© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/02/06 11:22 PM ET

Cards, Padres aim for good starts

Peavy, Carpenter say they're mentally set for Game 1

SAN DIEGO -- Last year, the Padres barely made it out of the regular season to capture the National League West title. With their starting pitching questionable, the team's hopes against the Cardinals rested with their ace, Jake Peavy, who needed to give them a jump-start in the series.

This year, the Cardinals had to claw their way to the NL Central title, and with the starting rotation in shaky shape, they're placing all their hopes on Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter in Tuesday's Game 1 of their NL Division Series at PETCO Park.

Peavy didn't win last year. He didn't make it through the fifth inning against Carpenter, leaving with the score 8-0, having allowed all eight runs on eight hits. The Cardinals swept the best-of-five series.

"I think Peavy is just as capable of dominating that game as Chris is," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Monday. "No matter what happens in [Tuesday's] game, I expect a tough competition in the next four."

Last year, Peavy wasn't healthy. As it turned out, he was pitching with a cracked rib suffered during the celebration after the Padres won the division title less than a week before his first playoff start. Carpenter and Peavy are both healthy this year, as far as either manager knows.

"I'm feeling a lot better than I was last year," Peavy said. "No excuses. This time out, I feel as good as I've felt all year. The first half was a little bit of a struggle, but the second half, I've been healthy, making my starts without any interference physically. Mentally I'm as good as I can be going into the start."

Last year, Padres manager Bruce Bochy didn't know that Peavy was ailing. Peavy hid the injury from everyone except the team trainer, who treated him in the days before the game. This year, Bochy said Peavy's health is a major consideration. The right-hander had some shoulder soreness and slipped from 13-7 with a 2.88 ERA to 11-14 with a 4.09 ERA.

"You're right," Bochy said. "To have your guy healthy, it's so important for your club. And last year we didn't. But with Jake, we always wait until right before the game to make sure he's OK. We're trying to get through tonight with him."

complete coverage
Home  |  News  |  Video  |  Audio  |  Photos

Last year, Carpenter was a 21-game winner on his way to the Cy Young Award. This year, Carpenter is a Cy Young Award candidate, along with Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, but Carpenter only won 15 times.

La Russa said he's already slating Carpenter not only for Game 1, but also for a possible Game 4 this coming Sunday at Busch Stadium.

Carpenter said he feels no added pressure just because the focus is on him with Mark Mulder out for the season. After all, two years ago when the Cardinals went to the World Series and were swept by the Red Sox, Carpenter didn't pitch in the postseason. But the Cards almost went all the way with Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan as the playoff rotation.

"There's no question that [Tuesday's] game is a big game," Carpenter said. "It's bigger than April 14. But the way that I deal with it is to treat it like it's an April 14th game. I have to go out and pitch. The only way to go out and do that successfully is to be relaxed, have your mind and your body under control, and go out and do it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.