We need to start talking about Matt Carpenter.
He’s not really getting the attention his play has rightly deserved. Long one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ most consistent performers, over the last few months his production has resembled something out of a video game.
It’s incredible for anyone to have the numbers he does after the horrific start he had to the year, but we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s long had the ability to put up these kinds of numbers—and now he’s doing it when his production and his leadership are both badly needed at Busch Stadium.
This is no hot streak. This is the real Matt Carpenter. And he’s asserting his place in the St. Louis locker room and as one of the best infielders in the league.
No one will hold it against you if you didn’t think Carpenter would be having a career year a few months ago. He had an awful start to the season, ending the month of April with a paltry .155 batting average.
But a closer look showed that the potential for rebound was abundant. Almost half of the 13 hits he garnered that month went for extra bases (four doubles, two homers) and he drew 19 walks in 105 plate appearances, putting his on-base percentage at .305 despite his awful hitting. Combine that with an unsustainable bad BABIP of .190, and what came next shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
Making a mark
On May 1, Carpenter went 2/4 with a solo home run and double in a 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Since then, he’s been on fire.
In the 82 games since the beginning of May, Carpenter has hit at a .318/.420/.682 clip. His power—always solid, never elite—has exploded. He hit 27 home runs and 29 doubles in that span, giving him 29 (a career high) and 33, respectively, on the season. That hasn’t necessarily translated to a ton of RBI (he has 60 so far,) but much of that is down to the fact that most his plate appearances have come out of the leadoff spot.
It’s clear that Carpenter has changed his approach at the plate this year. His line drive rate spiked six points this year, from 22.3% to 28.8%. He’s also barrelling the ball up a lot more—just over half the balls he’s put in play have been for hard contact.
Whether his early struggles were from adapting to a new approach or a bout of bad luck, it’s clear that Carpenter has joined the launch angle revolution—and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Cards.
There will be a new manager in St. Louis this year after the firing of Mike Matheny last month. Some of the team's biggest clubhouse presences have either left the team in recent years or are on their last legs. Carpenter had a cup of coffee in the big leagues when the Cardinals won their last World Series in 2011 but didn't play in the playoffs. He has extensive experience from postseasons since, including the pennant-winning 2013 season, but he's one of the few players left from that period, and the team hasn't made the playoffs since 2015.
With a young outfield and young group (if they ever stay healthy) of starting pitchers, the Cards are primed to wedge their way back into the NL Central picture in the next year or two, and they'll need leadership. Yadier Molina's career has finally hit the reverse slope, and Adam Wainwright is even closer to the end of the line. With their oldest war horses making their last few walks around the paddock, Carpenter's breakout year is coming at the perfect time.
He's always been an excellent ballplayer. He's made three All-Star teams and has finished in the top 12 of MVP voting twice, getting as high as fourth in 2013, when he made his first trip to the Midsummer Classic and won a Silver Slugger. The season he's having now, especially considering how badly he started, is cementing him as one of the game's best—and to make the Cardinals a bit more his team.
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