Wilson ready for this opportunity
ST. LOUIS -- No one, certainly not C.J. Wilson, expected the left-handed starting pitcher to struggle this postseason.
The 30-year-old was the Texas Rangers' top starter in the 2011 regular season. He posted 16 wins, had an ERA of 2.94 and was durable, tossing a team-high 223 1/3 innings in 34 starts. The Rangers won eight of Wilson's final 10 starts and were 21-13 overall when he was on the mound.
But in his first three postseason starts, Wilson is 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA. He's given up 21 hits in 15 2/3 innings, and opponents are batting .318 against him. That's not the same Wilson who was so impressive in the regular season. In fact, he had only one three-game stretch that would be close to comparable. That was at the end of July and beginning of August, when he had a 7.53 ERA in a three-start span and the team lost all three of those games.
Wilson, though, isn't one to let a rough stretch bother him for long. Even in early August, his last outing of that stretch was a quality start, and from then on, he was 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA.
Wilson isn't worried about how long he might go in the game. He just wants to get outs.
"The starting pitchers on our team, we talked about it and said we're here to win and however we have to win, it doesn't really matter," Wilson said. "If we only get to throw five or six innings, that's fine because our bullpen is awesome."
Manager Ron Washington always stresses looking at a player's body of work when things aren't going right. He took that approach with Michael Young, leaving him in the cleanup spot, and Young came through with a tremendous Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Washington is going to do the same with Wilson, saying this week that Wilson is the club's pitching leader and nothing is going to change that now.
Since the lefty converted from the bullpen to the rotation, the Rangers are 45-22 (in the regular season) when Wilson has started, the third-best mark by any big league team in an individual pitcher's starts in that span (only Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander have better records). That's tough to ignore.
Wilson also has never started against the Cardinals, and most of the St. Louis lineup hasn't seen him before. That's a big advantage for the pitcher, and over the past two years, batters facing Wilson for the first time have hit .193.
Wilson's two-year history as a starter suggests he doesn't allow rough patches to linger. He gets a chance to set the tone for this series and do so against the Cardinals' ace, Chris Carpenter.
And he'd be set up to pitch Game 5, usually the pivotal game in a close series. Wilson relishes those types of opportunities, and not unlike other slumping players this postseason, he's ready to revert to being the pitcher who's been so consistent the past two seasons.
Carpenter 'embraces' being an ace
ST. LOUIS -- Zack Greinke isn't a fan -- of this we can be sure -- but Chris Carpenter's fellow St. Louis Cardinals can't think of many pitchers they would rather line up behind in October. Some starters shrink from the pressure, others embrace it, and a select few elevate their games and take the postseason by the throat.
If Curt Schilling and John Smoltz are the quintessential "big-game pitchers" of recent memory, Carpenter isn't far behind.
His competitiveness and skill were never more apparent than in Game 5 of the division series, when he took the mound in a hostile environment in Philadelphia and threw a complete-game three-hitter to beat Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0.
Carpenter is 7-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 12 career postseason starts, so that outing was hardly an aberration.
"He embraces the fact that he's our stopper and our ace, and we all kind of feed off that energy, that confidence, that swagger he brings into a game," Cardinals second baseman Nick Punto said. "His intensity rivals anybody I've ever been around."
Carpenter gets the nod against Texas in Game 1 of the World Series amid speculation that he's operating at less than full capacity. He labored through five innings in his only start in the league championship series, throwing 48 strikes and 41 balls in a 4-3 win over the Brewers.
He acknowledged Tuesday that he's been getting treatment on his right elbow, and manager Tony La Russa joked (we think) that the St. Louis medical staff made Carpenter put his hand on a Bible and swear that he's good to go in the Series. "If he wasn't sound, he wouldn't pitch," La Russa said.
In light of Carpenter's medical history, what's a little elbow soreness? He came back from shoulder surgery in 2002 and 2003 and Tommy John surgery in 2007, and here he stands, at age 36, with a .610 career winning percentage (144-92), three All-Star Games and a Cy Young Award to his credit.
In his only previous World Series appearance, in 2006, Carpenter pitched masterfully for eight innings in a 5-0 victory over the Tigers.
Among his fellow pitchers, Carpenter is baseball's patron saint of perseverance. Now he's ready to go, a week after his last start, and he has that old competitive gleam in his eye.
The Rangers might beat him in this series. But rest assured, they'll have to earn it.