Carpenter back in MVP-caliber form

Carpenter back in MVP-caliber form

ST. LOUIS -- For those who thought it unlikely that Matt Carpenter would ever match his 2013 offensive numbers, the third baseman had a bold statement to offer following the club's 6-1 victory over the Reds on Friday.

"I feel as close to if not better than I felt in 2013," Carpenter asserted. "Everything is kind of clicking right now."

It's a high benchmark to aspire to, as Carpenter capped that season as a fourth-place finisher in the National League Most Valuable Player vote after leading the league in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). He followed that up with a second consecutive All-Star season, though one not quite up to his standards.

It wasn't until the 22nd game of the '14 season that Carpenter tallied his first double, and he went without one in the final 14 home games of the season. However, he has six in four games at Busch Stadium this week, including four in his last six at-bats.

And most notably for the Cardinals, every double he has hit in this homestand has occurred in an inning in which they scored. On Friday, it was his double in the first inning that led to him scoring on a sac fly with an acrobatic jump over Reds catcher Brayan Pena.

"Last year, I kind of got off to a slow start and never really felt comfortable in the box," said Carpenter, who has five straight multi-hit games. "It was just a grind all season. I ended up putting together a decent year while never really feeling good. But right now, I feel great and I hope I can keep that going."

Part of Carpenter's aim this season was to be ready to hit earlier in counts. His patient approach led him to draw a league-most 99 walks in 2014, but he also showed power potential in the postseason, hitting four home runs while focusing on being more aggressive early in the count.

He wanted to tap into the latter without sacrificing the plate discipline, and perhaps he's found that balance. He's hit each of his doubles on the third or fourth pitch of an at-bat. Three have come with two strikes.

"I felt like there were times last year where I was a little more hesitant at the plate for whatever reason," Carpenter said. "In 2013, I started off not as a leadoff hitter, just as a hitter in the lineup -- sixth, seventh, wherever I ended up. Then I got moved in there and my approach didn't really change. Last year, I feel like I tried to hit like a leadoff hitter and kind of got away from some of my strengths of being able to hit early in the count. I've gotten back to that and it's paying off."

Carpenter has raced out to grab the early team lead in runs (nine), RBIs (seven) and extra-base hits (seven).

"He's driving the ball hard to both gaps and not trying to get big," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's taking nice, short swings, and the ball is jumping off his bat. He's come up with some of the biggest hits we've had. He's just really in a nice spot right now."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.