Carpenter tries to build Cards' playoff case

The Philadelphia Phillies, one night after clinching their fifth straight NL East title, host the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 8 ET). The Cardinals are only 4½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card race by going 16-5 since being swept by the Dodgers in late August. Since August 25, that’s the fifth-best record in the major leagues.

Starting Pitchers

Chris Carpenter Past 2 Seasons

Chris Carpenter is 9-9, tied for the most losses he’s had in a season since 2001 when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays. His ERA is more than half a run higher than last season but he’s actually pitching better than last year.

His strikeout, walk and home run rates -- the things he has the most control over -- are all improved from a year ago.

He’s allowing more hits, but his batting average on balls in play in .324 this season compared to .282 last year (career mark is .298). The defense behind him has been worse this season as well; the Cardinals have made 104 errors this season, tied for eighth-most in baseball.

They’re 10th in the National League with -11 Defensive Runs Saved this season after leading the league with 61 a year ago.

Cole Hamels

HamelsCole Hamels takes the mound for the Phillies having the best season of his career. He’s one of three Phillies starters (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are the others) with an ERA of 2.75 or better this season -- if their statistics hold for the rest of the season, they’d be the first team with three such qualified pitchers since the 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers.

If Hamels gets another win and those same statistics hold, they’d be the first team with three pitchers with 15 wins and a sub-2.75 ERA since the 1972 Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics, and the first National League team since the 1944 Cardinals.

Hamels hasn’t faced the Cardinals this season but he dominated them last year. In two starts he allowed one run, struck out 15 and walked just three batters in 16 innings and the Cardinals hit just .164 against him.

This season Hamels has been at his best against the best teams. In nine starts against winning teams he’s got a 2.23 ERA, .188 opponents’ batting average and a 5.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 20 starts against teams below .500, those numbers are 2.95, .223 and 3.9, respectively.

He’s also got the best marks in the major leagues in opponents’ batting average (.118), on-base percentage (.151) and OPS (.303) with two strikes (minimum 200 batters faced).

Matchups to Watch

Albert Pujols

PujolsAlbert Pujols is hitting .150 (3-for-20) with no walks in his career against Hamels and he’s hitless in his past 13 at-bats against him.

Jimmy Rollins is hitting .167 (4-for-24) in his career against Carpenter and he’s hitless in his past 10 at-bats against him.

-- Katie Sharp contributed