The last two NL MVPs will meet for the first time this year Friday night when Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies open a three-game series against Pujols and the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Howard became the first member of the Phillies (37-35) to win the MVP award since Mike Schmidt in 1986, hitting .313 with 58 homers and 149 RBIs in his second season. Pujols, bidding for his second straight MVP, instead finished second in the voting for St. Louis (32-37) after he batted .331 with 49 homers and a career-high 137 RBIs.
At a news conference in the Dominican Republic in late November, Pujols was quoted in Spanish as saying a player who doesn’t lead his team to the postseason doesn’t deserve to win the MVP award. It was a strange comment since the Phillies finished with 85 wins, two more than the Cardinals, who won the weak NL Central en route to winning the World Series.
Pujols later said his comments in Spanish had been “misunderstood.”
“That’s a kid I really love,” Pujols said about Howard. “Winning the MVP last year, I felt it was really great, I worked hard for it. I know how hard he worked to get his MVP and the last thing I want to do is ruin his moment.”
Howard, who was born in St. Louis and still lives in one of the city’s suburbs, works out in the offseason at a hitting facility that Pujols also uses.
After a slow start to his season, Howard appears to be heating up. He’s hitting .298 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs in his last 26 games, raising his average from .198 to .247.
Howard had a big series last year in his first visit to St. Louis, going 5-for-14 with a homer and seven RBIs as Philadelphia swept three games. The Phillies avenged a three-game road sweep by the Cardinals in the first series of 2006 for both clubs.
Pujols also started poorly this year, hitting .203 in his first 13 games, but that beginning is a distant memory. He’s hitting .361 (22-for-61) with seven homers and 19 RBIs over his last 16 games and his season average is up to .306.
While the Phillies have lost four of six, the Cardinals have won four of five after Ryan Ludwick’s walk-off homer in the 14th inning gave them a 7-6 win over Kansas City on Wednesday.
Both teams have players who enter on career-high 13-game hitting streaks. Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino is batting .321 (18-for-56) during his run while St. Louis’ So Taguchi is hitting .426 (20-for-47) in his.
Jamie Moyer (6-5, 4.40 ERA) seeks to win consecutive starts for the Phillies for the first time this year. He was outstanding in winning his last outing Saturday against Detroit, yielding two runs and four hits over seven innings in a 6-3 victory over baseball’s top offense.
The 44-year-old left-hander hasn’t faced St. Louis since July 2, 2004. Moyer is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in nine career outings against the Cardinals, including eight starts.
Pujols is hitless in five at-bats against him.
St. Louis starter Anthony Reyes (0-8, 6.34) is still searching for his first victory since winning the opener of last year’s World Series against Detroit. He’s trying to avoid becoming the first Cardinal to lose nine straight decisions to start a season since Danny Jackson did it from April 27-July 2, 1995.
Reyes was recalled from Triple-A Memphis to pitch at Oakland on Sunday and allowed five runs over five innings in a 10-6 victory.
The right-hander has never faced the Phillies.