(BaseballStL) -- Few people would argue Matt Carpenter's MVP-eligible status. Were he not teammates with another MVP-level player in Yadier Molina, he would likely stand out even more.
Carpenter has been the best second baseman in baseball this season. He broke the legendary Stan Musial's franchise record for doubles by a lefty, and he leads the majors in doubles overall. He's also tops in hits and runs and sixth in runs created.
"I don't know where we'd be without him," said Mike Matheny before Wednesday's series finale with Washington. "It's off the charts as far as how good he has been and how much he has proven what a solid baseball player he is no matter where we put him."
Carpenter, a natural third baseman, served as primarily as the corner utility man in 2012. He worked some in the outfield as well.
He hit .294 in 296 at-bats, showing power with his six homers and 22 doubles. Yet talent abounded at the corners. Allen Craig's emergence as a steady bat and glove coupled with David Freese's status at third left little room for Carpenter in the everyday lineup.
And so the conversion to second baseman, the only spot with no clear starter. Manned by a committee of utility men in 2012, the spot was Carpenter's if he could make the switch.
The experiment seemed to go well enough in spring training, and by July he was an All Star. His glove work continued to improve throughout the year, surprising even his coaches.
"He made plays that we didn't think he was going to make all season long," said Matheny. "He's a catalyst for us and he's actually becoming a leader. He's somebody that we want definitely our young players watching and emulating."
The praise was certainly more than lip service from the Cardinal skipper. Speaking on Carpenter, Matheny was visibly excited, and sincerely impressed. It would seem there is little doubt the 27-year-old has begun to factor into the long-term plans of the club.
"Last year we knew he was a very important part of the puzzle for us, this year he's defined himself as a top-level player. I see him as an integral piece to our team," Matheny said. "I think everybody does."
The transformation from utility man to core player was swift and impressive. Though satisfied with his work, the Cardinals are also eyeing a ceiling that seems to have been raised dramatically this season. When asked whether he expects any drop off in production next year from Carpenter, Matheny smiled and said, "I think he'll be even better."