MLB

Tue, Jul 5, 2011 - 7:09 PM ET
 

Reds-Cardinals Preview

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When Albert Pujols went down with a broken wrist last month, the St. Louis Cardinals faced the possibility of playing without the three-time NL MVP until August.

Instead, a little more than two weeks later, the Cardinals could see Pujols back in the lineup as early as Tuesday night, when the NL Central leaders continue their home series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Pujols was hitting a career-worst .279 when he was injured trying to make a tag at first base against Kansas City on June 19. The next day, St. Louis announced he had suffered a broken wrist that was originally expected to keep him out up to six weeks.

However, Pujols' rehab progressed quickly and after taking indoor batting practice and fielding grounders outside before Monday's game, he said he could be ready to return as soon as Tuesday, the first day he'd be eligible to come off the disabled list.

The Cardinals said Tuesday afternoon they plan to activate the nine-time All-Star but had not decided if he would start this game.

"I can't wait to get back on the field," Pujols said Monday. "Hopefully, it can be tomorrow. If it's not, whenever the time comes will be the right time to play."

The Cardinals are 6-7 since losing arguably the game's best player. Despite having a sub-par first half, Pujols had been playing better right before the injury, batting .343 with nine homers in his last 19 games. He has 17 homers and 45 RBIs on the season.

St. Louis (46-40) could certainly use his power in the lineup. It is coming off a 1-0 win over Cincinnati on Monday behind eight innings of six-hit ball by Chris Carpenter, who outdueled Johnny Cueto. Pinch-hitter Mark Hamilton drove in the lone run with an infield single in the eighth.

The Cardinals, who had lost their previous two games while scoring four runs, took over sole possession of first place in the NL Central after beginning the day tied with Milwaukee. The Reds, losers of three of four, are three games back in fourth place.

"It's big for us because we had heard the Brewers lost and that we can take sole possession of first place," Hamilton said.

Cincinnati can't be too happy at the prospect of Pujols returning with the teams scheduled to meet five times in the next nine games. He is 4 for 10 with two homers and a double against Edinson Volquez (5-3, 5.65 ERA), the Reds' scheduled starter.

Volquez is 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA in five starts against the Cardinals. He gave up three runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 3-0 loss at Busch Stadium on April 24.

The right-hander went 6 1-3 innings against Tampa Bay on Wednesday, allowing three runs and striking out seven in a 4-3 victory.

Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips entered this series hitting .375 with two homers and seven RBIs against the Cardinals this season before going 0 for 4 Monday. He's 1 for 13 in his last three games overall.

The Reds could struggle to generate offense again against Jaime Garcia (7-3, 3.33), who is 4-1 with a 0.88 ERA in seven home starts - two complete games.

The left-hander labored at Baltimore on Thursday, allowing five runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings, but was credited with victory as the Cardinals won 9-6.

Garcia has won all four starts against the Reds, posting a 3.70 ERA.

Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Phillips have combined to go 5 for 29 off Garcia.

Tagged: Reds, Cardinals, Albert Pujols, Jaime Garcia

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