Great pitching always beats great hitting. That’s the motto. It explains why so many pitchers are selected in the first round of the amateur draft. It is also explains why one pitcher, like CC Sabathia last year in Milwaukee, can turn a mid-level team into an immediate winner.
This year in the National League, many contenders have multiple aces on their staffs. The Phillies sport Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, while the Dodgers lead with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. San Francisco might have the best tandem of all, with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
The St. Louis Cardinals have emerged with a pitching combination of their own, which has helped put them into the championship discussion and first place in the NL Central.
Chris Carpenter is the ace of the Cardinals, and he is an incredible comeback story. Following surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2003, he became one of baseball’s best pitchers. The 6’ 6” righthander captured the National League Cy Young Award for the Cardinals in 2005. The next season, he led St. Louis to its 10th World Series title.
However, Carpenter saw little action thereafter. He found himself on the disabled list for much of 2007 and 2008 with elbow trouble. The pitcher returned this season but suffered a torn oblique, which caused him to miss a month.
Some baseball pundits wondered if the 34-year-old Carpenter would ever return to baseball. Nevertheless, he has taken the mound for St. Louis 19 times this season, compiling a 12-3 record and a 2.27 ERA.
Adam Wainwright plays the role of Robin to Carpenter’s Batman. He had already captured a World Series title as the rookie closer in 2006, but questions loomed over the righthander’s durability. A finger injury last season forced Wainwright to miss more than two months. But in 2009, he has excelled in all facets of the game.
Wainwright’s 14 wins are tied for the most in baseball, and his strikeouts (149), ERA (2.62), and innings pitched (172.0) all rank in the top 10. Wainwright is also doing with the bat; his two home runs are double his total from 2008.
Come October, might Wainwright and Carpenter make the Cardinals a team no one wants to face? Remember the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001? They rode on the backs of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to a stunning World Series upset over the vaunted New York Yankees. In a short series, watch out for the Red Birds.
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