Watch Tonight: Cardinals at Pirates

(AP) — 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.


STATS Writer