Cardinals soar into homestand after a 5-1 road trip

One might think that the St. Louis Cardinals are due for a fall after nine consecutive series wins.

Don’t run that theory by first baseman and MVP candidate Matt Carpenter.

“I don’t know why it chouldn’t last the rest of the year,” he said Sunday after a 12-3 win at Colorado capped a 5-1 road trip and made them 22-7 since July 27. “I don’t see why it shouldn’t.”

Carpenter and St. Louis will get a chance to test that theory Tuesday night when they welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates for the opener of a three-game series in Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals are coming off a 5-1 road trip in which they swept the Dodgers and took two out of three in Colorado.

The Cardinals (72-58) own the National League’s first wild-card spot and sit four games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. They also have a home-heavy schedule in the season’s last five weeks, playing 19 of their final 31 games in front of friendly fans. They have just one road trip longer than three games.

For a team that is 11-4 at home under interim manager Mike Shildt, the chance to spend most of the rest of the season in familiar surroundings has to be an advantage. Then again, St. Louis fans were last heard turning Coors Field into Busch Stadium West in the last few innings Sunday, even chanting “MVP” as Carpenter did a postgame interview on FOX Sports Midwest.

“That was cool to hear the fans, especially as many as we had here today,” Carpenter said. “It was a neat experience.”

Watching Jack Flaherty (7-6, 2.97 ERA) pitch has been a neat experience. The rookie right-hander, who takes the mound for the series opener, has received the endorsement of none other than Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, who probably likes how Flaherty works inside with purpose.

Flaherty had everything going for him in his last start Wednesday night at the Los Angeles Dodgers, although he settled for a no-decision in a 3-1 Cardinals win. Flaherty took a no-hitter into the sixth inning for the third time this year before a Joc Pederson homer knee-capped that bid.

In Flaherty’s last four starts, including a 2-1 win Aug. 5 at Pittsburgh, he was allowed just 10 hits and two runs in 25 innings, walking nine and whiffing 33. He has faced the Pirates four times this year, going 2-1 with a no-decision.

Opposing him will be veteran right-hander Ivan Nova (7-8, 4.20), who has pitched well in his last three starts but is just 1-2 despite giving up no more than two runs in each game. Nova permitted only four hits and two runs in six innings Wednesday night against Atlanta at PNC Park but suffered a 6-1 defeat.

The former New York Yankees pitcher’s last appearance against St. Louis resulted in an 8-4 loss Aug. 4, when he gave up eight hits and four runs in four innings, walking three and fanning three.

Pittsburgh (64-67) has lost seven of 10 to fall farther behind in the division and wild-card races.