, but there weren't any warning signs, at least.
He did allow a couple of homers but, uh, that's not going to be a factor tonight.
His velocity is down … kind of
There's a disclaimer because his minimum velocity isn't lower than it has been. His lowest-velocity sinker this year has been 87.8 m.p.h., which is right in line with his career numbers, so he's not sinking to new lows like Barry Zito consistently did after coming over to the Giants. But his highest-velocity sinker is down -- just 93.5 m.p.h. this year, which is about three miles off from his career mark.
It's probably more instructive to look at averages, and he's down over a mile per hour over his career marks. Again, ludicrously small sample, but about what you'd expect from a pitcher who missed most of the year.
He's not just a brainless sinkerballer, though, as he features a slider and a nifty curve at times. There's a video at the bottom of this thing. You'll see what I mean.
He probably isn't going to pitch very long
His shortest outing of the year: five innings (twice, plus a 5.2-inning outing in the playoffs). His longest outing of the year: six innings (once).
So even if the Giants don't hit him especially hard, they should get used to another run through Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, and Jason Motte. That goes through the rest of the series, too. If the Giants are going to win, they'll either need to bludgeon the heck out of the starting pitcher, or they'll need to do something that resembles anything against the Cardinals' bullpen.
This probably isn't the same Chris Carpenter who challenged Tim Lincecum for the Cy Young in 2009, nor is it the same Carpenter who pitched a shutout against the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS. But then again, he's pitching against the Giants in AT&T Park. He probably doesn't have to be.
Here's hoping that Ryan Vogelsong is up to the challenge. He's probably the only pitcher in organized baseball who can look at Carpenter's story and say, "Oh. Cool comeback story, bro." while making a wanking motion. That doesn't mean anything, but it felt rude not to mention.
Looking for tickets to Game 2? Check out TiqIQ, where you can get in starting at $59 right now. Dang, I say. Dang. Now here's some video of Carpenter making hitters look silly: