St. Louis (31-16) at San Diego (24-23)

  • Game info: 10:05 pm EDT Fri May 26, 2006
  • TV: FSMW, Ch4
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t have much trouble with the San Diego Padres the last time the two teams met.

The Padres and Cardinals square off for the first time since last season’s National League playoffs when they open a three-game series at Petco Park.

The Cardinals swept the Padres in three games in last season’s best-of-five divisional series. St. Louis outscored San Diego 21-11 in those contests before losing to the Houston Astros in the NLCS.

This season, the Cardinals (31-16) own the best record in the league, and lead the second-place Cincinnati Reds by four games in the NL Central. The Padres are tied for fourth place in the NL West, 3 1/2 games behind division-leading Arizona.

St. Louis has won seven of its last eight games after Wednesday’s 10-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants. So Taguchi and reliever Adam Wainwright each homered for the Cardinals.

Albert Pujols, who had homered in four of his previous five games, went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles.

San Diego manager Bruce Bochy said he plans to pitch to Pujols like he would San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds, and not to give him a chance to drive in runs with men on base when possible.

“He’s the guy now, Pujols, when you look at hitters in baseball you’ve got to be careful with,” Bochy said. “It’s similar to Bonds. He’s got such incredible bat speed, like Bonds does through the zone. He can beat you in any part of the ballpark.”

Pujols is 2-for-2 with a triple, two RBIs and no homers against San Diego’s Clay Hensley, who will start the series opener. Both of the at-bats came in Hensley’s only career appearance against the Cardinals on July 28 last season, when he allowed three runs and six hits in 3 2-3 innings out of the bullpen without receiving a decision in the Padres’ 11-3 loss.

Hensley (2-3, 4.37 ERA) gave up a career high six runs and nine hits in six innings of Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners. He was coming off a complete-game, 9-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on May 14.

“At the end of the day, I’ve got to be honest with myself,” Hensley said. “I felt like I made some good pitches, and they put wood on the ball and got some base hits. … Sometimes you pitch good and get beat.”

Hensley will face Jeff Suppan (5-3, 4.50), who allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings of Sunday’s 10-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. He is 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA over his last six starts.

Suppan is 3-1 with a 5.19 ERA in five career starts against the Padres.

San Diego (24-23) has dropped seven of nine, including Wednesday’s 10-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Brian Giles and Mike Piazza each drove in two runs for the Padres.

Piazza is 14-for-37 (.378) with three homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Suppan SD vs. C. Hensley WAS
12-7 Record 11-12
4.12 ERA 3.71
104 K 122
69 BB 76
1.45 WHIP 1.34