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Will Chris Carpenter lead the charge to the playoffs?

If the Cardinals are going to find lightning in a bottle and make another run at a World Series championship, it's probably going to start today.

The return of Chris Carpenter from nearly a full year of battling nerve problems in his pitching arm is the last major event the Redbirds can look forward to shaking them out of their win some then lose some pattern that has defined the 2012 season.

I have no idea what to expect from Carpenter, who last season put the team on his back and carried it down the stretch and through the post season as much as any one starting pitcher can.

It's tough to imagine that he'll be back in mid-season form without a spring training or even a minor league rehab stint. But if there is anyone who is able to perform at an extremely high level from the word go, it's Carpenter. But, then again, it's difficult to believe Carpenter -- who is such a wonderful hurler and great competitor -- won't find a way to put it all together.

Whether or not Carpenter wins his first start with the Cubs, it ought to be inspiring to his teammates to see him back on the field after what he's been through.

The Cardinals have put themselves in a spot by sweeping the Astros to have a realistic shot at defending their position as the second National League wildcard. But to do so, they need to win at least four of their six upcoming games with the Cubs and the Astros.

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