Let’s get to the point quickly. With the loss of Adam Wainwright for the season during the first week of spring training, any real intrigue over the identity of The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year ended.
Chris Carpenter is the man.
It may not have looked like it when Kyle Lohse started quickly and Carpenter was receiving very little scoring and bullpen support, but really, there was no serious doubt.
Let’s start at the beginning. Now 36, Carp made his fifth Opening Day start for St. Louis (2005-07, 2010-11) and his sixth Opening Day start overall (Toronto, 2002). He tied Dizzy Dean for second-most Cards Opening Day starts, following Bob Gibson’s 10.
The Cardinals finally won their first Carpenter start of the year on April 29. Carp threw his 2,000th career inning in the fifth that day in Atlanta. In the story of his early season, he made his fourth quality start in five outings, but ended the month 0-2 with three no-decisions.
Despite allowing a career high 13 hits (all singles) and four runs in seven innings at Chicago on May 10, Carp picked up his first win of 2011. It was his eighth start and his ERA at the time was 4.32.
Carpenter logged his first complete game of the season (8.0 innings) in a May 25 loss at San Diego. He held a 2-1 lead before two Padres runs scored, one unearned, in the bottom of the eighth. It was Carp’s third consecutive loss, dropping his record to 1-5. The team was just 2-9 in his starts. Amazingly in non-Carpenter starts, the club was 28-12 at that point.
It took a visit by the Phillies on June 23 for Carp to snap his then-six-game losing slide. He allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings. More importantly, Carpenter received 12 runs of offensive support. Amazingly, it was his first win in six weeks - since May 10.
Carpenter’s heavy workload was becoming a concern for some, but not for him. From June 23-July 4, he won all three starts while logging a 0.75 ERA. Including his 6/17 outing vs. the Royals, he threw 124, 124, 132 and 119 pitches over the four-start span, with the first three ranking as the most pitches he has thrown in one game in his career.
In July, Carp went 3-0 with a 2.68 ERA in five starts (37.0 IP), part of winning a 2011 team-high five straight decisions from June 23-July 22.
In a return to an old pattern, on August 22, he carried a shutout into the ninth inning versus the Dodgers only to see the pen take the loss in the ninth. Carpenter lowered his ERA to 3.57, his lowest point of the season until his final-day win left him at 3.45.
Overall, Carpenter was hottest when his team needed him the most. From June 23 until the conclusion of the season, he went 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 19 starts. The 10 wins were tied for fourth-most in the majors during that span and the 2.73 ERA was eighth-lowest in the National League.
Carpenter and the Cardinals came into the final day of the season with a chance to win the NL Wild Card. Setting a tone for the post-season ahead, that is what they did as Carp struck out a season-high 11 batters at Houston. His two-hit complete game shutout was his 10th as a Cardinal.
A player whose durability has been a career-long question, Carpenter was a rock in 2011. In fact, he made 34 or more starts for the second consecutive year, marking the first time in his 14-year career he has accomplished the feat. 30 of his 34 starts in 2011 were at least six innings in duration, including 21 of seven innings or longer.
Carpenter logged a team-best 21 quality starts while receiving the lowest run support among Cardinals starters – just 4.0 runs per nine innings (team average was 4.7). That and shaky relief were factors in his 11-9 record and the club’s 16-18 record in his starts.
For the first time in his career, Carp led the National League in innings pitched at 237 1/3 and he also tied for tops in the league with his 34 games started. Among National League pitchers, he finished tied for 11th in strikeouts (191), 17th in ERA (3.45), fourth in complete games (4), tied for second in shutouts, sixth in stolen base percentage (45.5%), 13th with 2.09 walks per nine innings pitched, 10th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.47) and tied for 10th in double plays induced (20).
Oh, yes. On September 13, Carpenter signed a two-year contract extension, ensuring he will remain a Cardinal at least through 2013.
Though this award is for regular-season accomplishments, Carpenter’s NLDS Game 5 performance cannot pass without noting once again. He was given just one run of support so went out and tossed a three-hit complete game shutout – on the road against the regular season MLB wins leader, Philadelphia. The win powered the underdog Cardinals into the NLCS. We named Carpenter our NLDS Most Valuable Player.
For his solid work all season long, Carpenter receives our recognition as The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2011.
In his sophomore season, Jaime Garcia did not drop off one bit. The left-hander won 13 games and lost seven, while his team finished 19-13 in his 32 starts. The latter was tops among the rotation as was his 7.3 strikeout average per nine innings. Garcia logged 18 quality starts, second only to Carpenter on the team.
Veteran Kyle Lohse paced the staff in the early going, filling the gap when Carpenter wasn’t winning. He finished May with a 7-2 record and a 2.13 ERA covering his first 11 starts. On the season, though his 30 starts were only fourth among the members of the rotation, Lohse led the staff with 14 wins, against eight losses. His 3.39 ERA was also lowest among the starters.
With a full season in the Cardinals uniform, Edwin Jackson would have been a contender for his award. The veteran right-hander, acquired from Toronto on July 27, has gone 6-2 with a 3.55 ERA (35 ER/88.1 IP) in 15 games, 14 starts, for St. Louis, including his first two postseason starts for the team. The Cardinals are 10-4 in his starts heading into the NLCS Game 6.
Note: Link to article with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming announcements as well as 2011 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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