Before we answer the question in the headline, let's play another round of the exciting game, If I Told You Before Spring Training, Would You Believe? (Home Edition) ...
If I told you before the season that Albert Pujols would be the Cardinals' fifth-best hitter and Adam Wainwright would miss the entire season and Chris Carpenter would go 1-4 in his first 10 starts and St. Louis would lead the National League in late May with 30 wins, would you have believed me?
Probably not. Which means you lost the game (Home Edition) and I won. Just like the Cardinals have been winning, somehow.
Somehow, how? That's a story for another day, perhaps. Today we're going to delve into the surprisingly unsuccessful campaign waged by Christopher John Carpenter, late of the Ontario Carpenters and most recently of the Mid-American Carpenters.
Two years ago, Carpenter went 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA and very nearly won the Cy Young Award.
One year ago, Carpenter went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA and pitched in the All-Star Game.
Zero years ago, Carpenter is 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA and ... well, he's not likely to pitch in the All-Star Game or win a Cy Young Award. If he doesn't get his ERA in shape, he might not even get to pitch in the postseason tournament, assuming the Cardinals qualify for it. Then again, if he doesn't get his ERA in shape, the Cardinals -- their early success notwithstanding -- probably won't qualify for the tournament anyway.
So I'll pose the question again ... What's wrong with Chris Carpenter?
Or rather, nothing that a few good pitches and a bit more luck won't cure.
The Chris Carpenter who nearly won the Cy Young Award probably isn't coming back, ever. That Chris Carpenter gave up only seven home runs in 193 innings, a ratio that's completely out of line with the rest of Carpenter's career.
The Chris Carpenter who posted a 3.22 ERA last season, though? He's alive and well and walks among us.
Last season, Carpenter struck out seven batters per nine innings; this season he's struck out seven batters per nine innings.
Last season, Carpenter walked 2.4 batters per nine innings; this season he's walked 2.4 batters per nine innings.
Last season, Carpenter gave up about one home run per nine; this season he's given up about one home run per nine innings.
Last season, batters batted .282 when the put the ball in play (but not over the fence). He might have been just a tad lucky, but then again his BABiP allowed is .284 since joining the Mid-Americans some years ago.
This season, batters have batted .343 when putting the ol' horsehide in the ol' field o' play.
At the risk of seeming tone-deaf to the little things that might have turned Chris Carpenter from a really good pitcher into a No. 4 starter, I will posit that he actually is the same pitcher we saw last year, but less lucky. In fact, unlucky. And that while he might well lose to the San Diego Padres Wednesday evening, Carpenter's luck is going to turn before long and he'll start winning again. Perhaps at the exact moment that Kyle McClellan's luck turns the other way.
These things do often have a way of evening themselves out if you give them enough time.
For more on the Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals, please visit Viva El Birdos