Return of Carpenter offers Cards some hope
CHICAGO -- In a season in which they've defied all expectations by somehow remaining in contention, the St. Louis Cardinals may finally be reaching a crossroads.
Underscoring the fragility of St. Louis' situation is right-hander Chris Carpenter, who is trying to come back in rather rapid time from major elbow surgery.
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• PLAY-BY-PLAY: Jon Miller
• ANALYST: Joe Morgan
• REPORTER: Peter Gammons
"The doctors and the coaches all tell me that the command of my pitches is the last thing to come back after a long layoff," Carpenter said. "So I'm pretty pleased with that aspect of things so far."I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win every game I start, whether it's five innings or whatever. That's really all I can do at this point, to try to stay strong and give my team the best innings I can pitch. The good thing is that there's two months left to the season, a lot of time for us to come back and get to the playoffs. And for myself, the goal will continue to be to keep getting stronger and hopefully get back to being the pitcher I was three years ago." The Cardinals did not make any moves at the trading deadline, and the club's management likes to say that getting Carpenter back in the rotation is like making a major deal. The same thing could soon happen in their bullpen when they get Adam Wainwright back from the DL. Wainwright, who's recovering from a finger sprain, made his first rehab appearance in the minors on Friday night, a rocky outing in which he allowed three runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Memphis. Such results are obviously meaningless in the big picture, but Wainwright's lack of effectiveness likely indicates he will need at least two or three more minor league outings before being added to the Cardinals' staff. When Wainwright does return, it will likely be in the bullpen, where St. Louis has been struggling all season to the tune of a major league-worst 27 blown save opportunities. Wainwright stepped into the closer's role late in the 2006 season for the injured Jason Isringhausen and was a major factor in St. Louis going all the way to a World Series title. Right now, that seems like a long shot for St. Louis. The Cardinals, however, do feel better about their chances having Carpenter, their long-time ace, back in the rotation and seemingly getting stronger all the time as he faces a Cubs lineup that leads the National League in runs scored. Peter Pascarelli is the lead researcher for "Sunday Night Baseball." He will preview each Sunday night game all season long. He is also co-host of the Baseball Today podcast, which runs Monday through Friday on ESPN.com.