Chris Carpenter

Tim Schaller, right, collects baseballs after taking batting practice against fellow Granite Stater Chris Carpenter before a Fisher Cats-Sea Dogs game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester on July 15, 2019.

Since Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter dramatically beat Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay 1-0 in Game 5 of a 2011 National League division series, there has not been another postseason game in which the winning pitcher went nine innings and his opponent eight. And there have been 389 postseason games since then.

More significantly, there have been only eight complete games — three by Madison Bumgarner and two by Justin Verlander — pitched at all in those 389 games. That covers two starters per game, meaning that eight of the past 778 postseason starters have finished their appointed rounds. Or what used to be their appointed rounds.

Nowadays, with managers operating with anywhere from 13 to 15 pitchers, there is a roulette wheel of hurlers on whom postseason managers will take a chance. Six innings by a starter is laudable. Five innings commendable. Seven is worth a medal. And eight — only Clayton Kershaw has done that this postseason, against Milwaukee — is Hall of Fame worthy.

Just eight of the 104 starters this postseason have lasted as long as seven innings and only a total of 28 of 104, or 27%, have even made six innings.

The parade of relievers has been so dizzying that bullpenners are appearing more than the starters, who are averaging 4.4 innings pitched per game. So, relievers are working 4.6 innings per game.

Cardinals Hall of Famer Carpenter, who has been a special assistant to the team's front office leaders for the last few years but whose job will be swallowed up next year in budget cuts, has been paying attention to the trends. But some of the numbers still stun him, namely the eight complete games.

"Oh, my word," said Carpenter "That's crazy.

"Obviously, the game has changed," Carpenter said from his home in New Hampshire. "We all know that, with all the metrics and percentages and those sorts of things. But it's difficult to watch guys go 5 1/3 or 4 2/3 and get praised for it, like they just went out and threw a complete-game shutout or a no-hitter.

"But I remember sitting in the video room one time with Red (Schoendienst) and Red was talking to a few of us about the game and how it's changed, and we were asking him questions about when he played and if he liked the game the way it is.

"He talked about how the game is always evolving but that he just loved the game of baseball. To complain about what it looked like now compared to then wouldn't do any good. He said, 'I just love baseball. You know it's always going to be changing.' And that's what's going on right now."

Case in point

Change is coming rapidly.

"I still have my moments when I say, 'How can they praise a guy for going 4 2/3, walking five and striking out eight while throwing 110 pitches — like he did his job?" Carpenter asked. "There are moments when I'm sitting there and saying, 'This is not a well-pitched game. This is an average-pitched game.' But, again you have to understand that's the name of the game. It's not all about execution and making pitches. It's about heaving it as hard as you can, spinning it as much as you can and getting as deep into the game as you can before they take you out.

"You have guys like Gerrit Cole that can do both. Those are elite pitchers. And then you have guys like 'Ponce' (Cardinals righthander Daniel Ponce de Leon) that spin it like crazy and have amazing stuff but don't command it well. If he could turn into someone who could command it well, he could turn into Gerrit Cole and (Jacob) deGrom. But the name of the game isn't command now. So you end up with a lot of high pitch counts and a lot of walks. And a lot of inconsistency and a lot of wear and tear on your bullpen.

"The numbers have overtaken the game (but) I still think there's room for 'feel.' How stressful have a pitcher's innings or pitches been? There's a reason why a guy's a No. 1 guy and there's a reason why there's guys sitting in the bullpen who can't throw multiple innings.

"I would think you'd have some kind of feel for guys who have the ability to go deep into games."

Tampa Bay ace Blake Snell was pulled in the fifth inning while throwing a shutout in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and again in the fifth of Game 2 of the World Series, after he allowed his first two hits. As he walked to the dugout after his removal during the league championship series game, Snell clearly mouthed some displeasure with manager Kevin Cash's decision.

"It wouldn't be any fun," Carpenter said if that had happened to him. "I really enjoyed the in-game battle of trying to pitch guys differently, trying to outthink guys. It would be difficult for me, I know that.

"Yes, the numbers and metrics might be right — that the third time through the order, the (batting) averages are a little better but, again, it goes back to feel. And it's not just automatic, that the third time through the lineup, you're taking a guy out.

"But the interesting thing," said Carpenter, "is if they continue to abuse these relievers as they are, their life expectancy in the league is going to begin to go down. You're going to see guys running out of gas quicker. When you get the DH in both leagues (permanently), it's going to turn into such a different ballgame."

Carpenter, though he was not a good hitter, misses that part of the game when pitchers had to try to advance runners or even just try to get on base.

"There was strategy and there were also head games," Carpenter said. "If you give up a hit to the opposing pitcher or the opposing pitchers gives up a hit to me, that can get into your head. You would say, 'Oh, my word, how did that happen?" (Carpenter rarely phrased it that mildly when he pitched.)

Looking at Cardinals

This season, Carpenter, because of coronavirus pandemic protocols, did not travel to St. Louis once a month, as had been scheduled, to work with the pitchers but he took part in the weekly Zoom presentations with manager Mike Shildt and his staff. And, though he didn't visit during the season, Carpenter said he maintained regular contact with Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and others.

"I was sad to see what happened to Dakota," Carpenter said, referring to the righthander's Tommy John surgery of last month. "He was coming into his own, quietly. I just think he was overlooked at times as to how really good he can be. He had just started showing that this year and I was looking forward to watching him develop into an elite guy. I think he will when he gets back from that (surgery)."

As for staff ace Flaherty, whose season wasn't nearly on a par with his 0.91 second-half earned-run average in 2019, Carpenter said, "It's hard to have an expectation level that you're going to do what you did last year in the second half and he put a lot of pressure on himself. Hopefully, with this year over, he can get back into a nice routine and be ready for next year."

Carpenter said old teammate Adam Wainwright once again had demonstrated that "if you can execute and make pitches, you can compete. He's not like any of those guys we just talked about, yet he had a better year than all of them. I just love watching him pitch."

Moving on

Recently, Carpenter said he got a call from Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.

"He said, 'There's no room for special assistants, or whatever you want to call it," said Carpenter, who had been mulling the possibility of being involved further in coaching. "My goal was to expand and continue to grow.

"I think there's some value and some experience I could pour into these young guys. But if that's not open for them, I will look in other areas and other places because I've had people ask me to do the same sort of stuff in other organizations. We'll see what happens.

"I'm sure there's something out there somewhere for me."


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