Marlins-Cardinals Preview

Despite Albert Pujols’ struggles, the St. Louis Cardinals

haven’t missed a beat offensively thanks largely to the surging

Matt Holliday.

Holliday looks to keep up his torrid pace as the Cardinals

continue their four-game set with the visiting Florida Marlins on

Wednesday night.

Holliday, batting a major league-best .409, went 2 for 5 on

Tuesday with his fourth home run to extend his hitting streak to

nine games. While the All-Star left fielder has been the driving

force behind the Cardinals’ offense, Daniel Descalso’s first-career

homer – a three-run shot in the seventh inning – proved decisive in

the 7-5 victory over Florida (18-10).

“I’m not a big home run guy,” said Descalso, who has seen

increased playing time recently due to injuries to third baseman

David Freese and second baseman Skip Schumaker.

“I just go up there and try to put a line-drive swing on it, and

every once in a while they jump out of the park.”

The Cardinals (17-13) lead the majors with 161 runs and a .293

team batting average, surprising achievements considering they

aren’t getting much production from Pujols.

The three-time NL MVP, who saw his average drop to .231 after

Tuesday’s 0-for-5 effort, grounded into his league-worst 10th

double play and stranded six baserunners.

Pujols is mired in a 2-for-20 slump in his last five games and

hasn’t recorded an extra-base hit in his last nine – his second

such stretch of the season.

“As long as he doesn’t get discouraged,” manager Tony La Russa

said. “He’ll be fine because he’s smart and tough-minded. He won’t

allow himself to be less than his best.”

Florida first baseman Gaby Sanchez has been anything but quiet

of late. After hitting a grand slam in Monday’s 6-5 win, Sanchez

matched a career best with four hits Tuesday.

“I’m starting to feel better with my swing, that’s for sure,” he

said. “Little things I’ve been doing, like working off the tee,

they’re starting to pay off for me.”

Sanchez is 1 for 2 against probable St. Louis starter Chris

Carpenter (0-2, 3.89 ERA), who is winless in his first six

starts.

Carpenter allowed three runs and a season-worst 10 hits in seven

innings Friday at Atlanta, though the Cardinals eventually won 5-3

in 11 innings.

The right-hander, who is 0-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three home

starts, is 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA in his last two starts against the

Marlins.

Javier Vazquez (2-2, 6.39), the active career leader in

strikeouts with 2,388, has been anything but overpowering this

season but earned his second victory in Friday’s 7-6 win at

Cincinnati. The right-hander allowed four runs and four hits in six

innings and struck out three. He also provided an offensive spark,

going 2 for 2 with a run scored and an RBI.

“Vazquez was a thorn in our side with his hitting, as much as

his pitching,”Reds manager Dusty Baker told MLB.com.

Lance Berkman, whose .402 average ranks second to Holliday’s, is

5 for 27 (.185) lifetime versus Vazquez, while Colby Rasmus and

Yadier Molina are a combined 1 for 17. In contrast, Pujols is 8 for

21 with a homer against the Puerto Rico native.

Berkman left Tuesday’s game with leg tightness but is likely to

be available Wednesday.