Cardinals-Pirates Preview

Atop the NL in homers and RBIs with an average that’s just off
the league lead, Albert Pujols isn’t merely building his case for a
third straight MVP award – he’s making a run at a Triple Crown.

Eight more games against Pittsburgh Pirates pitching should give
Pujols a great chance to boost his numbers, and the St. Louis
Cardinals slugger takes aim at his 400th homer Tuesday night while
Adam Wainwright tries again to become the majors’ first 18-game
winner.

Pujols was hitting .295 on July 31, his worst average at that
point since 2002, but has since been one of baseball’s hottest
hitters. The three-time MVP is batting .436 with 10 homers and 21
RBIs in his last 19 games, connecting for a three-run shot – one of
his three hits – in a 10-2 rout of the Pirates on Monday.

The 399th homer of Pujols’ career was his 24th in Pittsburgh. He
is a .385 hitter with 72 RBIs at PNC Park, easily his most at any
opposing venue.

“Albert’s good everywhere,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If
he’s not good in a series or two, he will be. It isn’t anything
about this ballpark or this pitching.”

Pujols has 33 homers and 92 RBIs, both NL highs. He has upped
his average to .319, putting him third behind Cincinnati’s Joey
Votto and Atlanta’s Martin Prado.

St. Louis (68-54) improved to 6-1 against the Pirates (41-84),
and as they continue to chase the NL Central-leading Reds, they’ll
be happy to play Pittsburgh eight more times.

No Cardinal figures to be more eager to face the Pirates than
Pujols, a .425 hitter against Pittsburgh since the start of the
2008 season. He has particularly tormented Tuesday starter Paul
Maholm (7-12, 4.92 ERA), going 16 for 27 (.593) with six walks.

Few hitters have had any success against Wainwright (17-7, 2.06)
this season, but the major leagues’ ERA leader was average by his
standards Wednesday against Milwaukee. The right-hander gave up
three runs over seven innings of a 3-2 loss, his first in 13 home
starts.

“You can’t win every one forever, but he certainly did his
part,” La Russa said. “He competed like a maniac. They beat a
really, really good pitcher.”

Wainwright has gone 4-0 with a 3.65 ERA in his last four starts
against the Pirates. Maholm is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 career
starts versus St. Louis.

Pittsburgh’s left-hander has lost his past three outings, the
last of which came undone in one inning. The Pirates and Florida
were scoreless after five innings Thursday, but Maholm surrendered
four runs before leaving with two outs in the sixth as the Marlins
won 4-2.

“When the other guy’s putting up zeros, you’ve got to put up
zeros,” Maholm said. “That’s how it is right now. Would you love
for the offense to bust out and put up eight? Sure, but it’s not
happening right now, unfortunately. I need to make some pitches,
and I didn’t do it.”

While Pujols has thrived against Maholm, cleanup hitter Matt
Holliday can’t say the same. The four-time All-Star is 1 for 14
versus Maholm, though the hit was a home run.