NEW YORK — With this September playing out for the team like every previous September he’s spent with the Cardinals, Matt Carpenter knows for sure there is something unfamiliar awaiting him at its end that could mean this is his last September with them.
“I don’t want this particular season to be the end of my career, and I certainly do have hopes of continuing to play,” Carpenter said Monday after batting practice at Citi Field before the Cardinals played the New York Mets. “I don’t know what the future holds for me as far as what their plans are, what the plans for me are. I definitely want to play.”
While Yadier Molina has re-signed for 2022 and Adam Wainwright has said he’ll pitch in 2022 — the Cardinals hope with them — the other Cardinal with the longest tenure on the team faces a less certain offseason. Used primarily as a pinch-hitter in the second half of this season, Carpenter, 35, will come well short of plate appearances needed to vest his contract for 2022. The Cardinals will pay the $2 million buyout rather than exercise the $18.5-million option, and he’ll be a free agent.
That potential future does offer motivation in his present role, especially as the Cardinals look to do all he’s known from past seasons.
In the 1,600 games since his debut in 2011, the Cardinals have been eligible for the playoffs in 1,597 of them. Carpenter has played only one series, at the end of 2017, when the Cardinals were eliminated from contention.
“That kind of adds another element to the pinch-hit (role) — knowing one swing could change the course of our season,” Carpenter said. “You come up in a big moment or a big double with a runner in scoring position and being ready for that moment. I’m look at it for the small wins. Knowing we’re one game away from being in it and at any point you could take one swing that changes the game. Being ready for that moment, that’s really what I’m hanging my hat on.”
Carpenter was 0 for 1, as a pinch-hitter, Monday in the Cardinals 7-0 victory over the Mets and is in a zero-for-29 spell. He has 12 strikeouts in that stretch and had his one RBI erased on a replay review that, upon inspection, became an inning-ending double play and not a tying run.
A top-10 finisher for the National League’s MVP honor in 2018, Carpenter led that Cardinals’ team with 36 homers. He topped the league twice in doubles and, for the bulk of his early career, was the most productive leadoff hitter in the majors and a three-time All-Star. The past three years, as he played toward the end of a $39-million extension, have seen his average shrivel and he’s hit .204 in his past 293 games, .170 this season.
That’s the “particular season” Carpenter doesn’t want as the last line of his baseball card, and possible changes for Major League Baseball will open up opportunities for him.
“With the talks of a potential DH in both leagues and even the rumors of banning the shift, I would hope that I would get a chance,” Carpenter said. “I’m going to do whatever I have to do to continue playing.”
Bader qualifies for Gold Glove
By many measures, Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader is a leading candidate at his position for the Gold Glove Award, but it wasn’t until Sunday that he had number that mattered most of all — enough innings to be eligible.
According to Rawlings Gold Glove guidelines, to qualify for the highest fielding honor in baseball infielders and outfielders must play 713 innings by the team’s 142nd game.
Sunday was the Cardinals’ 142nd game.
Bader played all nine innings to give him 718 for the season.
A finalist for the award in 2019, Bader missed the start of this season because of a forearm injury and went back on the injured list in the middle of the season because of a cracked rib. His start Monday night, back in hometown of New York, was his 84th appearance in the Cardinals’ first 143 games, and that was just enough to log the required innings. In them, Bader has been one of the finest fielders at any position.
His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 10.2 is the best in the NL for any position and second overall in the majors, according to FanGraphs.
Bader’s 18 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rank fourth at any position, lead all NL outfielders, and are second to Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor in center field. Taylor has more than 1,000 innings at the position.
In August, Bader had 11 DRS to lead all players, according to Sports Info Solutions. Those numbers are baked into the voting for the Gold Glove awards along with the ballots submitted by coaches and managers.
Optimism rising for two hurlers
Feedback from Dakota Hudson’s rehab outings continue to be encouraging, and the Cardinals believe Jack Flaherty’s bullpen session Thursday at Busch Stadium will be a significant stride toward his return.
Hudson will make what could be his final rehab start Friday for Class AAA Memphis and then the Cardinals will discuss if he joins them on the regular season’s final trip. Flaherty’s recovery from Thursday’s session will set the timetable for him.
“I’m cautiously optimistic he’ll be back,” manager Mike Shildt said. “In what role, I cannot say. When? I clearly can’t say. I don’t want to feel like we’ve got to push it. He’s on the trajectory that if he can stay healthy and move forward . . . I think there’s enough schedule left for him to do something for us to help us.”
His cheek bruised and bloodied, first-base ump Junior Valentine remained in the game Monday after being hit on the face by a throw. In the second inning, Cardinals shortstop Edmundo Sosa’s throw to first was wide and struck Valentine, who was doing his job — looking at a potential close play at the bag. After being attended to by a Mets trainer and walked through protocols, Valentine stayed at first, a smear of blood still on his cheek.
• Yadier Molina’s double to lead off the second inning was the 399th of his career.
• This is the first scheduled series in September for the Cardinals in New York since 1993. A one-game makeup was played at Shea Stadium in September 2007.