Today is Opening Day, yes, but for me it's a little more special than that. You see, I'm a huge fan of the Chris Carpenter - Aaron Harang showdown. I know Harang isn't the same pitcher he was 3 years ago, but for some reason I still get giddy when these two face off. Memories of their epic duels in 2004 and 2006 (both of which the Reds won 1-0!) are burned into my brain.
Today will be the seventh time these two have faced off in their careers. In the previous six match-ups, each team has three wins, but the Cardinals have a much bigger run scoring advantage at 21-11. In typical Reds fashion, the offense has failed to support Harang much in these face-offs. The Reds have been shutout once and held to one run four other times in the six meetings. In the one game where the offense did break through against Carpenter, both pitchers stunk and the game came down to the bullpens and David Ross.
Carpenter, who frankly has always been the better pitcher, holds the advantage performance-wise in the match-ups. He has averaged over 8 innings per start with a 1.84 ERA, striking out 40 and walking just 6 in 49 innings. Harang hasn't been too bad though, going nearly 7 full innings every time, striking out 30 and walking 12 in 41.1 innings for a 3.92 ERA. The big difference between the two pitchers is hits allowed as Harang has given up 15 more hits in 7.2 fewer innings. Hopefully some of that will be corrected with the improved defense behind him.
These two hadn't faced each other for 2 entire seasons when they finally went up against each other again last June. While it wasn't quite to the level of the 1-0 duels we've seen in the past, both pitchers pitched complete games with Carpenter taking the 3-1 victory after holding the Reds to only 3 hits (2 from Chris Dickerson, 1 from Laynce Nix. Hmmmm, I wonder if that will come up?). Harang was solid in that game but went after Albert Pujols too much and paid the price. Prince Albert went 2 for 4 with a 2B and HR, driving in all 3 Cardinals runs.
The key for Harang today is to avoid putting men on base before Pujols. With Matt Holliday now in the lineup behind Pujols, he can't afford to pitch around Albert with men already on base. However, if the bases are empty, he can bypass the reigning NL MVP and challenge Holliday, who is just 1 for 16 against Harang in his career.
As for the Reds, patience is the key. Last year Carpenter threw only 107 pitches in his complete game. Carpenter has great control, so they shouldn't stand around waiting for a walk, but hacking at the first pitch isn't likely to do them any good either. Dickerson and Orlando Cabrera need to get on base for Joey Votto early. And for the love of all things holy, please don't settle for small ball in the first inning! They aren't likely to get many opportunities in this one, so hopefully they won't do their part to intentionally squander the ones they get.
The most crucial player to this game is Harang though. We already know the Reds aren't going to score a lot of runs. If Harang can keep the ball in the ballpark, we could see a win by the home team. However, if he's giving up bombs early, fans might as well head for the sushi line.