Here's a list of Chris Carpenter's starts in 2011, ordered by the number of points he left in the numerator of the FIP formula in each one—fewer is better, where a home run is worth +13, a walk +3, and a strikeout -2:
FIP ER RESULT APR 17 -12 0 LOSS MAY 20 -10 3 LOSS MAY 31 -10 2 LOSS JUN 17 -11 4 LOSS JUN 5 -6 2 WIN MAR 31 -2 2 LOSS MAY 10 -2 4 WIN APR 6 1 1 LOSS MAY 25 1 2 LOSS MAY 4 1 4 LOSS MAY 15 9 7 LOSS APR 23 10 2 LOSS JUN 11 24 5 LOSS APR 29 26 3 WIN APR 12 27 8 LOSS
There have really been two frustrations regarding Carpenter's season to date, both of them related at least tangentially to the way his typically awesome strikeout-to-walk ratio—now 3.4, —has totally failed to show up in his results this year. He's gotten knocked around in games where he "shouldn't", given what we know, but he's also been beaten consistently in his best starts.
Thursday was the best he's pitched all season in a game that the team actually won. As usual, this year, his stuff seemed little removed from his best work, but this time he didn't allow eight hits in an inning on 93-mile-an-hour fastballs. If it's possible for a Cardinals game to feel normal without Albert Pujols in it, that game managed to achieve it, and if it's possible for one start to wipe out three months of frustration—or at least wipe enough of that frustration off the window to see through—Carpenter managed to make it.
Now the Cardinals are tied for first place, there's yet another new relief pitcher to over-scrutinize, and as if to offer internet fans and La Russovians each their own personalized third base option, both David Freese and Nick Punto are nearing their return from the DL. Hopefully this is what sticking a crash landing looks like.
After escaping the Phillies' top three with one win the Cardinals get the Blue Jays and the Orioles, which is a manageable slate of bird-related interleague games, before opening July with the Rays and the Reds. The Brewers have the suddenly not-terrible Twins and the Yankees; it's as good a time as any, or at least only as bad a time as any, to lose Albert Pujols for an extended period of time without falling out of the race in the central.
As for Raul Valdes, he seems like the best man for the last spot in this particular bullpen; on a staff where several pitchers who were once among the most important members are lately qualified for little more than long relief in blowouts there was no point in keeping Maikel Cleto around to fill the same role. He's already proven himself to be more than the ballast I thought he was in AA, where he's got 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 34 starter innings, but he was clearly not ready to pull an Eduardo Sanchez this time around.
Valdes is unlikely to be revelatory, but he has a weirdly rare talent among lefty relievers the Cardinals are currently employing—he can actually strike batters out. After watching Tallet get killed on balls in play and Miller just not allow any balls in play that will be a nice option.