Cardinals-Royals Preview


Albert Pujols hasn’t put up the numbers normally associated with a three-time MVP this season. His history in Kansas City indicates a quick change could be coming.

The I-70 Series resumes Friday night when Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals travel across Missouri to Kauffman Stadium for the start of a three-game set with the Royals.

Now in his 11th season, Pujols remains feared, but perhaps not as much as in past years. He’s hitting .264, a stunning drop from the career-low .312 he batted in .2010. The six-time 40-homer hitter has only seven in 44 games – he needed only 18 games to hit that many last season.

However, Pujols clearly enjoys returning to the city where he played junior college baseball. Thirteen of Pujols’ 15 career homers against the Royals have come in Kansas City, where he’s hitting .383.

“I don’t change my game because of where I play. I respect this game so much and I play the way I’m supposed to play all the time, no matter where it is,” Pujols told the Cardinals’ official website.

Pujols’ .347 interleague batting average is the best all-time among NL players with a minimum of 300 plate appearances, and the NL Central leaders – who with 96 interleague losses are the only club yet to lose 100 – will need him to keep surging.

Matt Holliday, hitting .357 overall but mired in a 1-for-17 slump, is expected back after missing Thursday’s 4-2 win over Houston with a tight left quad.

Lance Berkman, though, is expected to be out a few more days with a sore right wrist. Berkman is batting .349 and leads the team with 11 homers and 35 RBIs.

Pujols has no homers in 14 career at-bats against probable Royals starter Jeff Francis (0-5, 4.83 ERA), who appears to be moving closer to his first win with Kansas City.

The left-hander allowed five hits in the first inning Saturday, but settled down and tossed his first complete game since 2007 in a 3-0 loss at Detroit. He’s reduced his ERA by more than half a run over his last three appearances.

A former 17-game winner who spent his first six seasons with Colorado, Francis is 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA in eight career starts against the Cardinals.

St. Louis (26-19) has given up a total of five runs during a four-game winning streak, but still wants Chris Carpenter be his usual dominant self after failing to deliver for much of 2011.

Carpenter (1-3, 4.95) was tagged for eight runs and nine hits in 6 1-3 innings of Sunday’s’ 9-7 loss at the Reds, his first against them since Sept. 6, 2006.

The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner has allowed at least eight hits in six of his nine starts, and six runs or more three times. He had been 33-13 with a 2.78 ERA in 63 starts for St. Louis from 2009-10.

The right-hander is 10-10 with a 4.49 ERA in 28 career interleague starts.

Kansas City (21-22) snapped a five-game slide Thursday with a 2-1, 10-inning win over Texas. Jeff Francoeur’s RBI single lifted the Royals to their major league-leading seventh walk-off victory of the season.

“We’d been battling hard. It wasn’t like we’ve been blown out all those games. … This kind of win to gets everybody relaxed and having fun again,” said Francoeur, who leads all current Royals with six homers and 31 RBIs in interleague matchups.

The Royals took two of three at home last year against the Cardinals.