Diamondbacks-Cardinals Preview

Some questioned if Albert Pujols was ready to return from a

broken left wrist almost a month ahead of schedule after he

struggled during his first three games back.

The three-time NL MVP, however, surely put those doubts to rest

with his latest offensive outburst.

After battling back in the third meeting of this four-game set

with the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, Pujols and the St. Louis

Cardinals look to split the series Sunday and head into the

All-Star break with at least a share of the NL Central lead.

St. Louis (48-43) was on the verge of its first four-game home

losing streak of the season Saturday before erasing a four-run

deficit. Pujols hit a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth

inning, and the Cardinals prevailed 7-6 on Tony Cruz’s pinch-hit

RBI double in the ninth, pulling even with Milwaukee atop the

division.

“I’m right where I want to be and it feels good to help the

ballclub win,” said Pujols, who had gone 1 for 12 since returning

prior to Saturday’s 3-for-4 performance. “I was just part of that

group and it feels good to be part of that group. That’s how you

need to win some games, getting a lot of help from the bench and

guys coming through big-time.”

The Diamondbacks (49-42) still lead the majors with 21 road wins

since May 14, but they could be in for a difficult matchup against

Jaime Garcia (8-3, 3.23 ERA), who has thrived in front of his home

crowd.

The left-hander owns an MLB-best 0.94 ERA at home and improved

to 5-1 in St. Louis after allowing one run and two hits in six

innings of Tuesday’s 8-1 win over Cincinnati.

“I’m trying to do my best at not worrying about what’s going on

offensively, or with the other pitcher,” said Garcia, who overcame

a career-worst-tying five walks in as many innings to earn the

victory in a 5-2 win in Phoenix on June 11, 2010 – his only

appearance in this series.

While Garcia will attempt to focus solely on Arizona’s lineup,

his counterpart’s struggles at Busch Stadium are difficult to

ignore.

Zach Duke (2-3, 5.40), who spent the first six years of his

career with Pittsburgh, went 1-5 with a 5.36 ERA over seven starts

in St. Louis for the Pirates.

The left-hander also struggled in back-to-back road outings at

Florida and Detroit last month, yielding 13 runs over 8 2-3

innings, but he seemed to turn a corner during Tuesday’s 7-3

victory at Milwaukee.

Duke surrendered two runs and five hits over seven innings en

route to his first victory in seven starts overall since his May 28

season debut.

“I feel like I’ve been close the past few times, things haven’t

quite worked out for me,” he told the Diamondbacks’ official

website. “I definitely feel like the work that I’ve been doing is

on the right path and I’m going to keep doing.”

Duke, however, can’t be happy about seeing Pujols heat up. The

slugging first baseman has gone 17 for 41 (.415) with four homers

and four doubles against him.

Matt Holliday, who has gone 9 for 23 with four homers while

hitting safely in five straight contests, is 9 for 20 with a homer

off Duke.

Garcia will look to limit Arizona’s Chris Young, who extended

his hitting streak against St. Louis to seven games with Saturday’s

2-for-4 effort. Young is 11 for 28 with five extra-base hits during

his run.