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NLDS Game Five Preview: St. Louis Cardinals @ Philadelphia Phillies

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Tonight, the Philadelphia Phillies host the St. Louis Cardinals in what will be the third elimination game in two nights.  The teams are fighting for the right to host (in the case of the Phillies) or be hosted by (in the case of the Cardinals) either the Milwaukee Brewers or Arizona Diamondbacks (still undetermined at the time of this writing) in the 2011 NLCS.  The game has been billed by many as a battle of aces, as Philadelphia's Roy Halladay will face off against St. Louis' Chris Carpenter.

Halladay and Carpenter, who were teammates together in Toronto and apparently still keep up with each other, both struggled (by their own standards) earlier in the series, as they each gave up 3 first inning runs in their respective starts before settling in.  Fantasy baseball players know the value Halladay brings to the table.  I'm afraid that Carpenter is being forgotten when he shouldn't be. 

Chris Carpenter's journey this year has been an interesting one.  He strained his left hamstring right at the beginning of spring training, causing him to miss two weeks.  His stock plummeted with fantasy players as they worried about his health coupled with his age (then 35).  Still, he was typically drafted in the first 100 players overall, but since he did miss half of spring training, his start was a slow one.  He gave up an uncharacteristically high 6 home runs in the month of April, and followed that up with a 5.12 ERA in May.  Fickle owners worried about his career dropped or tried to get value for his name in trades, but once June rolled around, Carpenter rewarded the ones who had been patient as his fantasy numbers began to fall in line with his peripheral stats. 

Overall, Carpenter turned in a very Carpenter-esque 2011 season, tossing 237.1 innings with a 3.45 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.  His K/9 (7.24) was the highest its been since 2006, and after a fairly significant increase in BB/9 last year, he was able to bring it back down to 2.09.  Despite that early season hiccup, there's nothing in his numbers that suggests that he is on the decline. 

Carpenter does have a pitch, sometimes classified as a slider and sometimes as a cut fastball (PitchFX has a really hard time with it; let's just say it's a hard pitch with a decent amount of movement) that he threw more often this year, mostly in two strike counts.  A cursory look at the game charts suggests that this change was made gradually as the season wore on.  One could perhaps conclude that this was an adjustment on Carpenter's part, and given his reputation as a cerebral pitcher who mixes his pitches well, that doesn't seem like much of a leap.

Carpenter signed a two-year extension last month, so he isn't going anywhere.  He's nowhere close to done as a dominant pitcher, either.  The average fantasy player is likely to look at his age, remember his slow start to the 2011 season, and downgrade him on their draft board this spring.  Don't be fooled; barring any major injury, Carpenter will continue to be a beast on the mound.