He tries for his seventh victory in eight decisions when the Cardinals (71-61) begin a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on Friday.
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Carpenter (12-6, 2.96 ERA) is putting himself in contention to win it again based on his performance in the second half of the season. Since June 28, Carpenter has gone 6-2 with a 2.95 ERA and two complete games in 12 starts
“I think he’s definitely in contention,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “I think it’s a short list. He’s been a stopper for us already several times.”
Carpenter went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA to win the award for the first time in his career last season. His ERA this season ranks second in the NL behind Florida rookie Josh Johnson’s 2.87.
Carpenter also has been superb in his last three outings, allowing just three runs over his last 25 innings. The right-hander gave up a run and two hits over eight innings to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, but didn’t earn a decision.
The Cardinals won 2-1 on Gary Bennett’s RBI single in the ninth.
“He can dominate a game,” Bennett said. “There’s a few other guys I’ve caught that I would say were similar, but he’s at the top of his game and he’s at the top of the game, period.”
Carpenter is usually at the top of his game when facing Pittsburgh (53-81). He’s 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA this season and 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 10 career starts, including seven straight victories versus the Pirates.
For St. Louis to reach the postseason, they will need continued solid efforts from Carpenter and the remainder of the pitching staff. The Cardinals placed pitcher Mark Mulder on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday with a recurring shoulder injury after two tough starts since coming off the DL.
The left-hander may have surgery and likely won’t pitch again this season.
St. Louis has won five of its last six games to open up a five-game lead over Cincinnati in the NL Central.
“We haven’t been as consistent as we have obviously for the last couple of years, but this is a different team,” third baseman Scott Rolen said after a 5-2 win over the Marlins on Thursday. “We’re five games up right now and that’s a good spot to be when the sky was falling a week ago.”
The Pirates enter this series coming off a three-game sweep of the Cubs. Freddy Sanchez, who came through with a two-run single in the 11th inning to help Pittsburgh win 10-9 on Wednesday, leads the NL with a .347 batting average.
He’s hitting .419 (52-for-124) with runners in scoring position, the highest in the NL among players with more than 40 at-bats. Sanchez also is trying to become the first Pirate since Bill Madlock in 1983 to win the batting title.
“I do have confidence in my ability, but I was always labeled as a utility guy and it can be hard to shake that label,” he said. “This isn’t something I thought about and it’s just happened.”
Zach Duke (8-12, 5.01) looks for his first victory in four starts when he takes the mound for Pittsburgh. Duke’s last victory came over St. Louis when he threw an eight-hitter on Aug. 11, but he’s gone 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA in three starts since then.
Duke allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 7-4 loss to Houston on Saturday.
Duke is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA in three starts against St. Louis this season and has a 3.68 ERA in four career games against the Cardinals.