It hasn’t been pretty, but at this point, the Cardinals still control their own destiny. Splitting a 4 game series with the Dodgers keeps the Cardinals up a game on them for the final WC spot, with the Brewers closing fast at 2.5 games out. The Cardinals have a couple of key things in their favor, though, with one being the schedule and the other being the return of Chris Carpenter to the mound. Carpenter will officially make his first start of the year Friday against at Chicago. At first I was against this idea of Carpenter returning, with my thinking being the Cards shouldn’t sacrifice what could be in 2013 for a few starts in 2012. I have to say that I’m warming up to the idea the more I think about it, and his presence will do more for the team than what it says in the box score. Since the Cards still have a chance in 2012, they might as well go for it.
Before getting off on the topic of Carpenter, l want to talk a little less about the Cards recent skid, and more about why they still have the edge. The Cardinals next 9 games are against the Astros and the Cubs. The two teams that in my mind have a realistic shot of catching the Cards are the Dodgers and the Brewers. The Dodgers next 9 games are all on the road against the Nationals, Reds and Padres. The hard charging Brewers will also be on the road, for the next 10 games against the Pirates, Nationals and Reds. If the Cards can’t take advantage of a schedule advantage like this, they might not deserve a shot in the playoffs anyway. Taking advantage of bottom feeders is what good teams do, and I think 7 of 9 will give the Cards just enough heading into the final week of the season.
I tend to look at the recent struggles of the Cards a little different than others. I see it as nothing more than a slump by a well balanced team that is magnified because of all the close games they’ve lost. I just don’t know how you can pin it on an offense that still ranks among the best in the game. Jason Motte will need to prove at some point next year that coming into a one run game is what separates good closers from great ones. Working on an effective, consistent second pitch might be a thought he at least entertains. Good teams overcome these things. The play of a few has cost the team many more games than it should have.
As many of you know, I would prefer a world in which sabermetricians and traditional scouts would get together and admit they need to work together. This is what I think of when I think about Carpenter. Both groups would claim him as their own, but for different reasons. The one that gets overlooked with Carpenter is in the things sabermetrics can’t measure. If there ever was a player that could give a team a mental boost with so little time left, it’s Carpenter. Just the thought of having him back and knowing that if the team can rally and make to the playoffs, he’ll be there to lead should make a big difference. I may be making more of this than I should, but the recent comments about his return by his teammates suggest I’m not. He’s the Cards leader and will bring the fire this team seems to be missing from time to time. I’m not sure how this will shake up the rotation, but it should give Jaime Garcia only home starts from here on out.