Chris Carpenter Returns: Ace in the Hole

Nick VandiverCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2008

This year in the NL Central seems to be shaping into a three team race. The Cubs have seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the division ,and are in prime position to at least get to, if not win their first World Series in almost a hundred years.

The Brewers have a roster full of young talent, their pitching staff keeps them in games, and they're led by a legitimate MVP candidate in Ryan Braun.

The Cardinals are trying to bounce back from a losing season after winning the World Series in 2006. They seem to be doing alright, as they are close to the top of the Central. The Redbird's offense is a little streaky, but they have a lot of power and run scoring potential. Their starting pitching has been good, but the bullpen leaves a little to be desired.

What do all these teams have in common, other that a division?

They all have recently acquired an ace in the starting rotation.

The Cubs acquired Rich Harden earlier in the season, and while he has a history of injuries, he averages 10 strikeouts per game, and he has been light out for the Cubs so far.

The Brewers acquired big name talent in CC Sabathia. The left-hander has been spectacular for Milwaukee, as he went 4-0 in his first four starts, while pitching three straight complete games.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, didn't acquire their ace from a trade or free agency. He is coming from the DL.

Chris Carpenter has finally returned.

The 2005 Cy Young award winner has finished his rehab after getting Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Mixed results in minor league starts pushed his return back even farther, but the Cardinals organization now believes that Carpenter is ready to return to the majors.

After being labeled as the best pitcher in the NL in 2005, and leading the Cardinals to a World Series win in 2006, Carpenter hasn't pitched since Opening Day 2007. St Louis is hoping that he can return to his old form.

If Carpenter can return with half of the ability he had when he won the Cy Young, the Cardinals pitching staff will be vastly improved. Adding another ace to the rotation will increase the amount of quality starts and reduce the pressure on the bullpen. With Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse delivering the first punch, Kyle McClellan and Russ Springer pitching the later innings, and Jason Isringhausen closing the door, Cardinals pitching will be hard to beat. When you combine that with their explosive offense, the Redbirds are the team to beat in 2008. I guess surprises can come from anywhere, even the disabled list.