PHOENIX -- Imagine you’re an opposing pitcher facing the new, fully loaded Padres starting lineup. The first five hitters are a certifiable gauntlet.
All five were All-Stars in each of the past two seasons – except, of course, Fernando Tatis Jr., who didn’t play in 2022 but was an All-Star in ‘21 and undeniably one of the most feared hitters in the sport. They all do different things, too: the overwhelming force of Tatis, the patient power from Juan Soto, Manny Machado’s ability to do damage against any pitch type, Xander Bogaerts’ relentlessness, Jake Cronenworth’s tenacity.
Now imagine you’ve somehow managed to navigate that quintet. Time to exhale. Your reward? Matt Carpenter.
Nope. That can’t be any fun at all.
Carpenter, of course, is one of the peskiest hitters of the past decade. Throw a pitch out of the zone, he’ll lay off. Execute your pitch to a corner, he’ll foul it off. Make a mistake? He’ll put it in the seats.
And that’s exactly what Carpenter did on Sunday afternoon in the Padres’ 7-5 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. Those five perennial All-Stars set the table. Carpenter wasted no time cashing in the opportunities.
Carpenter finished 3-for-3 with two doubles, a home run and a sacrifice fly – good for five RBIs in his finest performance as a Padre. In truth, he has been taking excellent at-bats all year. But it wasn’t until this weekend that the results followed.
“I’ve felt like I was trending in the right direction,” Carpenter said. “Today, this series, I was able to see some of it pay off.”
The Padres took three of four games from the upstart D-backs at Chase Field, as they welcomed back Tatis and starting pitcher Joe Musgrove this weekend. At the tail end of a stretch with games on 18 consecutive days, it was an impressive early season statement.
In those four games, Carpenter finished 5-for-7 with seven RBIs. He was also pinch-hit for twice against tough left-handers and once entered as a pinch-hitter against a righty.
“It’s really similar to what I was thrown into last year with the Yankees,” Carpenter said. “You’ve got to be ready for whatever role, whatever situation. I’ve adopted that mindset: Just try to be the best version of myself to help our club that day. Whether that’s pinch-hitting or coming off the bench or playing for a righty or staying in there for a lefty -- just being ready.”
A decade ago, Carpenter was racking up 700-plus plate appearances in St. Louis. At 37, he is no longer that player. But if Carpenter gets, say, half of that workload -- and if those plate appearances are quality -- he will have been a hugely worthwhile investment.
In short: Carpenter needed to find a team like the Padres. The Padres needed to find a player like Carpenter.
“Listen, I just wanted to be part of a good team that had a legitimate chance to win a World Series -- and to have a role on it,” Carpenter said. “I felt like this was a great fit. We’ve got a really good chance to have that goal come to fruition. I’m just trying to put my piece in, however that looks.”
The Padres inked Carpenter to a two-year, $12 million contract during the winter. He was coming off a renaissance season in New York. Limited to 47 games due to injury, Carpenter posted numbers that, extrapolated over a full season, looked like peak Babe Ruth. He overhauled his swing the offseason prior, and it paid major dividends.
Now the lefty-hitting Carpenter has carved himself an impactful role on the Padres. He put together two excellent plate appearances against lefties on Sunday – a sac fly and a double. Manager Bob Melvin noted that he might not be so willing to pinch-hit for Carpenter against lefties moving forward. But with Nelson Cruz as the other half of the DH platoon, Carpenter will almost certainly continue to sit against left-handed pitching.
And in that case? What a weapon to bring off the bench.
“He’s a great hitter,” said Machado, who returned to action Sunday after resting Saturday with a sore back. “He knows what the plate is. He knows how to carry a team. And the most important part: He knows how to win. He’s a baller. He’s a gamer. He’s a guy that’s a big influence on this ballclub.”
Sweet mustache, too.