Matt Carpenter: Two-Strike Warrior
The St. Louis Cardinals scuffle against left-handed pitching, posting the fifth-worst team on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.672) in the majors in 2013. Clayton Kershaw, the game's lefty par excellence, is fooling hitters at a level that not even vintage Sandy Koufax matched (Kershaw's park-and-league adjusted ERA was 94 percent above average during the regular season, just beating out Koufax's epic 1966 campaign).
Naturally, then, the Cards crushed the soon-to-be two-time Cy Young Award winner last night, clinching a World Series berth by tagging Kershaw for 10 hits and seven runs in four innings pitched. The beginning of the end for Kershaw came in the third inning, when Matt Carpenter got down to his last strike but then waged an 11-pitch battle culminating in a double to right field for the stealth NL MVP candidate. St. Louis went on to score four times in the frame on their way to a 9-0 triumph. Here's how the Kershaw-Carpenter duel played out in NLCS Game Six, pitch by pitch:
- 0-0 - Ball on a 89 MPH Slider - Inside
- 1-0 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
- 1-1 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
- 1-2 - Foul on a 95 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
- 1-2 - Foul on a 75 MPH Curveball - Over the Plate
- 1-2 - Foul on a 88 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
- 1-2 - Foul on a 86 MPH Slider - Low
- 1-2 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Over the Plate
- 1-2 - Ball on a 93 MPH Four Seamer - Inside
- 2-2 - Foul on a 94 MPH Four Seamer - Outside
- 2-2 - Line Drive Double on a 86 MPH Slider - Over the Plate
Kershaw pounded the outside corner for most of the at-bat, trying to target the second baseman's relative weak spot (Carpenter slugged .383 versus pitches thrown to the outer third of the strike zone during the regular season, compared to .457 on middle pitches and .702 on inner-third pitches). But Carpenter prevailed when Kershaw caught too much of the dish with his slider:
Kershaw's pitch location to Carpenter in the third inning of Game 6
How rare is it for Kershaw to surrender an extra-base hit to a lefty on his slider? Just three left-handed batters accomplished the feat during the regular season. Jay Bruce belted a pair of Kershaw sliders over the fence on September 9, Sam Fuld tripled on August 11, and Gerardo Parra doubled on June 10. That's it. That's the list.
Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that Carpenter came out on top against Kershaw, considering his two-strike prowess in 2013. Carpenter has a .780 OPS with his back against the wall, besting the MLB average by 266 points and placing second to Miguel Cabrera among all qualified hitters.
Highest OPS in two-strike counts, 2013