Carpenter delivers against Cubs — big surprise there, huh?

ST. LOUIS — Third baseman Matt Carpenter will be the first to point out key contributions from seemingly every player on the roster have contributed to an historic start for the first-place Cardinals.

But if you’re looking for one reason St. Louis has three more wins than any other team in baseball and already holds a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League Central, the answer is obvious.

It’s No. 13.

Carpenter would dominate a highlight reel of the Cardinals’ first 26 games, including a game-tying three-run home run in Tuesday night’s 7-4 win over the Chicago Cubs.

"He’s one of the better hitters I’ve ever played with," veteran first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "His consistency, his approach, his constant work ethic that he has, it’s actually kind of rubbed off on me a little bit and I feel like I don’t do enough watching him work sometimes.

"Great dude and he’s definitely carrying us."

Reynolds’ efforts paid off again in St. Louis’ eighth straight win, as he doubled home the go-ahead run in the sixth, one night after hitting a crucial first-inning grand slam in a 10-9 series-opening win. He’s been a key contributor off the bench with an occasional start, but Reynolds won’t be catching up to Carpenter’s numbers anytime soon.

The powerful left-handed hitter already has a major league-best 14 doubles, twice as many as any other Cardinal. Only Miami’s Dee Gordon has more hits than Carpenter’s 36 in the National League, and Carp also leads the team with 23 runs, 20 RBIs and a .644 slugging percentage.

"I think his approach may be better as far as when he’s going to be aggressive at the plate and not just resorting to getting up there and seeing how many pitches he can foul off," manager Mike Matheny says. "Get a pitch he can drive in the right counts off the right pitchers, but also be able to go deep in the count and fight off the kind of pitches that drive him into deep counts and walks and on base."

Carpenter’s walk rate of 10.9 percent is down significantly from 13.4 percent a year ago, although it’s still the second-highest of his four full seasons. Matt Holliday continues to make it dangerous for pitchers to work around Carpenter, as the left fielder hit three more singles to raise his average to .345 with a team-best .468 on-base percentage.

Big situations often bring out the best in Carpenter, who delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly Saturday against Pittsburgh and another with the bases loaded in the sixth inning Tuesday night. His first four home runs this season gave the Cardinals a lead, including two leadoff blasts and a game-winner in the top of the 11th at Washington.

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks had worked his way out of multiple jams already by the time Carpenter came up in the fifth inning with Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos on base. An inside pitch forced a shallow pop-up to center in Carpenter’s first at-bat, and he worked a walk when Hendricks just missed inside in the third inning.

"I had a pretty good feeling he was going to try to go in again, got a pitch I could handle and was able to hit it out," Carpenter said. "I’m always looking to drive the ball. It just so happens that (the home runs) end up being at a key part in the game."

It’s taking a lot more than just Carpenter’s huge numbers and clutch at-bats to keep up the pace set by a 20-6 start, the best in franchise history. The Cardinals wouldn’t be there without a collective effort by MLB’s most effective pitching staff, as well as timely hits throughout the entire lineup.

But when it comes to naming the team’s most valuable player thus far, Carpenter stands above everyone else.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.