Cardinals-Astros Preview

Albert Pujols started this season in one of the worst slumps of

his career.

He has started June once again looking like one of the

most-feared hitters in baseball.

Pujols, who has homered in each of his last four games, looks to

lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a sixth straight win over the

Houston Astros for the first time in 15 years on Wednesday

night.

Through the first nine games of the season, Pujols was batting

.143 with a homer – his lone extra-base hit – and four RBIs. The

three-time NL MVP has steadily come around for the NL

Central-leading Cardinals (37-25), and is now locked in at the

plate.

In Tuesday’s 7-4 win over the Astros – the fourth straight for

St. Louis – Pujols hit his 14th homer, his fifth in the last four

games. This is the first time the nine-time All-Star has homered in

four consecutive games since Aug. 17-22, 2007, when he homered in a

career-best five in a row.

“Pujols is a great ball player,” Tony La Russa said. “He does

great things.”

Pujols is batting .419 with six home runs, 11 RBIs and 12 runs

in his last eight games, raising his average 21 points to a

season-best .278. He is hitting .250 with a pair of doubles in 20

career at-bats against scheduled starter Bud Norris (3-4, 3.95

ERA).

Pujols wasn’t the only St. Louis slugger to homer Tuesday, as

former Astro Lance Berkman hit his 13th. In five games against his

former team this season, Berkman is 9 for 18 with three homers, two

doubles and nine RBIs.

St. Louis has won five straight in this series, and hasn’t won

six consecutive games over Houston since reeling off seven in a row

from May 20-Aug. 23, 1996.

The Astros (23-38) have lost four straight games following a

season-best four-game winning streak.

They’ve plated 10 runs during their skid while batting .125 with

runners in scoring position and leaving 38 men on base. Houston

stranded 13 runners and twice left the bases loaded Tuesday.

“We got that many opportunities, we’ve got to try to seize the

moment,” Michael Bourn said

Hunter Pence struck out with the bases loaded to end the eighth

inning, but also singled twice to extend his career-best hitting

streak to 18 games. He is batting .390 with 13 RBIs during his

run.

Pence homered off scheduled starter Jaime Garcia (6-1, 3.05) on

April 26. The left-hander allowed four runs and six hits in 5 1-3

innings of a 6-5 loss but didn’t factor in the decision.

Against Chicago on Friday, Garcia gave up one run and four hits

while striking out eight in eight innings of a 6-1 win. It was his

first start since getting tagged for career worsts of 12 runs and

11 hits in 3 1-3 innings of a 15-4 loss in Colorado on May 28.

In his only other start against the Astros on Aug. 3, Garcia

yielded eight runs – four earned – and 10 hits in five innings of

an 18-4 loss.

This will be Norris’ third start of the season against St.

Louis. He gave up three runs – all unearned – in six innings

against the Cardinals at home on April 26 and permitted five runs

in five innings in a 5-1 loss at Busch Stadium on May 18. In eight

career starts against St. Louis, the right-hander is 5-2 with a

2.66 ERA.

In San Diego on Thursday, Norris gave up four runs and six hits

in six innings of a 7-4 win, his first victory since May 1, against

Milwaukee.