Carpenter hopes to get Cards closer to playoff spot vs. Cubs

The last time that Chris Carpenter pitched on a big league mound, he helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series.

Nearly 11 months later, the veteran starter is set for a somewhat surprising return as he takes the hill on Friday aiming to move his club closer to a postseason spot in the opener of a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs.

The 37-year-old Carpenter was a workhorse last season, logging 237 1/3 innings in the regular season before going 4-0 with a 3.25 earned run average in six postseason starts. That fourth victory came in Game 7 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, experienced issues with his shoulder before the start of the season and underwent surgery in July because of thoracic outlet syndrome. The procedure was expected to sideline the righty for the rest of the year, but he instead returns in the middle of a playoff chase.

"I've pitched in plenty of games that have mattered, so I'm going out there with the same focus, the same program, and that's to mentally and physically prepare to get outs and give us a chance to win," Carpenter said on St. Louis' official website. "Hopefully, I can help us get going on a little push and that we can put a little run together here."

Carpenter threw a 90-pitch simulated game last Saturday and is 11-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 25 career meetings with the Cubs.

St. Louis is 2 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL's second wild card position after winning its fourth straight game on Thursday. The Cards edged out a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros to finish off a three-game sweep.

Carlos Beltran was not in the starting lineup after coming out early on Wednesday due to knee tightness, but he came off the bench yesterday and delivered a deciding two-run double in the sixth inning.

"They told me if a situation came up where guys were in scoring position, they were going to use me," Beltran said. "So I'm not surprised. The manager is the one making the calls and I just have to be ready when he needs me."

Allen Craig hit a three-run homer and Jamie Garcia yielded three runs over six innings to pick up the win.

The Cubs will look to play spoiler on Friday behind Chris Volstad, who is coming off a no-decision against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

Volstad, who will turn 26 this Sunday, was charged with six runs on 10 hits, two homers and four walks in 4 2/3 innings of work. He was taken off the hook for a decision due to his club's 13-9 win.

The righty is 3-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 18 games this season and 2-3 with a 5.15 ERA in six career meetings with the Cardinals.

Chicago has lost five of its past six and dropped a 5-3 decision on Thursday to Cincinnati, a victory for the Reds that officially locked up their postseason berth.

Anthony Rizzo finished with two hits and two RBI for the Cubs, while Jason Berken yielded just two hits over six scoreless innings. However, reliever Manny Corpas was tagged for five runs on six hits in the seventh inning.

"For me, it's just a matter of stringing together a couple more good starts and going into the offseason on a positive note," Berken said.

The Cardinals are 8-6 versus the Cubs this season despite losing four of six in Chicago.