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Seasoned Carp in line for NLDS opener

Carpenter in line for NLDS opener

ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright leads the Major Leagues in wins and is a leading candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. Joel Pineiro has been a revelation as a new convert to the gospel of the ground ball. John Smoltz is one of the most accomplished postseason pitchers of all time.

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But it appears that the Cardinals won't be turning to any of those impressive right-handers when the playoffs start -- assuming they close out the NL Central, of course. Instead, it's Chris Carpenter who would, as of now, be on turn to start Game 1 of St. Louis' NL Division Series.

A great deal can happen between now and then, of course. Injuries have played havoc with the scheduling of the St. Louis rotation in recent days and weeks. But with only 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season, it's possible to take a look at how things project. And the projection is that Carpenter would start Game 1 of a playoff series, and Wainwright would get Game 2.

Carpenter and Wainwright pitch Saturday and Sunday, respectively, against Chicago, which would put Carpenter on turn to pitch on Sept. 25 in Denver, on Oct. 1 in Cincinnati, and then on five days' rest in the playoff opener, which would take place on Oct. 7. Wainwright projects to pitch the day after Carpenter on each turn -- including in Game 2 of a Division Series.

Not that that's a surprise. While Wainwright is a Cy Young contender, so is Carpenter. And Carpenter already has one on his mantle. Carpenter also leads the Redbirds in ERA, and he's been the anchor of the team's staff every year that he's been healthy since 2004. Wainwright got the outs that ended games in the 2006 World Series, but Carpenter's brilliant showing in Game 3 may have been the single-most important pitching performance of that series.

"He's a huge leader," manager Tony La Russa said. "He leads more when he's pitching, but we did miss him for a period of time. And because of the excellence of Adam and Kyle [Lohse] and Joel, they went about it right, we did fine. But he's significant."

Carpenter is coming off a rough start his last time out, or more accurately a rough inning. He was touched for seven runs, six of them in a single frame. Before that, though, he'd been rolling. In the six starts before his most recent one, he posted a 1.88 ERA. He expects to get right against the Cubs on Saturday, and there's little reason to doubt him.

"I feel like I'm getting stronger," Carpenter said after a recent start. "I really do. I feel like, getting into that five-day routine that I haven't been in in two years, I'm able to get stuff done in between. I'm able to get stuff done in the bullpen. I feel like my arm is starting to condition to be ready to go on that fifth day really nice. I feel like I'm getting stronger and my stuff's getting better."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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