Cardinals following Carpenter’s lead as they go for sweep against Indians

On May 16, St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter stood in the batter’s box at Target Field in Minneapolis. The career .275 hitter was batting an embarrassing .140, and St. Louis fans were calling for his benching.

What a difference six weeks make.

Going into Wednesday night’s series finale with the Cleveland Indians at Busch Stadium, Carpenter is now hitting .259. Since the middle of May, Carpenter has collected 53 hits and batted .349. His 16 doubles and 12 homers in that span rank second in the majors, and no hitter can equal his 1.115 OPS over that period, not even Mike Trout.

In Tuesday night’s 11-2 blowout of Cleveland, Carpenter did something no other Cardinal has ever done. He went 5-for-5 with five runs scored and belted a pair of solo homers. That’s a roll call not even Stan Musial or Albert Pujols can answer.

Included in that outburst was a leadoff homer off Indians ace Corey Kluber, a blast that cut a 2-0 deficit in half and restored energy in a dugout that could have gotten down after a quick deficit following a 90-minute rain delay.

“He’s one of the best in the game,” Carpenter said of Kluber. “That’s just an outstanding job by our team. We took a lot of good at-bats. I’m starting to put things together. We play a long, long, long season. I knew I could physically do it.”

A five-run second inning turned flames into an inferno, burning Kluber in the shortest start of his career. It also put the Cardinals (42-36) in position to sweep the American League Central leaders and gave them four straight wins after a stretch of eight losses in 10 games.

St. Louis will send Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.50 ERA) to the mound in search of a sweep Wednesday. Flaherty is coming off the best start of his young career, tying his career high with 13 strikeouts Friday night in Milwaukee. He took a no-hitter one out into the seventh inning before Jesus Aguilar golfed a breaking ball over the left-center-field wall.

But Flaherty had to settle for a no-decision that night in his team’s eventual 2-1 loss, although the performance may have made him a candidate for National League Rookie of the Year.

“He prepares beyond his years,” Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux told MLB.com. “If you saw him, you would think he’s been around the block.”

Flaherty has never faced Cleveland.

Flaherty’s resume does read like a grizzled veteran compared to Indians right-hander Shane Bieber (2-0, 2.45), who will make his fourth big-league start. Bieber blanked Detroit over seven innings Friday night in a 10-0 victory, allowing just four hits and walking one while fanning nine.

“I was saying before the game that I was excited to watch him pitch, and that’s why,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said to MLB.com. “He pounded the zone with three different pitches. He changed speeds. That was fun to watch.”

Nothing about this series has been fun for the Indians, who in two games have managed just 10 hits, none for extra bases. That’s been a dramatic contrast after outscoring opponents by 54 runs during a seven-game winning streak.