After appearing to break out of a season-opening slump, Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals again look to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Pirates when the NL Central rivals meet Monday night to start a two-game series at Busch Stadium.
Pujols hit two homers and drove in five runs in the Cardinals’ 10-2 rout of Milwaukee on Sunday, helping the reigning World Champions earn a split of an weather-shortened two-game set. The five-time All-Star first baseman hit a major league-record 14 homers last April, but has only managed three so far this month while batting just .186.
“Obviously, this year hasn’t been working out early,” said Pujols, the 2005 NL MVP. “But just because I haven’t found myself at the plate I don’t want to go crazy.”
Pujols will try to carry some momentum from his performance into the series with the Pirates after he went 2-for-12 with no RBIs as St. Louis (6-5) swept a three-game series last week in Pittsburgh.
Anthony Reyes (0-1, 5.40 ERA), the Cardinals’ scheduled starter Monday, might be welcoming Pujols’ sudden surge after the right-hander got only one run of support in his last start. Reyes allowed three runs and five hits in five innings of a 5-1 loss at Houston on April 7 as Pujols went 0-for-4.
That defeat is one of only two losses St. Louis has suffered in eight games since being swept in a season-opening three-game series by the New York Mets.
“I thought it was OK,” Reyes said of his outing. “I could have been better. I left a couple of pitches up and they hit them. It’s just something to learn from and work off of for the next game.”
Reyes hopes to rebound in his second career start against the Pirates. He struck out nine and allowed only four hits in 6 1-3 shutout innings against them in a 6-3 win on Sept. 3.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have played just once since being swept by St. Louis - an 8-5 loss to San Francisco on Friday - with rain postponing Saturday’s contest and Sunday’s rescheduled doubleheader with the Giants. Pittsburgh (4-6) has one win in seven games since sweeping a season-opening three-game set at Houston.
“The weather we’ve played in since leaving Houston obviously has not been good,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy told the team’s official Web site. “I think that the silver lining is that we haven’t played great baseball, but we haven’t played badly either.”
Tracy has opted to use Ian Snell (0-1, 2.08) on Monday after he was scheduled to start the first game on Sunday. The right-hander, who leads the team with 14 strikeouts, gave up one run and six hits over seven innings Tuesday against St. Louis, but lost 3-0 in Pittsburgh’s home opener.
Pujols is hitting .667 (6-for-9) against Snell with four homers and seven RBIs.
The Cardinals were 5-1 at home against the Pirates last year.